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  • Nicholas Hinrichsen

How Many Digits in a VIN?

To understand this article, it’s important to know what exactly a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is. A VIN is a 17 digit alphanumeric (a combination of letters and numbers) identifier that is specific to each vehicle. The unique code is used to track the car’s history from its original manufacturer date and give information about the vehicle's unique details and specifications. Think of it as a social security number, but for a vehicle.


When is a VIN number needed

  • Insuring a vehicle (will be needed by insurance companies)

  • Manufacturer recalls

  • Claims for warranty service

  • Buying a used car

  • Can look up to see the vehicle’s history online using sites such as CARFAX, AutoZone, and NICB

  • Selling a used vehicle

  • Provides a forewarning on potential questions or problems buyers may have

Where to find a vehicle's VIN

There are several common places to find VINs, but sometimes secondary locations vary by the make and model of the vehicle. If you are unable to locate your VIN in any of the locations listed below, check online for your specific vehicle.

  • Driver’s side dashboard

  • Driver’s side doorjamb

  • Vehicle registration

  • Vehicle title

  • Insurance papers

  • The engine block (typically the front)

How can I decode my VIN and what do the digits mean?


Although it may seem like the seventeen digits of the VIN are just randomly placed together, each digit specifies something about the vehicle. The information below provides a breakdown of the 17-digit VIN, starting from the leftmost digit.


World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI)

First Digit: Manufacturer location (country of origin)

Examples:

  • SA-SM United Kingdom

  • 7 New Zealand

  • 9S-9W Uruguay

Second and Third Digits: Manufacturing company

  • Vehicle manufacturers who produce less than 1,000 vehicles a year use a 9 in the 3rd, 12th, 13th, and 14th digits.

  • The third digit is typically the vehicle type or manufacturing division

Popular WMI codes:


Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS)

Digits 4 - 8: Engine size and type

  • This varies by manufacturer

  • Includes information on the body style, style, and vehicle series

  • Most manufacturers use the 8th digit to refer to the engine type

Example: 2007 Chevrolet Corvette used U for a 6-liter V8 engine


Ninth Digit: Security code for the Manufacturer

  • Also known as the “check digit”, which allows computers to know immediately if there is a VIN error or the VIN is fraudulent. It puts the VIN through a set of calculations to produce the correct value of the check digit.

  • Each letter is assigned a numerical value (The letter A would be equal to 1, and W would be equal to 6)

  • If the digit in the VIN is a numerical value, the value of it will remain the same (an 8 in a VIN sequence would be equal to 8)

  • The 9th position is a space

  • Each VIN digit has a weight, aka, the number of times that digit gets multiplied

How a check digit is calculated using a mathematical formula:

  1. Transliteration

  2. Convert each letter character to a number value (using the value chart here)

  3. Compute Weighted Products

  4. Multiply each transliterated VIN character by a weighted value

  5. Compute Sum of Weighted Products

  6. Add all the weighted products together

  7. Compute Remainder

  8. The results are added together and then divided by 11

  9. Compare Remainder to Check Digit

  10. The remainder becomes the check digit value shown

  11. If the remainder = 10, the check digit is X (incorrect)


Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS)

10th Digit: Model year

In addition to the 3 letters O, I, and Q that are not used anywhere in the VIN, the letters U and Z, and the digit 0 are also excluded for the model year encoding. The model year system starts with 1980 as A or 0, depending on the manufacturer, and goes from B to Y (2030). After that, the digits 1-9 will be used (2039) to distinguish between the model years. To keep the system in place for at least 30 years after 2039, the NHTSA amended 49 CFR Part 565.


Examples:

  • General Motors the letter “A” used in 1980

  • 1987 is H

  • 2020 is L

  • 2039 is 9

11th Digit: Manufacturing plant / Assembly plant (plant code)

  • Each manufacturer has it’s own code specific to its plants and where the vehicle was specifically made

12th - 17th Digits: Vehicle serial number

  • The production number of the vehicle

  • Useful for looking up specific parts that the vehicle type was made with since sometimes mirrors made in vehicles that were produced in May can have different ones than the ones in August. Could be the same model, just different mirrors or other slight alterations.

To decode your VIN can you use the following sites with VIN Decoders:

Autocheck, CARFAX, AutoZone, and NICB


Are there some VINs that are not 17 digits?


Yes, there are VINs that are not 17 digits. Before the NHTSA standardized the system in 1981, VIN’s varied in length from 11 to 17 characters. The downside with this is that most online VIN check programs or decoders cannot process VIN’s that are not 17 digits in length.


What is the history of the VIN number?


The United States government and the Automobile Manufacturers Association(AMA) started requiring VIN numbers in 1954 as a way to establish a standardized vehicle identification system. Pre-1954 the system in place was using the engine number to register and title vehicles such as cars and trucks. The issue with this method was that engines were commonly replaced, and therefore the numbers would have to be changed even though the vehicle was the same.


Fast forward to 1981 when the 17-alphanumeric system was implemented for all road vehicles by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). To avoid confusion between certain letters and numbers, O(o), I(i), and Q(q) are not used.


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