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Facts and Interesting Information About VIN's (Vehicle Identification Numbers)

by Kerry Wilson

The VIN is a 17 character number made-up of both alpha and numeric characters. No two VIN's are the same.

All cars and light trucks built after 1981 have unique 17-character "vin numbers" that contains valuable information about that vehicle's history. These numbers are called vehicle identification numbers (VIN #).

Smart car buyers are recognizing that "VIN" Numbers or "vehicle identification numbers" can provide essential information to help them make better decisions about cars, old and new. VIN numbers are unique 17-digit serial numbers assigned to all cars manufactured after 1981. Just as fingerprints, a car's VIN or vehicle identification number can provide information a car buyer can use to confirm the true history of the car.

VIN numbers are used to record everything that will ever happen to a car. When ever your vehicle is sold, involved in an accident, or involved in an insurance claim, or recalled, bureaus such as CarFax record that information in data bases. VIN's display a car’s uniqueness and manufacturer and provides a method to trace a car from the factory to the junkyard. Your VIN number can be used to track recalls, registrations, warranty claims, thefts and insurance coverage.

American automobile manufacturers have used VIN Numbers (sometimes called chassis numbers) since 1954, but it was with the introduction of the 1981 model year that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration required that all motor vehicles, trailers, motorcycles and mopeds carry VIN numbers in a fixed format. Actually, the earliest VIN was on the 1953 Chevrolet Corvette. These were four digit numbers beginning with 1000. Now days, once decoded, these vin numbers can provide vehicle specifications such as year and make, model, body style, and place of manufacture.

Look over the car and make sure that all the VIN numbers you can find are the same within the car. The VIN number is normally engraved or on a sticker in numerous places in the car (inside the doors, the dash, the trunk, engine, and/or quarter panels).

States use the VIN number to track a car's status. Protect yourself by thoroughly checking the VIN numbers on used cars you want to buy.

VIN databases on the web, available from such firms as Experian and Consumers Reports (published annually in April by Consumer Reports) can provide a VIN "background check" on a car and alert a potential buyer to such problems as: damage from flood or fire, manufacturer buybacks of lemons, odometers that have malfunctioned or been rolled back, major accidents and crashes, emission problems, gray market or crash test vehicles, changes in title or ownership, salvaged or rebuilt vehicles, car thefts, recalls, and high usage vehicles previously used as taxis or rental cars.

Increasingly, consumers are also using free VIN check and Car Fax on the Internet and to get a free check of the current status of the VIN and to determine whether their vehicle has recalled parts by checking their car manufacturer's web site.

The locations of vehicle identification numbers (VIN) vary but the following are the common places to find them:

Firewall of the vehicle
Radiator Support Bracket
Dash by windshield
Left hand inner wheel arch
Steering column
Guarantee & Maintenance Book
Machined Pad on front of engine
Drivers door or post on passenger side
Component parts as listed above -e.g.- engine, frame, etc.
Later model years most common locations of the VIN:

Left instrumentation panel
Dash plate by window
Drivers door or post
Firewall

The following VIN Character Decoding information is only a partial guide.

1st Character - Country of Origin

1 = United States                         9  = Brazil                     V  = France*        * 2nd Character = F may indicate that the                                                                                                                        vehicle was manufactured in France, unless it is                                                                                                                         a Ford. Example: The first 2 Characters of a                                                                                                                        Peugeot or a Renault are both: VF

2 =  Canada                                 J  = Japan                     V  = Yugoslavia

3 =  Mexico                                K  = Korea                    W  = Germany

4 & 5  = United States                 L  = Taiwan                   Y  = Sweden

6  = Australia                               S  = England                   Z  = Italy

 

2nd Character:  Here is a partial list of common manufacturers:

A = Audi, Mitsubishi, Range Rover, American Motors, Sterling, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and Jaguar

B = Dodge

C = Chrysler. Checker, Delorian, some Geo Metro's and Trackers  

D = Daihatsu and  Mercedes             E = Eagle      

F = Ford, some Subaru's i.e. Forrester and Impreza, Fiat, Peugeot, Renault and Ferrari. Note regarding Subaru, Fiat Peugot, Renault and Ferrari, the 2nd Character = F, means the vehicle was manufactured in France.

