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How Can I Decode a Vin? The [Complete] Guide to VIN Decoding

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What is the VIN?

The VIN, or Vehicle Identification Number, is a unique code assigned to every motor vehicle when it is manufactured. It is a 17-character string of letters and numbers, without intervening spaces or the letters Q (q), I (i), and O (o). Each section of the VIN provides specific information about the vehicle, including the year, country, and factory of manufacture; the make and model; and the serial number. VINs are usually printed in a single line. Knowing the VIN is helpful for dealerships, insurance companies, parts suppliers, authorities, and potential buyers, as it provides the base information needed to identify the vehicle and can also be used to evaluate a car or truck. CARFAX and Autocheck will also have information related to the VIN number of each vehicle, such as accident reports.

 

What Information Can be Gleaned From a VIN Decoding?

1. Make and model of the vehicle

A VIN decoding provides information about the car issued at the factory, including the model, year, manufacturing location, and equipment. It also tells you if the vehicle was in an accident or if there are any vehicle recalls. The fourth through eighth characters are typically used to describe the vehicle, such as the safety system, vehicle model, body style, engine size and type, and transmission. The ninth character is the check digit, which is generated using a mathematical formula that uses several characters from the rest of the VIN. The first character in a car’s VIN indicates the country of manufacture. Lastly, the VIN decoding can provide information about the vehicle’s specifications, origin, drive train, brakes, safety features, and vehicle recalls.

2. Manufacturer information

A VIN decoding can provide a wealth of information about a vehicle, including its make, model, year, manufacturing location, equipment, accident history, vehicle recalls, and plant of manufacture. Additionally, it can also reveal the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI), which provides information about the car’s country of origin, manufacturer, and specific division within the manufacturer. The first character of the WMI identifies the country of origin, while the second character identifies the manufacturer and the third character identifies the specific division. Depending on the manufacturer, the month and year of production can also be determined. All this information helps to ensure that parts are correctly identified and that vehicles are safe and reliable.

3. Vehicle specs and features

The VIN decoding specifications and features include: the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI), the vehicle descriptor section (digits 4 through 8), safety features, vehicle model, body style, engine and transmission, and a check digit. The WMI provides information about the country of origin, manufacturer, and vehicle type. The vehicle descriptor section provides details about the car’s series, body style, and engine size. The safety features help identify the type of seat belts and airbags installed in the vehicle. The vehicle model, body style, engine, and transmission are all encoded in the VIN. The check digit is a mathematical formula that uses several characters from the rest of the code.

4. Vehicle history records

A VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) decoding can provide a variety of information about a vehicle. It can provide details about the vehicle’s make, model, year, and trim level, as well as any installed safety and convenience features. It can also provide information about the vehicle’s ownership history, such as how many owners it has had and if it has been in any accidents or had claims filed. Additional information that can be gleaned from a VIN decoding includes the odometer readings, archival photos, recalls, and manufacturer complaints. With some manufacturers, you can even access the vehicle’s build sheet, which will provide all the information about the car’s original equipment. Finally, law enforcement agencies can use a VIN check to identify vehicles that have been stolen.

5. Safety information

A VIN decoding can provide information regarding the safety features of a vehicle, the recalls associated with it, and the types of accidents it has been involved in. Specifically, the fourth digit of the VIN code can provide details about additional safety information, such as airbags, seatbelts, and child safety locks. The sixth and seventh digits can also provide information about the body style and type. Additionally, VIN decoding can also reveal the vehicle’s engine size, as represented by a letter code in the eighth digit. Finally, VIN decoding can reveal information about the vehicle’s maintenance, title history, odometer record, lien/loan records, impounds, thefts, sales history, and active recalls.

6. Engine information

By decoding a VIN, you can glean engine information such as the car’s series, body style, engine size, and additional safety features. The fourth digit gives details of the car’s model-specific features, such as additional safety information, while the sixth and seventh digits show the car’s body style and type. The eighth digit indicates the car’s engine size and is usually represented by a letter. This is important when purchasing spare parts, as it ensures that you get an exact match for the engine type. Additionally, the vehicle identification number can tell you information such as the model, year, manufacturing location, and equipment of the car, as well as if the vehicle has been in an accident or if there are any vehicle recalls.

7. Vehicle ownership information

A VIN decoding can reveal a variety of information about a vehicle, including its manufacturer, country of origin, assembly plant, model year, vehicle type, trim level, engine size, airbag type, and any associated recall data. Additionally, VINs can be used to access vehicle history reports, which can provide information about the vehicle’s ownership, accident, and repair histories.

