How to Read Your Vehicle’s VIN Number

January 8, 2019
Understanding your vehicle

How to Read Your Vehicle’s VIN Number

Just like you, your car’s VIN number is a unique snowflake.

In fact, every vehicle that’s ever been manufactured is supposed to get its own number assigned. But contrary to popular believe, those 17 digits aren’t just for vehicle identification (in the event of a theft or something).

They’re also full of information about your car.

For example, when you’re buying parts for your car, your VIN can provide essential details about your make, model and engine. And this information will ensure that you pick parts that are compatible with your vehicle. Kind of important, right?

Where to Find Your VIN

You can find your VIN number in several places on your vehicle.

One of the most common locations is high-up on the dashboard on the driver’s side. The easiest way to read your VIN in this location is to stand outside of your car. Then, look down through the windshield at the top of your dash and you should see a plaque.

If you aren’t able to find or read the VIN from that location, here are four other places to check:

  1. On a sticker inside of the driver’s doorjamb.
  2. Directly above the tire in the rear wheel well.
  3. In front of your vehicle’s engine block.
  4. If your vehicle has a spare tire, the VIN may be inscribed underneath it.

You can also find record of your VIN number in the records for your vehicle. It should be on your insurance forms, registration and title.

Fun fact: While all VIN numbers are a combination of letters and numbers, 17 digit VINs will never include the letters I or O. They do include the numbers 1 and 0, however.

Basic Information Contained in the VIN

Now that you’ve found your VIN, you can use it to glean important information.

Like what you ask? Keep on reading!

World Manufacturer Identifier

The first three digits provide information about the location of your car’s manufacturing. These three digits are known as the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI).

The initial digit tells you the country where your car had its final assembly. The US is represented by the numbers 1,4 or 5. Other countries have letters or numbers representing them.

Your VIN’s next digit shows the manufacturer. Sometimes this digit is the first letter of the manufacturer’s name. You might have a G for General Motors, or an A for Audi. That’s not a hard and fast rule though. For instance, A can also mean Jaguar.

You have to put together all three of the digits in the WMI to get the complete picture of your vehicle’s manufacturing history. To decipher your WMI, you almost always need to consult an online reference. You can find a solid list here.

Vehicle Descriptor Section

The next five digits comprise your Vehicle Descriptor Section. Four of these letters and numbers provide key information about your vehicle’s:

  • Model
  • Body type
  • Restraint system
  • Engine
  • Transmission

The ninth digit is a special digit that can detect a fraud VIN number.

Vehicle Identifier Section

The final 10 digits contain your vehicle’s identification. These digits correspond to:

  • The model year
  • The manufacturing plant
  • Production sequence number

Reputable Online VIN Decoders

With all the above information condensed down to 17 digits, using an online VIN decoder is the fastest way to learn more about your vehicle.

To use one of these decoders, you’ll need to enter your VIN, so make sure you have it written down properly. Keep in mind that many VIN decoders online are attached to companies that sell vehicle reports. That means they won’t actually show you all of the information about your VIN number if you don’t pay.

But before you pony up some hard-earned cash, check out these two online decoders that won’t charge you for the basic details about your vehicle:

  1. VINDecoder.net
  2. NHTSA VIN Decoder

What about Older Vehicles?

Was your car manufactured before 1981?

It still has a VIN. All vehicles were required to have them beginning in 1954.

But, it wasn’t until 1981 that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standardized the way that VIN numbers were assigned.

Prior to this standardization, many vehicles had 13-digit VIN numbers. The digits on shorter VINs stood for slightly different things, so you can’t apply the decoding tips above to those numbers.

We don’t want to leave you hanging though, so here is an online decoder for VIN numbers that aren’t 17 digits.

Is Your Vehicle Subject to a Recall?

When an auto manufacturing company realizes there’s a problem with a line of vehicles, they may issue a recall.

Often this allows bad parts to be replaced. And they actually use VIN numbers to indicate which vehicles were affected by the recall.

If you aren’t sure if your vehicle has been recalled, you can use your VIN number to check.

Safecar.gov offers a recall look-up by VIN service on their website. You can enter your VIN and it’ll check to see if any recalls are applicable.

How Your VIN Helps Ensure You Get the Right Used Parts

When you’re in the market for used auto parts, the information from your VIN is essential to ensure your parts are compatible.

So before you head to Tear-A-Part, take a few minutes to decode your VIN online. Then you’ll already know which engine size is in your vehicle, which transmission it has, and all the other pertinent details you’ll need. It’s a quick and easy way to be prepared for your parts pulling adventure.

And remember, when you need used parts, Tear-A-Part is here for you. Give us a call and see if we have what you need in stock today.