VIN Number Decoder

How to Read a Vehicle Identification Number

If you are buying a used car there are certain steps you should take to make sure the vehicle you buy is what it claims to be. One of the most important aspects of a vehicle is the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), as it can tell you a lot about the vehicle in question. Many buyers do not check the VIN as they are not aware of its importance, so let’s have a look in a little more detail about why it is so essential, and how to read a VIN correctly.

What is a VIN?

Since 1981 all vehicles manufactured for the road, wherever they were made in the world, are required to carry a metal plate with the VIN attached. The VIN is, essentially, a unique identifier of the vehicle, and is used to store information when the vehicle is in an accident, if it is stolen, or if its specifications change over time. By reading a VIN correctly a potential buyer can tell if the number on the attached plate is relevant to the vehicle itself; in many cases unscrupulous dealers will try and sell cars that are substandard, and without the proper checks, this can leave the buyer out of pocket.

The VIN is a standardized number made up of 17 digits, and while there are slight differences between those for vehicles made in the USA and those manufactured in the European Union the basic premise is the same. The VIN contains information on where the vehicle was made, the type of vehicle, its model and specification and year of manufacture, among others. This is why it is essential in identifying potential rogue vehicles, or lemons. Let’s have a look at how to read a VIN number.

VIN Number Decoder

How to Read a VIN

Each of the 17 digits in the VIN has a meaning, and some need to be read in conjunction with others to get the full picture. Let’s go through them, one by one, so that we can see what they are telling us:

The first digit: the first digit in the sequence is an indicator of where in the world the vehicle was manufactured. Note that this is not the country of origin, but the region: for example:

– Letters A to H as the first digit indicate origin in Africa
– J to R indicate Asia
– S to Z is for vehicles made in Europe
– 1 to 5 in North America
– 6 and 7 indicate Oceania
– 8 and 9 mean South America

Note that letters I, O and Q are not used.

The second digit: combined with the first, this indicates the country of origin of the vehicle concerned. As there are many countries that manufacture vehicles, there are over 600 such possible codes. Examples are as follows:

– 10 to 19 indicates the USA
– SA to SM the UK
– Anything prefixed with W is Germany, and so on.

The third digit: this indicates the type of vehicle, and can be, for example, car, truck, SUV. Despite the standardization of the VIN, different makers use different codes, so it is worth looking online for a comprehensive explanation.

The next four digits: these four digits determine the specifics of the vehicle, including model, type of engine and body style. Again, these differ between makers, and this website is a valuable resource.

It should be noted that the digit in position nine is a check digit, and is not indicative of anything to do with the vehicle itself.

The 10th digit: This indicates the year the vehicle was manufactured: A indicates 1981, with each letter adding a year (I, O and Q omitted) followed by one to nine, then a repeat of the same sequence. Note the sequence begins again at A in 2010.

The remaining digits are more specific and, again, are different for each manufacture. These tell the story of the manufacturing plant, for example, or any special options the vehicle was fitted with, plus various other information that you may find interesting. The website listed above is a great resource for determining which manufacturers use which codes.

The essential information included in the VIN is that which tells you the type of car, and its age; if, for example, you are looking at a VIN plate that says the vehicle is a car when it is, in fact, an SUV, then you know something is wrong. Information such as this can be essential when buying a used vehicle, which is very much a major purchase for anyone. By learning how to read the vital parts of the VIN you can spot any potential discrepancies before you commit to what may turn out not to be your pride and joy, but a very expensive mistake.