8. Emission information

A VIN decoding can provide information about a vehicle’s emission levels, such as the model type, restraint types, body type, engine, transmission, safety system, vehicle model, body style, trim level, engine and transmission. It can also provide information about the manufacturer plant and specific details about the car, such as the engine size, safety features and body style. Additionally, a VIN decoding can provide information about the car’s series, body style and engine size. Finally, it can also provide a security code to verify the accuracy of the first eight digits of the VIN.

9. Recall details

When decoding a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), the following details can be recalled: general information about the car, such as the make, model, and year; the type of restraint systems, body type, engine and transmission; the appropriate equipment of the car, such as air conditioning, windows, and reupholstering; odometer readings; archival photos; and manufacturer recalls. Additionally, by visiting NHTSA’s Safercar.gov website, you can check to see if the vehicle is under a recall. Finally, you can sign up for email alerts about vehicles up for auction near you and featured auctions.

10. Crash information

A VIN decoding can provide a variety of information about a vehicle, including the model year, manufacturing location, equipment, accident history, maintenance records, title history, odometer readings, lien/loan information, impounds, thefts, sales history, active recalls, engine information, exterior information, interior information, electrical information, mechanical information, safety system information, and more. Additionally, it can provide archival photos, if they exist for the car. This information can be gathered from national government databases such as the official vehicle safety recall database and the official database of complaints.

 

How to Decode the VIN?

Step 1: Figure out what digits are needed

The first step to decoding a VIN is to figure out which digits are needed. There are 17 digits in a VIN, but not all of them are used for every vehicle. For example, some vehicles only have 12 digits in their VIN. To figure out which digits you need, look at the chart on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website. Once you know which digits you need, write them down in the order they appear on the vehicle.

The next step is to look up the meanings of each digit in the VIN. You can find a complete list of meanings on the NHTSA website. Each digit has a specific meaning, such as the year the vehicle was made or the country where it was manufactured.

Once you have all the information, you can start decoding the VIN. The first step is to find the country code. This is the first digit of the VIN. The country code will tell you where the vehicle was made.
The next step is to find the manufacturer code. This is the second and third digit of the VIN. The manufacturer code will tell you who made the vehicle.

Step 2: Get a VIN decoder

Step-by-Step Instructions for Obtaining a VIN Decoder:

Locate the VIN on your car. Usually, it will be a 17-digit serial number found on a small plaque on the dashboard at the base of the windshield on the driver’s side, or a sticker on the driver’s door. It may also be found in the front of the engine block, easily visible once you open the hood, or it may be found on some body parts such as fenders and hoods. Older cars may have VINs found elsewhere, such as on the steering column, radiator support bracket, or the left-side inner wheel arch.

Find detailed information quickly by entering the entire VIN online. You can find websites that can decode the VIN of most manufacturers automatically, such as VIN Decoder.net. You can also try to find a VIN lookup on your car manufacturer’s website, but it’s not guaranteed to have one. If free lookup websites don’t work, try a paid service such as CARFAX, AutoCheck, or VinAudit.

Use an online decoder. There are several free online services to help you decipher the numbers and their meanings. To find one, enter a search for “online VIN decoder” and select a top result. Some decoders provide basic information for free while others will require payment to give you a full report. A popular choice is Vin Decoder, a free service that offers basic VIN decoding. For more detailed VIN decoding that provides installed and optional equipment, vehicle specs, color options, pricing, MPG, and other details, check out DataOne Software’s complete vehicle data and VIN decoding business solution. Carfax and CarProof are paid vehicle history report sites that also provide a VIN decoder.

Step 3: Find out the WMI of the manufacturer

Step 1: Check the first three digits of the VIN. These three digits are the WMI code and they indicate the country where the vehicle was produced, the manufacturer, and the type of vehicle.

Step 2: Check the first digit of the VIN to determine the country of origin or final processing plant. When using this step, you can use the following guide to help you determine the country of origin:

– Numbers 1, 4, and 5 = United States

– Number 2 = Canada

– Number 3 = Mexico

Step 3: Check the second digit of the VIN to determine the manufacturer. There is a list of the manufacturer and their associated VIN codes that can be found online.

Step 4: Check the third digit of the VIN to determine the specific division within the manufacturer that made the car. For example, Mercedes’ AMG division’s VIN is WMX.

Once you have all of the information, you will have the WMI code of the manufacturer and be able to decode the VIN to determine the specific details about the vehicle.

Step 4: Figure out the digits 1-3 of the WMI

Step 1: Identify the VIN of the vehicle. This can usually be found on the dashboard on the driver’s side.

Step 2: The first three characters of the VIN are known as the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI). This identifies the country of origin, the manufacturer, and the category of vehicle.

Step 3: Look at the first character of the WMI. This will usually be a letter or number that indicates the country of origin where the vehicle was built. For example, AA-AH represents South Africa.

