In 1954, automakers began using a vehicle identification number (VIN) for each vehicle they produced. Between 1954 and 1981, there was no standard format and VINs varied considerably between manufacturers. Under standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), every car and light truck model year 1981 or later has a unique 17-digit VIN in a fixed format.
Why was this standardization necessary? It was done to ensure that no car was ever mistaken for another. The 17 digits in a car’s VIN reveal specific information, including the vehicle’s year, make, model, country of origin, assembly plant and more. The VIN also enables you to run a CARFAX Vehicle History Report on vehicles sold since the 1981 model year.
The information that can be found from a VIN decode is very important to check before buying a used car. Thieves will often replace the VIN of a stolen car with one from of a similar vehicle that is legally registered. Our VIN decoder chart will help you verify the car’s VIN, so you can make sure it matches up with what’s in the title documents and service records. You can also find VIN clone alerts in a CARFAX Report.
How to Decode a VIN
Example VIN: 1HGCM82633A004352
Note: The letters I, O and Q never appear in a modern VIN.
World Manufacturer Identifier
The first three digits of the VIN make up the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI) number. However, if an automaker builds fewer than 500 vehicles per year, 9 will be the third digit and positions 12-14 (part of the production number) will make up the second part of the manufacturer’s WMI.
The first digit in the VIN indicates the vehicle’s country of origin, or final point of assembly. Usually this is the country where the car was made, but in some European countries, it may be the country where the manufacturer is headquartered. Here are some examples:
The second digit in the VIN indicates the manufacturer and the region where the vehicle was produced.
The third digit indicates the vehicle type or manufacturing division.
Vehicle Descriptor Section
Digits 4 through 9 make up the Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS).
Digits 4 through 8 identify the vehicle model, body style, engine type, transmission and more. Service shops commonly use this information to identify systems installed by the manufacturer so that they can properly service a car.
The ninth digit, or check digit, is used to detect invalid VINs based on a mathematical formula that was developed by the Department of Transportation.
Vehicle Identifier Section
Digits 10 through 17 make up the Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS). The tenth digit indicates the year.
The 11th digit identifies the manufacturing plant in which the vehicle was assembled. Each manufacturer has its own set of plant codes.
Digits 12 through 17 indicate the production or serial number. This number could indicate the sequence in which a vehicle came off the assembly line. Since there is no fixed standard for this number, each manufacturer may use this number differently.