What is a VIN, and What Does Each Digit in the VIN Mean?

You might have heard the term VIN when buying or insuring a car, but maybe you haven’t fully understood what it means. We decode the VIN in this article as we dive into the VIN, or vehicle identification number, explaining what it means for every vehicle.

What is a VIN?

A VIN is a standardized method of recording an ID for every car manufactured. They were introduced in 1954 in the US. However, in the beginning, VINs were not standardized, and each manufacturer had its own system of giving numbers IDs to vehicles.

Now, a VIN has 17 digits, which includes numbers and capital letters, and they provide a unique ID for your car. The VIN allows anyone who knows it to check a car’s specifications, where it was built, and who made it. Other ID elements include insurance details and issues from the car’s history, such as recalls and thefts.

Where Can I Find the VIN?

Usually, a VIN is easy to find since it is located on the driver’s side dashboard. If not there, sometimes the number is located on the inside of the driver’s side door near the latch. A VIN can also be found on insurance policies, vehicle registrations, and auto loan documents.

How to Read a VIN?

A VIN can be read manually, or you can put the ID into a VIN check tool online, which can provide you with all the details about the vehicle. If you can decipher what each of the characters means, then reading a VIN becomes simpler.

What Does Each Digit In VIN Mean?

Number/Character Position Information
1 Country of Origin
2 Manufacturer Code
3 Vehicle Type
4 – 8 Model/ Engine type/ Body Style (specific to Manufacturer)
9 Check Digit (Proves the VIN is not fake)
10 Model Year
11 Plant
12-17 Unique Serial Number of the Vehicle


Quick Facts about VIN Numbers

  • The I, O, and Q letters of the alphabet aren’t used anywhere within VINs. This is to avoid confusion with the 1 and 0 digits, which look similar.
  • Before 1981, VINs didn’t have to be 17 characters If you come across a car made before, then it could have a VIN of 8-10 characters. This was common in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • VIN decoders and checkers have to be updated continuously to keep up with the newest models of vehicles.
  • Information about the vehicle, such as insurance and theft issues, has to be updated regularly.
  • The new system safeguards against VINs being replicated. However, old VINs might have been the same for two different cars.
  • Some VIN checkers do not check all of the details of a car. For example, some might not include the plant details of where the car was put together.

Final Thoughts

A VIN could be thought of as the DNA of a car, but it also serves a bit like a passport. New information about insurance and issues cropping up with a vehicle can be attached to the number and allow people to check the history of a car before they buy it or choose whether or not they will offer insurance. Understanding what a VIN means for your car can help you during the buying decision.

Emily Andrews is the marketing communications specialist at RecordsFinder, an online public records search company. Communications specialist by day and community volunteer at night. She believes in compassion and defending the defenseless.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Photo attribution: Spencer Thomas licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

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One Response to “What is a VIN, and What Does Each Digit in the VIN Mean?”

  1. Albert says:

    Detailed check of car history on https://checkcar.vin/