Step 4: Look at the second character of the WMI. This will be a letter that represents the manufacturer. For example, 1G represents General Motors in the US.

Step 5: Look at the third character of the WMI. This will be a letter or number that represents the type of vehicle. For example, 1G1 represents Chevrolet passenger cars. If the manufacturer makes less than 1,000 vehicles per year, then the third character in the vehicle identification number is “9” and the 12th through 14th character identify the manufacturer.

Step 5: Figure out the digits 4-8 of the WMI

Step 1: Find the first three characters of the VIN, which will indicate the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI). This will tell you the country of origin, manufacturer and vehicle type.

Step 2: Look at characters four through eight of the VIN, which provide a more detailed picture of the vehicle. These characters indicate the brand, engine size and type.

Step 3: Figure out what each character means to decode the VIN. For example, character 4 could represent the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR)/Brake system/Body style; character 5-6 could represent the Chassis, Series; character 7 could represent the Restraint system; and character 8 could represent the Engine type.

Step 6: Decode the VIN pattern

Step 1: Acquire your car company’s decoding sheet. For all additional information, such as the make of engine or the exact assembly plant that made the vehicle, you’ll need to know the internal system that car manufacturer uses. If you don’t know the car manufacturer, you can look it up based on the second character. Look up the most common manufacturer’s code online. Try to find a VIN lookup service or the VIN decoding sheets on your car manufacturer’s website. Failing that, use a search engine to look for “VIN decoding sheet” + “(name of company)”. This may be difficult or impossible for some manufacturers. Contact the company’s support service if they have one and ask about VIN decoding specific to their cars. Ask an auto service shop if you can see their decoding charts. The workers there use the charts to direct the repairs and adjustments they make.

Step 2: Use the third character to determine the type of vehicle or the company division. Depending on the manufacturer, the third character of your VIN is used either to narrow down the location further to a company division, or to describe the vehicle’s type. Most of the time, this character simply means “car” or “truck”, or provides little information that the country code doesn’t, for instance “made by Honda Canada”.

Step 3: Use characters 4 through 8 to decode information on component types. These make up the “Vehicle Description System” or VDS. According to specific company codes, they describe the vehicle’s engine and transmission types, exact model, and similar information. Technically, the 9th character is also considered part of the “VDS” section, but is used to confirm the VIN is real, not to describe a component.

Step 4: Use the 11th character to discover the exact assembly plant. If you want to know exactly which factory was used to make your car, the 11th digit will tell you. Just like everything else in this section, you’ll need to find that company’s system to find out more. See the beginning of this section for more details on how to accomplish that.

Step 5: Use the 12th through 17th digits to find the serial number or miscellaneous information. Each manufacturer can decide how to use this space for their own purposes.

Step 7: Identify year, model and accessories required to decode the VIN

To identify the year, model, and accessories required to decode a VIN, first acquire your car manufacturer’s decoding sheet. This will provide all additional information regarding the make of engine and the exact assembly plant that made the vehicle. If you don’t know the car manufacturer, you can look it up based on the second character of the VIN. You can then try to find a VIN lookup service or the VIN decoding sheets on the car manufacturer’s website. Failing that, use a search engine to look for “VIN decoding sheet” plus the manufacturer’s name. If the manufacturer has a support service, you can contact them to ask about VIN decoding specific to their cars. Additionally, you can ask an auto service shop if you can see their decoding charts.

Use the third character to determine the type of vehicle or the company division. Depending on the car manufacturer, this character can be used either to narrow down the location further to a company division, or to describe the vehicle’s type. Use characters 4 through 8 to decode information on component types. These make up the “Vehicle Description System” or VDS, and according to specific company codes, they describe the vehicle’s engine and transmission types, exact model, and similar information. The 11th character can be used to discover the exact assembly plant. Finally, use the 12th through 17th digits to find the serial number or miscellaneous information. Each manufacturer can decide how to use this space for their own purposes.

Step 8: Reverse engineer the VIN code

The VIN code is a standardized system that allows you to decode the information on your vehicle. By understanding how to read the code, you can determine things like the make and model of your car, as well as its year of manufacture.

Bonus Step 9: Track down illegal or stolen vehicles using Vin tracing tools

Vin tracing tools can help identify illegal or stolen vehicles by allowing you to decode a VIN. By acquiring the car company’s decoding sheet, you can determine the vehicle’s make and model and other information such as the exact assembly plant. Additionally, you can use the third character to determine the type of vehicle or the company division, and characters four through eight to decode information on component types. The 11th character can be used to discover the exact assembly plant, and the 12th through 17th digits can be used to find the serial number or miscellaneous information. By tracing the VIN, you can gain a better understanding of the vehicle’s history and help determine if it is stolen or not.