How to Decode Your VIN Number

The VIN number is the Vehicle Identification Number of your vehicle, or the serial number of your car. It can tell you where the car was made, the features it contains, and even the original color of the car. This guide will walk you through what a VIN number is, how you can decode your VIN, and find out what every part means.

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Natasha McLachlan is a writer who currently lives in Southern California. She is an alumna of California College of the Arts, where she obtained her B.A. in Writing and Literature. Her current work revolves around insurance guides and informational articles. She truly enjoys helping others learn more about everyday, practical matters through her work.

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance for 10 years. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Former Licensed Agent

UPDATED: Sep 3, 2021

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The Vehicle Identification Number of your vehicle, usually called a VIN for short, is the serial number of your car, and provides a lot of information about where it was made, the features it contains, and even things such as the original color of the car.

Decoding the VIN of your car can be informative and is typically used by insurance companies, so here’s the key that insurance companies and law enforcement officers use to find out a little about the car you are driving.

What is a VIN Number?

Let’s take a closer look at what each letter or number in each VIN position means.

First, Second and Third Placeholders in the VIN

1st – This indicates the country of manufacture and may be a letter or a number. The following list includes most major manufacturers, but may not be a complete listing:

  • 1 – USA
  • 2 – Canada
  • 3 – Mexico
  • 4 – USA
  • J – Japan
  • K – Korea
  • S – England
  • W – Germany
  • Z – Italy

2nd – This indicates which company manufactured the vehicle. It can be a letter or a number. Here are some common examples:

  • A – Audi
  • B – BMW
  • C – Chrysler
  • D – Mercedes Benz
  • F – Ford
  • G – General Motors
  • H – Honda
  • L – Lincoln
  • M – Mercury
  • N – Nissan
  • P – Plymouth
  • T – Toyota
  • V – Volvo
  • 2 – Pontiac
  • 3 – Oldsmobile
  • 5 – Pontiac
  • 8 – Saturn

3rd – Vehicle type or manufacturing division. (car, truck, SUV, sedan, coupe, etc)

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Fourth Through Eighth Placeholds in a VIN

Let’s continue decoding the VIN of your car.

4th through 8th – The Vehicle Descriptor Section, called a VDS. These characters are used to describe the vehicle attributes such as body style, engine type and size, car model, and more.

Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Placedholders of your VIN

9th – This is a checksum digit that can be used to verify the VIN plate information. The digits can be used more than once, but never within a 30 year period. Using a mathematical formula, this number verifies that the other information on the VIN is correct.

10th – This can be a letter or a number and is used to indicate the model year of the vehicle. The reason that letters and numbers are used is to allow a greater span of time between reuse of the same characters.

11th – Identifies the plant where the car was built. Coupled with the first character, this identifies exactly where the vehicle was made. During a recall, this identifier is typically used to determine which vehicles are being recalled.

The Rest of Your VIN Number

12th through 17th – This is the Vehicle Identifier Section, or VIS. This is the serial number of the vehicle and identifies the sequence in which the vehicle rolled off the assembly line. This section can use letters and numbers, but the final 4 characters are always numbers.

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