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AutoShack.com | Decode the VIN

If you're like most people, you probably think a vehicle identification number (VIN) is just a series of random characters. Actually, each character in this highly structured code has its own meaning. In fact, deciphering these codes is a hobby for some car enthusiasts, including collectors who want to own one of the first or last cars to come off an assembly line.


When purchasing replacement parts for your vehicle, it’s always a good idea to have your VIN number available. Knowing how to read the VIN could help you purchase the correct parts for your vehicle.


Examples of Parts Needing Your VIN:


Decoding a Sample VIN

The info-graphic below provides a simplified look at a sample VIN. Keep in mind that vehicles manufactured before 1981 might have fewer characters than today's standard VIN of 17 characters


Model Year & Country Codes

Model Year Character Codes

As shown above, the 10th character of the VIN indicates its model year.

  • A: 1980 or 2010
  • B: 1981 or 2011
  • C: 1982 or 2012
  • D: 1983 or 2013
  • E: 1984 or 2014
  • F: 1985 or 2015
  • G: 1986 or 2016
  • H: 1987 or 2017
  • J: 1988
  • K: 1989
  • L: 1990
  • M: 1991
  • N: 1992
  • P: 1993
  • R: 1994
  • S: 1995
  • T: 1996
  • V: 1997
  • W: 1998
  • X: 1999
  • Y: 2000
  • 1: 2001
  • 2: 2002
  • 3: 2003
  • 4: 2004
  • 5: 2005
  • 6: 2006
  • 7: 2007
  • 8: 2008
  • 9: 2009

Country of Origin Character Codes

The 1st character in a car's vehicle identification number indicates the country in which it was manufactured.


Some of the country codes include:

  • 1, 4, 5: United States
  • 2: Canada
  • 3: Mexico
  • J: Japan
  • K: Korea
  • S: UK
  • V: France, Spain
  • T: Switzerland
  • W: Germany
  • Y: Sweden, Finland
  • Z: Italy

AutoShack.com | Locate the VIN


Locate the Vehicle Identification Number


Finding Your VIN

You can locate your vehicle identification number in a few different places, both off and on your vehicle itself.


Off the Vehicle

If you need to find your VIN, you can first check any documentation you have for the vehicle, such as:

  • Vehicle title.
  • Registration card.
  • Insurance documents.
  • Owner's manual.
  • Body shop repair records.
  • Police reports.
  • Vehicle history report or VIN check.

If you don't have the documentation mentioned above, you can find the VIN on the actual vehicle itself.


On the Vehicle

The VIN can often be found on the lower-left corner of the dashboard, in front of the steering wheel. You can read the number by looking through the windshield. The VIN may also appear in a number of other locations:

  • The drivers side interior dash is the most common place to find your VIN.
  • Front of the engine block. This should be easy to spot by popping open the hood, and looking at the front of the engine.
  • Front of the car frame, near the container that holds windshield washer fluid.
  • Rear wheel well. Try looking up, directly above the tire.
  • Inside the driver-side door-jamb. Open the door, and look underneath where the side-view mirror would be located if the door was shut.
  • Driver-side door-post. Open the door, and look near the spot where the door latches, not too far from the seatbelt return.
  • Underneath the spare tire.

If you still can't locate the VIN, try consulting your vehicle manual. Or, call a dealership or the manufacturer and request guidance. You will need it to do a VIN check.


Recording Your VIN

Once you know your VIN, it's important to record and store the number some place other than in the vehicle. This information is helpful in a number of situations:

  • Helping law enforcement officials recover your car, should someone steal it.
  • Selling your car to someone else and filling out a bill of sale.
  • Registering a brand new vehicle, or registering your car in a new state if you've recently moved.

Why Do Vehicles Have VINs?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began requiring standardized VINs in 1954 for all road vehicles.


Vehicles model year 1981 and newer have a VIN made up of 17 characters (letters and numerals). Before that, the VIN length and format varied among vehicles.


The VIN provides clues as to a vehicle's background, including:

  • The manufacturer.
  • Model year.
  • Where it was built.