A VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is an identifier number that is used to differentiate between different makes, models and characteristics of the many vehicles manufactured all over the world. Much like a social security or social insurance number, every vehicle made is assigned a unique 17 digit VIN which is stamped on a metal plate or printed on a label and attached to the vehicle in several locations.
The VIN is most easily viewed on the driver-side dashboard through the windshield, or on the driver-side door frame, but may also located on other areas of the vehicle. (See graphic below). Law enforcement agencies can use the VIN to determine if a vehicle has an active theft record and has been reported stolen.
Sample Vehicle Info Tag with VIN, Barcode and Other Info
Typical VIN Locations on a Vehicle
Click on each tab for more information on VIN and theft protection tips.
Use an On-line Tool to Check a VIN
The NICB (National Insurance Crime Bureau) provides VINCheck where you can enter a VIN number and check to see if it's listed in their theft records as stolen or if it has been listed as having been written off as a total loss. Another site, DecodeThis allows you to input a VIN to determine a vehicle's make, model, mode year, etc. If the vehicle's characteristics provided do not match the vehicle you're looking to purchase then there is a good chance that the VIN has been switched.
Inspect the VIN Label
Look closely at the VIN plate located on the driver-side of the dashboard. If it appears to have been tampered with, again there is a chance that the VIN has been switched.
Check the Paper Work
Never buy a used car without getting the vehicle's title or pink slip in person; and double-check the VIN listed on the title, the registration papers and the federal certification label on the driver-side door.
Ask to see identification of the person who is selling you the car. Write down his/he name. address, phone number and driver's license number for your records. Make sure you call the phone number given to you to verify that it is a valid number.
Digit 1 - Country of Manufacture
Identifies the country in which the vehicle was manufactured. For example: USA=1 or 4, Canada=2, Mexico=3, Japan=J, Korea=K, England=S, Germany=W, Italy=Z
Digit 2 - Manufacturer
Identifies the vehicle manufacturer. For example; Audi=A, BMW=B, Buick=4, Cadillac=6, Chevrolet=1, Chrysler=C, Dodge=B, Ford=F, GM Canada=7, GM USA=G, Honda=H, Jaguar=A, Lincoln=L, Mercedes Benz=D, Mercury=M, Nissan=N, Oldsmobile=3, Pontiac=2 or 5, Plymouth=P, Saturn=8, Toyota=T, VW=W, Volvo=V
Digits 4-8 - VDS (Vehicle Descriptor Section)
Digits 4 through 8 of the VIN mare used by the manufacturer to identify attributes of the vehicle. They can identify vehicle features such as body style, engine type, model, series, etc.
Digit 11 - Assembly Plant
Identifies the assembly plant where the vehicle was manufactured.
Digits 12-17 - VIS (Vehicle Identifier Section)
The last 8 characters of the VIN are used for the identification a of specific vehicle. The last four characters shall always be numeric. Identifies the sequence of the vehicle for production as it rolled off the manufacturers assembly line.
Digit 10 - Model Year
Identifies the model year. For example: 1988=J, 1989=K, 1990=L, 1991=M, 1992=N, 1993=P, 1994=R, 1995=S, 1996=T, 1997=V, 1998=W, 1999=X, 2000=Y, 2001=1, 2002=2, 2003=3
Mouse over the VIN characters to show what each digit or group of digits represents.
Digit 3 - Vehicle Type/Division
Identifies the vehicle type or manufacturing division.
Detroit automobile manufacturers began stamping and casting identifying numbers on cars and their parts in the mid 1950's . The primary purpose of this Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) was to give an accurate description of the vehicle when mass production numbers were starting to scale in very significant numbers. The early VINs came in a range of variations depending on the individual manufacturer at that time.
In the early 1980's the US Department of Transport (USDOT) required that all road vehicles must contain a 17 character VIN. This established the standard fixed VIN system which major vehicle manufacturers use currently. The result was a unique identifier number for each individual vehicle that rolled off an assembly line.