What Is a VIN?
A vehicle identification number (VIN) is a unique, 17-character code given to each car sold in the United States. A VIN decoder lets owners or shoppers unlock vital information about the vehicle’s creation and its complete history.
Because each car has a unique VIN, it’s easier to track when that car is bought, sold, or serviced. Auto shops use VIN checks to record service visits, manufacturers and the federal government uses VINs to issue safety recalls, and state agencies use VIN searches to identify vehicles when they’re registered, sold, or even stolen.
How to Decode a VIN
Characters in a VIN indicate a vehicle’s make, model, when it was built – and at which plant – and more.
Manufacturer & Country
The first three characters of the VIN are the World Manufacturer Identifier or WMI code. It identifies the manufacturer’s country of origin.
The first character of the WMI is the region in which the manufacturer is located or the 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 automaker is headquartered.
The second VIN character indicates the manufacturer and the region where the vehicle was produced.
The third VIN character indicates the vehicle type or manufacturing division.
Make, Model, Trim, Engine & More
Characters 4 through 8 are the Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS). They identify the vehicle brand, model, body style, engine type, transmission and more. Service centers commonly use this information to identify an automaker’s systems so that they can properly service a car. When you use the VIN decoder tool at the top of this page, we are decoding this information.
The ninth character, or check digit, is used to detect invalid VINs based on a mathematical formula that was developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The tenth digit indicates the year. The following chart shows which letter represents which model year. Certain letters and numbers are not used because they can be confused with others. VINs do not include the letters I (i), O (o), Q (q), U (u) or Z (z), or the number 0.
VIN Year Chart: How to Determine Your Car’s Model Year
|Model Year||Code||Model Year||Code||Model Year||Code||Model Year||Code|
The 11th character identifies the manufacturing plant where the vehicle was assembled. Each manufacturer has its own plant codes.
Production or Serial Number
Characters 12 through 17 indicate the serial number. This number often indicates the sequence in which a vehicle came off the assembly line. Since there is no fixed standard for this number, a manufacturer can use this number differently.
Taken together, characters 10 through 17 make up the Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS).
How Many Numbers and Letters Are in a VIN?
VINs on new cars have 17 characters, while VINs on older vehicles may have as many as 16 characters.
Where Is the VIN Number on a Car?
The two most common places to find the VIN are the dashboard at the base of the windshield and the driver’s door-jamb sticker. Other places include on the engine, stamped on the frame inside the hood and sometimes in the trunk on a sticker near where the spare tire is stored.
Where Can I Find the VIN in My Vehicle’s Paperwork?
The VIN can be found on vehicle title documents and state registration forms. It’s also typically on a sticker in the owner’s manual, on insurance policies, or service records. New cars have the VIN on the window stickers.
VIN Numbers on Older Cars
Since 1981, each new car has been given a standardized 17-digit code, which includes a serial number. Older cars may have VINs too, although they don’t follow the standardized formula.
The history of the VIN began in the 1950s as automakers began stamping identification numbers on key parts and automobiles themselves.
However, standardization did not come until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finalized the current method of tracking every car that rolls off an assembly line in the early 1980s.
What Other Types of Vehicles Have a VIN?
Do Motorcycles Have VINs?
Yes, and you can usually find them on the vehicle frame. NHTSA requires all motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), or “four-wheelers” and “three-wheelers,” to display their 17-digit unique vehicle identification number on the frame. Check your owner’s manual for the exact location.
Do Bicycles Have a VIN?
No. Bikes are not motorized and don’t have to be registered with state department of motor vehicles. They should have a manufacturer’s serial number which can be used to register a bike with a local municipality or on the national bike registry.
Ways to Get a Free VIN Check With CARFAX
Get a Free CARFAX Report With Our Used Car Listings
Using CARFAX Used Car Listings is the only way to get a free, complete CARFAX Report. You can also take advantage of CARFAX data to find cars that are reported accident-free, have only one owner, and more.
Sign Up for CARFAX Car Care and Get a Free VIN Number Check
Create a free CARFAX Car Care account and view your car’s service history, get alerts for upcoming service, find trusted service shops, and be the first to know about open recalls.
Use CARFAX’s Free VIN Number Lookup Tools for Specific Issues
Use a VIN to Get a Car’s History-Based Value
Most car valuation tools use general information to estimate a car’s value, including the model’s brand and year. CARFAX’s History-Based Value Tool includes VIN-specific information, such as service and accident history, and number of owners, to provide a more complete picture of what it’s really worth.
Why a CARFAX Vehicle History Report Is Important
When you order a CARFAX Vehicle History Report, you can unlock the following important information about the car:
- Reported accidents
- Frame or structural damage
- Total loss accident history
- Ownership history
- Service History
- Open recalls
- Vehicle usage (taxi, rental, lease, etc.)
- Title information, including salvage or junk titles
- Odometer rollbacks
- Flood damage
- Airbag safety
This information can help you uncover any potential safety issues and, ultimately, help you decide if a car you’re considering is right for you and. You can have a look at a sample CARFAX report and see where CARFAX gets the data it includes in its Vehicle History Reports.