G = General Motors (Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac, GMC, Saturn, and some Geo Metro's and Tracker's)

H = Honda and Acura          J = Jeep               L = Lancia, Daewoo and Lincoln                     M = Hyundai and Mini    

N = Infinity, Nissan, Kia and Ford Aspires, possibly Ford Festiva, and possibly some Toyotas.   

P = Porshe and Plymouth

S = Isuzu, Saab, some Subaru's (i.e. Baja and Legacy) and Suzuki

T = Toyota and Lexus               U = Aro              V = Volkswagen  and Volvo                X = Yugo

Y = Mazda and Geo Prizm                  Z = Mercury                

2 = Avanti        3 = American General (Hummer)    8 = Chevrolet Luv and Geo Storm     9 = Acura

                

3rd through 8th Characters allocated to Manufacturer.

They use these digits to reflect body type, Car line, restraint system, engine, braking system, etc. All Domestic Manufacturers use 8th Character for the engine.

9th Character is a Check Digit.

It is determined by carrying out a mathematical computation developed by the Department of Transportation (DOT). *Einstein's Theory of the Check Digit - will be discussed later in this article.

10th Character - Year of Manufacture

B =  1981                   G  = 1986              M   = 1991               T  = 1996              1  = 2001              6  = 2006              =2011

C  = 1982                   H  = 1987              N   = 1992               V  = 1997              2  = 2002              7  = 2007              =2012

D  = 1983                   J  = 1988               P   = 1993               W   = 1998             3   = 2003             8  = 2008              =2013

E  = 1984                  K  = 1989               R   = 1994               X   = 1999              4   = 2004            9   = 2009             =2014

F  = 1985                   L  = 1990               S   = 1995               Y  = 2000                5  = 2005            A  =2010              =2015

Note: There are no I's or O's in a VIN, only 1's and 0's. There are no Q's in a VIN. Also, there are no U's in the 10th digit of the VIN - so as not to be confused with V's. There are no A's in the 10th digit, because the A was reserved to represent a 1980 year model, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did not actually mandate the fixed format until 1981, with the B. The A is used in other sequences of the VIN, it's just not used as a 10th digit. Also, there is no Z in the 10th digit,  because after the year 2000, the 10th digit sequence started over from alpha to numeric, and the Z was not used. It is not known at this time what sequence will be used beginning the year 2010. Update: The A was used for the year 2010, but it is still not known what sequence will be used beginning with 2011.

11th Character - Final Assembly Plant.

This Character represents the Manufacturer's final assembly plant. I do not have a list of assembly plants. 

12th to the 17th Characters.

The last 6 Characters of the VIN are the actual serial number of that particular vehicle, which makes that vehicle unique.  Note: The first 11 Characters of the vehicle are common to other vehicles with the same: Country of origin, manufacturer, body type - car line - restraint system - engine - and braking system, year of manufacture, and final assembly point, but the last 6 Characters will make that vehicle unique. (Even in the case of 2 identical vehicles, not only will the 12 to the 17th Characters be different, but the 9th Character Check Digit will also be different).  

When you purchase a vehicle, check the VIN yourself against the bill of sale. Remember, the dealer's title clerk has to type those 17 digits, and typo's can occur. Besides the fact that there is never an alpha "O", "Q", or "I" in a VIN. Remember that an "S" can look like a "5" when it is written down and transposed. Your cooperation will help eliminate errors reported to your state DOT. Most insurance agency's have a reliable VIN check computer program, that will alert the agent to an incorrect VIN, including the 9th digit Check Digit. There are also several online services such as CarFax and Free VIN Check available to check VIN's and your vehicle's history. CarFax and Free VIN Check offer a free VIN check, and the report will tell you if there are potential problems with the VIN. You may then purchase the report for aproximately $15.00.

