5 min read

What is a VIN and why is it important?

There's a lot that a VIN can tell you about your car, find out what each character can reveal.

Emily MacKinnon

Executive Assistant

What is a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)?

A VIN is a 17-character sequence that is used to identify a vehicle. Just like fingerprints, a VIN is unique to a car and can tell you all about its history; you can view past reports made by insurance agencies, law enforcement, and title companies. In essence, a VIN comprises a combination of numbers and alphabets that indicate basic information such as make, model, manufacturing details and vehicle history.

Fun fact: The alphabets Q (q), O (o), or I (i) will not be in a VIN to avoid confusion between the numbers zero and one.

Where is my VIN?

Your VIN will be on the driver’s side, either on the bottom-left of the dashboard, windshield, or door jamb that is just below the latch. You can also find it on vehicle documents like service records, insurance, and vehicle registration.

How do I read my VIN?

Every character on a VIN discloses a feature of the car.

The first three characters are called “World Manufacturing Identifier,” and provide the manufacturer's details.

The first character reveals what country the car was made in. Below is a quick guide on what countries the alphabets and numbers refer to:

  • A - H: made in Africa
  • L - N: made in Asia
  • S - Z: made in Europe
  • 1 - 5: made in North America (Canadian VINs start with 2)
  • 6 - 7: made in Oceania
  • 8 - 9: made in South America

The second character tells you which specific manufacturer built the vehicle.

The third character indicates the vehicle type or vehicle category, such as truck, bus, etc. In some cases, manufacturers use this space to denote the exact division of the manufacturer that produced this car instead.

Characters four to nine are known as vehicle descriptors. Four to eight describe the car, such as body type, engine, series, restraint, and model; however, different manufacturers place these identifiers in different spots.

Fun fact: Only the country, make, check digit, year, plant, and serial number (numbers 1, 3, 9, 10, 11, and 12-17) do not change spaces regardless of the manufacturer.

The ninth character is called “check digit” and proves that the VIN you have been provided with is not fake. It is calculated using a complex mathematical formula that ensures the authenticity of a car.

Characters 10 to 17 are known as vehicle identifiers.

The 10th character refers to the model year and is denoted by either a number or an alphabet. In the above image, “C” tells us that this vehicle is a 2012 model. Interestingly, the 17-digit VIN we see today was only standardized in 1981, so model years before 1981 had shorter VINs and won’t actually decode.

The 11th character tells you what plant this vehicle was assembled in. Every manufacturer has its own set of plant codes specific to them.

Characters 12 to 17 are the vehicle’s serial number and denote the production line number. Every car receives a unique sequence number which is determined by each manufacturer.

What Is A Vin And Why Is It Important 1

Now you know!

Understanding a car’s VIN greatly helps you learn about its history, which is especially useful when you are buying a used car. It also helps in knowing what car parts you need to keep a car running at its best.

Comment below and let us know if any of this was new information to you or if you already knew all this!

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UNDER THE HOODis a series of short fun articles that provides information about small, yet often overlooked, facts about your car.