How to Read VIN

The vehicle identification number is a 17-digit combination of numbers and letters used to identify a specific car.

Say you're buying or selling a used car. At a certain point in the transaction, asking for the car's Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is inevitable. When you sell your car online to Junk Car Medics, we ask for the VIN when providing a quote. Why is this series of seemingly random numbers so crucial in the car-selling process?

Simply put, the VIN reveals to you, the owner (or the prospective buyer) of the vehicle, a whole load of information about the car that will help both buyer and seller ascertain its value. In this post, we will let you know how to unlock all this information and more just by examining the 17 digits in the VIN. But first, we ask:

What is a VIN?

The VIN or Vehicle Identification Number is a combination of numbers and letters commonly 17 digits long, specific to each individual vehicle that it helps identify. Generally, it uses code and lettering systems to help specify things as detailed as the paint that was used on the car.  Some might even call it a fingerprint for simpler terms, and you can think of the VIN as your car's identity code. 

Because a present-day 17-digit VIN combines both numbers and letters, the VIN is there to help you and others working on your car identify specific characteristics. The ECU (your car's computer), for example, is designed especially for your VIN. Parts like the ECU won't function unless explicitly programmed for the vehicle's VIN. 

Another thing you should know is that when reading a VIN, it is a complex combination of numbers and letters and, therefore, easy to mess up. Here's a tip: when reading the digits of the VIN, remember that the letters 'O,' 'I,' or 'Q' rarely (if ever) exist, because of their tendency to be mistaken with the numbers one and zero. 

Where do I find my VIN?

The VIN or Vehicle Identification Number can be placed in several different places on the car. The most common and easiest to identify without opening or unlocking the car is on the outside. It's usually on the lower part of the windshield where the glass meets the dash. You may also find the VIN printed inside the driver's side door or under the hood. Of course, you will most likely find it on your car's title, registration, and insurance documents. And you will need your VIN in situations like purchasing a new car key or key fob. 

When will I need my VIN?

You'll need your VIN for various situations ranging from finding out a part you need or ordering a new key to tasks like knowing what trim the car has or for other options, your vehicle is equipped with, specifically engine and transmission specifications.  You'll need your VIN to accept your offer with Junk Car Medics as well.

What do the numbers and letters mean in a VIN?

Since 1981, the US standardized the format for the VIN number to enable the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to further identify cars according to consumer and government standards. Before 1981, most cars still had an identifying number. However, it wasn't a standardized system allowing the user to quickly decode and identify the vehicle. 

It's a pretty simple concept turned into a confusing number that you may not have known how to decode until now. The VIN provides a ridiculous amount of information about a car in just one sequenced code. When entering a VIN, you will find out anything from the body style, chassis, driveline, trim specifications, warranty info, where the car was manufactured, and more. 

Each digit of the VIN reveals information about your car.

First three digits: World Manufacturer Identifier

The First 3 Digits of the VIN are known as the World Manufacturer Identifier or WMI. This tells you where your car was made or its country of origin. For example, if the first digit of your VIN is a 1, 4, or 5, this indicates that your car was American-made. And yes, you will find foreign makes like Toyota that are manufactured in the United States and numbered accordingly. A VIN starting with a 2 represents cars assembled in Canada, and 3 represents cars assembled in Mexico. If your VIN starts with a letter, it was manufactured in countries either in Europe or Asia (although Japan uses a chassis number instead of a VIN). There are many other countries where cars are manufactured, and you can search for the first three digits online to find out where. 

The second digit is known as the manufacturer code; for example, if the car has an 'N' for the double digit, it is a Nissan. Each manufacturer has their specific second number or letter.

Digits 4 to 8: Vehicle Descriptor Section

The Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS) digits give you more specific information about your vehicle. This includes things like what engine the car has, the body style, and other particular options that may be formed like seating arrangements and airbag types.

Digit 9: Check Digit

The check digit is there to help computers quickly validate the VIN. Computers can use the ninth digit in an algorithm that changes the letters to numbers, adds them up, and divides by 11 to find a correct remainder of 10. 