* Einstein's Theory of the 9th Digit Check Digit: (Use the chart below to compute and check the 9th digit for accuracy).

                                         1    2   3   4   5   6   7    8   9   10   11   12   13    14   15   16   17

17 Digit VIN:

Line A

Line B                                                                        **

Line C                              8    7   6   5   4   3   2    10  0    9     8       7     6     5      4     3     2

Line D                                                                          0

Final Sum: ______________

Instructions:

1. On Line A, enter the 17 Digit VIN.

2. On Line B, enter the "Assigned Value" of each character using the table below.

3. Multiply the numbers in line B by the numbers in line C for each of the 17 digits in the VIN. Record the product of each of these in Line C for each of the 17 digits in the VIN. Record the product of each of these in Line D of the same column.

4. Add together all the numbers recorded in Line D and enter the final sum in the space provided.

5. Divide the final sum by the number "11". If the remainder of this division is a single digit, the this number must equal the 9th character in the VIN. If the remainder is the number "10" then the check digit (9th character of the VIN) must b the letter "X".

ASSIGNED VALUE TABLE:

A=1          J=2       T=3     1=1          6=6

B=2          K=2      U=4    2=2          7=7

C=3          L=3       V=5    3=3          8=8

D=4         M=4     W=6     4=4         9=9

E=5         N=5       X=7     5=5          0=0

F=6         P=7        Y=8

G=7        R=9         Z=9

H=8        S=2

How's that for a real computation? Believe it or not, it works!

By checking the 9th Character Check Digit of the VIN for accuracy, you may avoid purchasing a stolen vehicle, or you may avoid an incorrect VIN being reported to the State.

Here is an example of a VIN broken down into sequences:

Here is another example of how to check the 9th digit for accuracy:

 

Vin Numbers and Car Thieves

 

A chain letter circulating claims that you should cover the VIN number of your car so that car thieves can't use it to duplicate your keys and steal your car.

Is it possible that a thief could use the VIN number to get duplicate keys for your car?

Yes, it is possible.  However, unless they find a car dealer who is willing to order them without a title or registration plus ID, then the VIN number alone will do them very little good. Now, granted some car dealerships may replace keys without proper ID, but not many.  It is also true that there have been some car theft rings that were very sophisticated and could forge a new title that would look legit.  Since making a new title that doesn't look suspicious, then showing up in-person at a reputable dealership to trick them into duplicating keys is a bold and risky move, it seems unlikely a thief would want to put himself in such a vulnerable position.  If you look into it there are very few examples of car theft rings operating in this way.  The latest example, in Atlanta, was targeting high end vehicles at dealerships rather than those in private ownership (presumably because the target vehicle is more likely to be in the same spot for a longer period of time).

Key Point: The vast majority of cars are not stolen this way.

The two most common tools for stealing your car are your own keys, or a screwdriver.  I've seen several sites that claim that at least 70 percent of the car thefts are by non-professionals.  Your car's VIN number is your best protection for getting the vehicle back.  It should probably be written or scratched into your car in more places, not less.  

I visited many law enforcement sites about car theft and they say nothing about covering your VIN number to discourage thieves, but instead these sites encourage you to write your VIN number all over the car, including on your most valuable car parts and etching it onto all the windows of the vehicle.  After a car is stolen, if the thief wants to resell the car, then the first thing a car thief wants to do is get rid of the old VIN number and replace it with a new one.  They will create a title to go with it and then resell (fence) the vehicle.  Many law enforcement officials believe that thieves will not steal any vehicle that has the VIN number etched on all the windows because they will have to replace these windows before they can get rid of your car.  This will cost them a great deal of money and significantly slow the turn around on processing your car and fencing it.  If you etch the number on the car parts it will make chopping it more time consuming.

You can make up your own mind.  Although, covering the VIN number might give you peace of mind it is unlikely to protect you from most thieves. 

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