How To Read & Understand A VIN Number

Every legal vehicle in existence has a VIN or vehicle identification number. Understanding how to read a VIN is crucial so you can fill out the necessary paperwork, register your car correctly, and buy used vehicles without falling for a scam or purchasing an illegally obtained automobile.

Not sure where to start? Read on for a step-by-step breakdown of how to read and understand a VIN.

What Is a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) Number?

A vehicle identification number is a unique code for a specific car or motor vehicle. Think of the VIN code as the fingerprint for your vehicle; no other car has the same VIN, no matter how identical another vehicle may look on the outside. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and law enforcement agencies heavily rely on this number.

A standard VIN has 17 characters. These include digits and capital letters. Thus, there are many billions of potential combinations.

A VIN tells you where and when your car was built, its make, and its model. VINs are so crucial because they:

  • Help car buyers and sellers know which exact vehicle they are exchanging
  • Help law enforcement professionals identify whether one vehicle or another is the one they are looking for
  • Help everyone determine whether a car gets stolen
  • Allow organizations like Carfax to find a vehicle history report and discover a vehicle’s accident history

Where Can You Find Your VIN Number?

You can find a VIN in any number of places. Depending on your car’s make and model, as well as its age, you may find your VIN sticker:

  • Under the hood of your vehicle. Specifically, look under the front of the engine block if you have a gasoline-powered car
  • On the driver’s side of the interior dashboard. This is the most common location for a VIN
  • On the front end of the frame. This is more common among older vehicles
  • On the latches of the driver’s side doorjamb or internal pillar
  • You can also VIN lookup online or look on important documents such as your vehicle title, car insurance card, or registration.

Parts of a VIN Number

  1. WMI
  2. Vehicle Descriptor
  3. Check Digit
  4. Vehicle Identification Section (VIS)
  5. Plant Code
  6. Production Number


Remember, a VIN has 17 digits and capital letters in a serial number sequence. These digits and capital letters detail different information depending on where they are in the series.

The sequence of a VIN from the first digit through the third digit is called the World Manufacturer Identifier.

The first character of the WMI tells you the country of origin or the location of the final processing plan for the vehicle.

For example, 1, 4, and 5 indicate that the vehicle was made in the US. On the other hand, two means the vehicle was made in Canada, and three represents where the car was made in Mexico. The Society of Automotive Engineers assigns WMI digits and values.

The second character of the WMI represents the manufacturer of the vehicle. For instance, “B” stands for BMW.

The third character of the WMI tells you the type of vehicle when combined with the first two characters, such as whether it is a sedan, SUV, or truck.

Vehicle Descriptor

Characters 4 through 8 are collectively called the vehicle descriptor. The vehicle descriptor section tells you the following:

  • Model type or body style
  • Restraint type(s)
  • Body type
  • Engine size and type
  • Transmission

Check Digit

The next character, the ninth digit, is akin to a security code. It’s called the check digit. The manufacturer makes a code number or letter for each unique vehicle to verify the number’s authenticity.

It’s a step that vehicle manufacturers (such as Ford, General Motors, Toyota, and Honda) take to prevent scammers or car thieves from creating or fabricating false VINs.

Vehicle Identification Section (VIS)

The following sequence of digits or characters, ten through 17, are collectively referred to as the Vehicle Identifier Section.

The tenth digit in the car VIN is the model year, such as 2022. Note that the model year is a letter rather than a number, such as “Z.”

Plant Code

The 11th character in a VIN is the plant code. This tells you which plant constructed the car, SUV, or truck. Each legitimate vehicle manufacturing plant has its code.

Production Number

The 12th through 17th characters in a VIN are unique numbers each vehicle receives through production. Most of the time, the numbers are sequential. For instance, the first new type of vehicle might have a production number like “000001”.

That’s all 17 characters in a standard VIN. Any legitimate VIN will never use the letters “I,” “O,” or “Q.” Therefore, if you see a used vehicle with a VIN that includes one of these characters, you can be sure that it is not legitimate.

Forget this info? You can use a VIN decoder to determine where the car came from and more — it’s beneficial when trying to buy a used car. Always use a VIN check tool to ensure it’s a legitimate buy and not stolen.

Bottom Line

As you can see, reading a VIN is pretty straightforward. Once you know what to look for, you can quickly decode the information and learn much about a given vehicle. It’s an essential skill when buying a used car and determining whether it is legal or in good condition.

You’ll also need to be able to read and list your vehicle’s VIN when transporting your car from place to place. With Carvaygo, we can ship your car anywhere, whenever you need it, so long as your vehicle has a registered VIN. Contact us today for more information.

What is a VIN Number? | US News & World
What is a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)?| AutoCheck
What Is a VIN — And Why Is It Important? | Credit Karma

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