What is a VIN number (vehicle identification number)?

What is a VIN number (vehicle identification number)?
7 min read

A Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is a unique code that identifies (almost) every vehicle in the world. Car manufacturers started using them in the mid-20th century, but in the absence of strict standards, each manufacturer created their own VINs with different characters, meanings, etc.

The current standard was published in 1981. This standard requires VINs to be 17 characters long, without the letters O (o), I (i), and Q (q) to avoid confusion with similar-looking numbers: 0, 1 and 9.

A car VIN number is divided into several sections. Each of them contains unique information about the year and country of manufacture of the vehicle, characteristics, list of options, etc. And while figuring out the meaning of the VIN can be difficult, VIN decoders, like ours, are a good starting point.

And what is more important, you can use the VIN to access records in global databases. They are very useful when buying a used vehicle: they will help you avoid scams like mileage reversals, hidden damage, and more.

How to find the VIN number of the vehicle

Since the VIN number is needed to save various records and perform a search, you need to know where to find it. The code is always in secure places on the vehicle so that no one can accidentally damage or remove it. These are the most common VIN number locations:

  • Under the hood: The vehicle identification number is often located in front of the engine block.
  • Dashboard on the driver's side: get out of the car and look behind the windshield.
  • On the driver's side door pillar: Open the driver's door and look for the VIN plate on the inside of the pillar.
  • At the front end of the frame: On older vehicles, it is often located inside the front wheel housing.
  • Fire wall: Some vintage cars have the VIN on the fire wall, which is located between the cabin and the engine compartment.

These are the locations on the vehicle, but you can also find it on the vehicle's title (matricula) documents and insurance certificate. Remember that all VINs must match.

What information does the VIN decoder and car history report provide?

VIN Finder scans databases of dealerships, repair shops, car sales reports, and rental companies around the world, providing you with everything from regular mileage checks to damage photos.

While a free VIN decoder only provides basic data, a comprehensive vehicle history report provides you with the following information:

  • mileage setbacks
  • Theft records of the security forces
  • Damage (sometimes even post-accident photos)
  • Registration and inspection dates
  • Vehicle ownership information (whether it was used as a taxi, rental vehicle, police vehicle, etc.; whether it has sustained water damage, etc.)
  • original equipment
  • Model-specific issues and recalls due to manufacturing issues
  • Country of origin, year and model

In turn, the free VIN decoder can tell you the following information:

  • Maker
  • Model
  • Year
  • Basic equipment information
  • VIN breakdown

How is a free VIN check different from a vehicle history report?

If you're already familiar with free vehicle history reports and free VIN decoders, you probably already know what information each provides. The reason is simple: most of the information is not free.

A free VIN checker provides, in most cases, data that can be accessed for free. We can always tell you the make, model and year of manufacture of the car. In some cases, we may even access more data; For example, for some cars, we can provide you with their basic specifications. Technically, you could search the internet for all that information, but a VIN finder gets it in a matter of seconds, so it saves you a lot of time.

How to Decode the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

The VIN number consists of 17 characters that are divided into several sections. Technically, you can decode a VIN without using a decoder. Each character has a fixed meaning

Worldwide Manufacturer Identifier (WMI)

The first section, known as the WMI code, is three characters long.

  • The first character indicates the country of origin and can range from the number "1" (USA) to the letter "Z" (Italy).
  • The second character indicates the brand name. For example, "A" refers to "Audi"; "B" refers to "BMW"; "N" stands for "Nissan". However, sometimes 'A' stands for British manufacturers or 'R' can stand for 'Audi'. That's why another (third) character is needed in the WMI section.
  • The last character reveals the manufacturer's division or whether it is a sedan, convertible, SUV, or any other body type.
  • The structure of the Global Manufacturer Identifier section is slightly different when the vehicle is not mass produced.

Vehicle Description Section (VDS)

The second section is the Vehicle Description Section (VDS) and consists of five characters. These characters contain information about the engine size and type, braking system, car series, model and body style. Each character represents different characteristics and its meaning depends on the manufacturer.

Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS)

The last 9 characters are the Vehicle Identifier Section or VIS. The information in this section is different depending on whether the manufacturer is American, European, or Asian.

  • On US vehicles, the first two digits indicate the model year and manufacturing plant, while the remaining characters are a serial code.
  • For EU vehicles, the VIS only has to provide a "clear identification of a specific vehicle".

Obviously, many vehicles will have the same configuration and will be built at the same facility, so the only difference in your VIN will be the serial number.

Determining the model year without a chart is tricky. For example, while "1" is 2001 and "2" is 2002, "A" is 2010 and "B" is 2011.

Each assembly plant also has its own coding, so it's best to find the character first, then search for it.

Control digit

This is the shortest section and only has one character: a "check digit". This digit is the result of a mathematical operation that uses all the other characters of the VIN in a formula.

If at least one character is false or incorrect, the result will not match the check digit. You can calculate the check digit without having to do a VIN lookup.

On American and Chinese cars, the check digit is always the ninth character in the VIN. EU vehicles do not specify the exact position.

In case you have found a mistake in the text, please send a message to the author by selecting the mistake and pressing Ctrl-Enter.
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