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Decoding and Understanding Vehicle Identification Numbers VINs

Created on: 2012-08-21

Learn what all the letters and numbers in your vehicle's VIN stand for, and how you can use the information to identify features of other vehicles!

Hi, I'm Jeremy from 1A Auto and I'm here to teach you about knowing your VINs. Sounds pretty exciting right? That's because it is.

Before 1981, there was no standardization of VINs on cars. Before that it could have been ten digits, it could have been five digits, it could have been whatever the car manufacturer wanted. In 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration put their foot down and said: "It's going to be 17 digits from now on," and they made all the car manufacturers run with that.

That meant that each number within the VIN meant something specific about that car whether it was their number in a production line or the color or the trim or the engine size or the year. It all meant something, except for one of those digits, but we'll get into that later. The letters I,"� O,"� and Q"� were never used in VIN numbers from 1981 until today and going forward. That's because they get easily confused with the numbers 1 and 0. For the tenth digit of the VIN number, they never used the letters U"� or Z."� Why? I'm not really sure, but that's what they ran with.

The first three digits of the VIN are known as the WMI,"� which is world manufacturer identifier or the country of origin, the manufacturer, and the division from that manufacturer. In this case, the 1"� means United States, and if it was J"� it would mean Japan, if it was a 4"� it would mean it was in Canada. This is the country of where the vehicle was made.

The second digit is the manufacturer that made the vehicle. In this case, General Motors has made different divisions. They have Chevy, Buick, Oldsmobile, and several others. This would be, I guess you'd call it, a General Motors hat.

Where division, which is the third digit, is the more specific Buick, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, whatever it is. In this case, we have United States, General Motors and Chevy.

The fourth through the eighth right here is called the attributes of the VIN. Those include things like safety, engine sizes, which series the vehicle is. In this case, the fourth digit is safety, braking, and suspension, so if you have a heavy duty truck with like eight lug wheels and it's something really serious towing package that sort of thing, this is the digit that will tell you: "Hey, this vehicle has like a special suspension and braking package." It also does things for safety. If you had a special safety restraints in some of the cars, for some reason that is the digit that would tell you.

The fifth digit, in this case an S,"� is the series. In the 1980s, for example, General Motors made full size trucks that were the C"� and K"� series and R"� and V"� series. This just basically meant two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, but it was several different series. In this case, we have an S"� series, which happens to be an S10 series truck, although they don't usually connect like that.

The sixth digit is, along with the seventh digit, the body style. If it was convertible or a two door or a four door, whatever that body style is, that is what the sixth and the seventh digit represent.

The eighth digit, in this case a Z,"� is one of my favorites: it's the engine size. If you go to a junkyard, for example, and you want to know what engine is under the hood of this car, rather than opening the hood, you can go to this thing, and if you know that you're looking for a Z"� engine, then you see a Z"� in the eighth digit and boom, you got what you want. This is really helpful for vehicles that had two different engines during the same year, so like a S10, for example, a Blazer, something like that could have a 4.3-liter that was a Z series"� or a W series."�

They had totally different parts attached to them, so when you're buying engine parts for those trucks, you need to make sure you know if you have the Z series"� or a W series"� engine. The ninth digit right here is called a check digit. They called it a check digit because the purpose of it is to check the rest of the VIN to make sure it's legit. You do this by putting it through some complex math which you can find on the internet if you browse around for it. You hopefully come out with the right number. You input numbers throughout the VIN, and through the math, it spits out a number and hopefully it's the right one. Hopefully it's a 3"� in this case. If it comes out as a 5,"� you know that these other numbers in the VIN are not legit, somebody made up this VIN.

The tenth digit, right here, is the year, which is amazingly helpful if you're in a junkyard or showing off to your friends or something like that, or if you want to seem like you're magical. You can figure out how the years match to which letters and which numbers by this simple handy dandy chart, and you'll always know what year the vehicle is. In this case, for the tenth digit, we have M,"� so you come over to the chart. M"� is a 1991. It's always a 1991. If you have this chart, which I'll make sure you can print out on this page, you can always know what year a vehicle is. It's great in the junkyard because you can walk to a VIN and say: "Oh this is a 1988, it's in VIN J." You know you have the right or wrong part. Really, really helpful. You can print it out, throw it in your wallet, and show off to your friends.

The eleventh digit is the plant. That's where the vehicle's made. All of the Corvettes were made in Bowling Green, Kentucky. This letter will tell you: "Oh, this was made in Bowling Green, Kentucky" or maybe they were made in Lansing, Michigan or maybe Detroit, Michigan or who knows where, Illinois. It could be made anywhere, and this is the digit that tells you which plant it was made at.

The last six digits, right here, are the production line numbers. Most vehicle manufacturers start with the number 100001,"� that's what they start with the last six digits, and they go up from there. This normally is not an important number as far as buying parts, unless you have one of those vehicles that changed production specifications like halfway through a production line. You might have a vehicle that had different mirrors in April of 2004 then it did in August of 2004. If you have one of those vehicles, you need to know this production number which is really this production number.

That pretty much wraps up VINs. Hopefully you learned something today. Hopefully you enjoyed watching the video. If you did, let me know, and maybe we'll do some more for you. All right, thanks.

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