What Information is Encoded in a VIN?

Posted by Friday, 27 June, 2014
The VIN is the Vehicle Identification Number, the string of numbers and letters which uniquely identifies a particular motor vehicle. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) established the current 17-digit VIN format in 1981 and NTSB regulations govern what information is encoded in the VIN and where the VIN must be noted on the vehicle.   Every motor vehicle manufactured or imported into the United States must have the VIN marked on a plate or sticker somewhere on the driver’s side door frame, on a plate attached to the dashboard in a position that permits it to be read by someone standing outside near the driver’s side front pillar and on the firewall inside the engine compartment.   Some VIN character positions encode a single piece of information about the vehicle. Other positions may be used in combinations and need to be deciphered using a key provided by the manufacturer.  

Positions 1 and 2: Identifies the country and company of manufacture

These codes are set by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). 1st position – The country in which the vehicle was built or assembled. For instance, on a vehicle built in the United States, this character will be “1” or “4”; on one built in Japan it will be “J”. 2nd position – The manufacturer. For example, a “C” in this position means Chrysler is the manufacturer, a Ford has an “F” in the second position, and a Mercedes Benz has a “D”.  

3rd position: Identifies vehicle type or manufacturing division

“Vehicle type” includes categories like car, truck, light truck, van and sport-utility vehicle. Each manufacturing company uses different code in this position. The most reliable source of information for decoding the character in this position is the website of the manufacturer.  

4th to 8th positions: Identifies attributes of the vehicle

The characters in these five positions maybe used singly or in combination to identify vehicle features such as body style, engine size, model, option packages, or even paint color. What information is included here is up to the manufacturer and, as with the third position, each manufacturer has their own codes that can be found on their website.  

9th position: A “check digit” that verifies the VIN accuracy

After all other characters in the VIN have been determined by the manufacturer the check digit is calculated by using them in a specific mathematical formula.  

10th position: Identifies the model year

The model year is not necessarily the same as the calendar year the vehicle was built in. The model year for most manufacturers starts in July or August of the preceding calendar year. The character for the model year repeats on a 30-year cycle; an “A” in this position can indicate either 1980 or 2010, for instance. Generally there are enough other indicators to tell which model year applies.  

11th position: Identifies the assembly plant for the vehicle

This is another position which the manufacturer establishes the code for. As with the others, the list of codes can be found on their website.  

12th to 17th positions: Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS), the serial number of the vehicle

The last 6 characters of the VIN are the identification of a specific vehicle. These characters increase sequentially for each vehicle as it rolls off the manufacturers assembly line. The last six characters are always numbers, never letters.

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