Digit 10: Model Year

The 10th digit indicates what year the car was manufactured. For example, if the vehicle has an 'A' for the 10th character, it was manufactured in 1980 or 2010. The letter 'B' could mean the car was manufactured in 1981 or 2011. A decoded chart can be easily found online when using a search engine. Remember that the letters 'I' and 'O' are omitted from the chart, so this could throw off your chances of guessing what year the car is based on the letter.

Digit 11: Plant Number

This digit signifies the plant code and identifies the assembly plant where the vehicle was made. This number is specific to each manufacturer and will be numbered accordingly. 

Digit 12-17: Unique Serial Number

The last five digits in North America will be composed of strictly numbers. These are the production numbers for the vehicle and will indicate options that the car is equipped with that further distinguish it from similar vehicles.

What does invalid VIN mean? Why is my VIN not recognized?

Your VIN could not be recognized for several reasons. The first is that the car was manufactured before 1981, making it unrecognizable in the standard system. If you have a newer car, you have likely entered the information about the car incorrectly. As stated earlier in this article, the letters I, O, and Q are rarely used in the VIN because they are easily confused with the numbers 1 and 0, commonly used. Ensure you enter the correct values when inputting your VIN into a VIN checker.  

Another reason why your VIN is not recognized is that you are searching in the wrong database. For example, if you have a foreign-type car that was never meant to be shipped to the US or Canada, you may not find that car in a database like the National Highway Transport Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Note: A stolen car could have a tampered VIN that is not legitimate. It is wise to know the vehicle's history completely when buying.

Is it safe to give out the VIN? (i.e., on Craigslist, etc.)

Yes. Although the VIN is specific to each vehicle, there is no harm in giving your VIN out, even to someone you're selling a car on Craigslist, as they will be able to find out more information about the vehicle.

Does a VIN tell you who the owner is?

When searched in the correct database, like the law enforcement and government databases, the VIN can certainly reveal the vehicle's present owner. In third-world countries, where registration laws are less enforced, the car's owner may not be known based on the VIN.

How do I get a free VIN check?

There are several ways to check your VIN for more information about your car. The best way to find any information is to use a search engine to learn more about vin decoding. Once you do, you will find links to the National Highway Transport Safety Administration (NHTSA) that will assist you in finding out information like recall campaigns and vehicle history reports. As there are many different sites like VINCheckPro, you may find yourself faced with purchasing to find more information about your car. Please don't do it. You are entitled to your car's info, so don't be fooled by the credit card entry page on Vin decoder sites. The wise decision is to find a website that will give you the information for free.

I checked VIN and found out my car has a recall campaign. Is it the end of the world?

The answer is no; it's not the end of the world. However, if your car was recalled for an airbag or seatbelt you should definitely get that taken care of pronto. Make sure to contact your local dealership and let them know you are coming in advance to make sure they have the right part for your car when you arrive. Remember that many car recalls are for more insignificant details, like a software update for your transmission (Mercedes GLE) or a piece of heat-resistant tape on the seat belt pre-tensioner to reduce fire risk in case of an accident (Ford F-150). 

Where can I find other specific information about my car?

Aside from the Vehicle Identification Number, you can find a separate ID tag inside the driver-side door that will give you more information about your car, including the paint code, wheelbase specs, overall vehicle dimensions for shipping purposes, and tire inflation recommendations.

Do I Need The VIN When Preparing For Selling A Junk Car?

You will need the VIN when preparing to sell a junk car. Having the VIN is crucial in preparing for selling a junk car. This is because having the VIN will let the junk car buyer know exactly the year, make, and model of the junk car. Knowing the VIN will give you a more accurate quote when selling your junk car.

Do I Need The VIN When Preparing For Junk Car Removal?

Yes, you will need the VIN when preparing for junk car removal. Having the VIN is a step in preparing for junk car removal because the VIN lets the junk car buyer know exactly what year, make, and model your junk car.

Your best offer awaits