Since 1954, every vehicle on the road has been assigned a Vehicle Identification Number on behalf of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Prior to 1981, vehicles featured VINs that were made up for less than 17 characters. Newer models come with VINs composed of 17 characters containing letters and numbers.

A vehicle VIN serves as a vehicle's DNA. There are no two vehicles with the same identifying code in operation. This unique number contains the information on the vehicle's specific features, owners, and a manufacturer. It is used for registration operations, tracking recalls, checking vehicle history, and more.

Where to find your VIN

On a previous post Where Can I Find The VIN?, we explain how to locate your vehicle's VIN. You may view that post to learn how to locate your VIN.

How to read a VIN

Reading a VIN isn't as hard as most people think, below is a image of a VIN "break down".

how to read a vin
Source: CarFax

Characters in a VIN indicate a vehicle's make, model, when it was built, which plant it was assembled in and more.

Manufacturer & Country

The first three characters of the VIN are the World Manufacturer Identifier or WMI code. It identifies the manufacturer's county of origin.

The first character of the WMI is the region in which the manufacturer is located or the final point of assembly. Usually this is the country where the vehicle was made, but in some European countries, it may be the country where the automaker is headquartered.

The second character of the WMI indicates the manufacturer and the region where the vehicle was produced.

The third character of the WMI indicates the vehicle type or manufacturing division.

Make, Model, Trim, Engine & More

Characters 4 through 8 are the Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS). They identify the vehicle brand, model, body style, engine type, transmission and more. Service centers commonly use this information to identify an automaker's systems so that they can properly service a car. When you use our online VIN decoder tool, we are decoding this information.

Check Digit

The 9th character, or check digit, is used to detect invalid VINs based on a mathematical formula that was developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Model Year

The 10th digit indicates the year. The following chart shows which letter represents which model year. Certain letters and numbers are not used because they can be confused with others. VINs do not include the following letters I (i), O (o), Q (q), U (u), or the number 0.

VIN Year Chart: How to Determine Your Car's Model Year

Model Year Code Model Year Code Model Year Code Model Year Code
1980 A 1995 S 2010 A 2025 S
1981 B 1996 T 2011 B 2026 T
1982 C 1997 V 2012 C 2027 V
1983 D 1998 W 2013 D 2028 W
1984 E 1999 X 2014 E 2029 X
1985 F 2000 Y 2015 F 2030 Y
1986 G 2001 1 2016 G 2031 1
1987 H 2002 2 2017 H 2032 2
1988 J 2003 3 2018 J 2033 3
1989 K 2004 4 2019 K 2034 4
1990 L 2005 5 2020 L 2035 5
1991 M 2006 6 2021 M 2036 6
1992 N 2007 7 2022 N 2037 7
1993 P 2008 8 2023 P 2038 8
1994 R 2009 9 2024 R 2039 9
Assembly Plant

The 11th character identifies the manufacturing plant where the vehicle was assembled. Each manufacturer has it's own plant codes.

Production or Serial Number

Characters 12 through 17 indicate the serial number. This number often indicates the sequence in which a vehicle came off the assembly line. Since there is no fixed standard for this number, a manufacturer can use this number differently.

Taken together, characters 10 through 17 make up the Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS).

How to decode a VIN online

Every 17 characters of a identification number means something: the model, the country and year of manufacture, and son on. You can decode a VIN number character by character, getting all the model and engine specs. However, this will not give you the full story of a vehicle in question.

Our online VIN decoder will go far beyond deciphering the code. It will also retrieve the history of a vehicle from numerous databases that are associated with it. You will get to know whether the vehicle was ever stolen, involved in an accident or if the vehicle was deemed salvaged by the insurance company. Try it now for free!