A Used Car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) – More Than Just a Number

by Don Elliott on May 3, 2011

Did you know that the 17-digit vehicle identification number or VIN is more than just the unique identifier for your car, truck, motorcycle or RV? Since 1981, all over-the-road vehicles registered in North America have a fixed format that gives specific information about each vehicle. The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) set the standards to assure that each vehicle’s identifier would not be duplicated for at least 30 years.

On cars and light duty trucks, the VIN is most easily found on the dashboard and can be viewed through the glass at the bottom of the windshield on the driver’s side. There is also a sticker usually on the driver’s side door jam displaying the VIN along with other information about the vehicle. A third VIN can be found stamped on the engine’s firewall. On later model cars, a bar code was added next to the VIN for electronic scanning by bar code readers, and most recently, by smart phone applications. Any missing, altered or mismatched VIN plates are a red flag indicating serious problems that will affect the vehicle’s used car value.

Decoding the VIN is the key to understanding your car’s pedigree. A sample VIN provided by Carfax shows how the 17-digits are broken down.

World Manufacturer Identifier Vehicle Descriptor Section Vehicle Identifier Section
Type of information provided Country Manufacturer Type Details Check digit Year Assembly plant Production number
VIN digits 1 2 3 4-8 9 10 11 12-17
Values from example VIN1HGCM82633A004352 1 H G CM826 3 3 A 004352

Note that the letters I, O and Q never appear in a VIN.

Using the Pronto VIN Decoder, a free search tool that provides fast VIN translation, we can establish the following information about the sample car.

VIN   1HGCM82633A004352
DECODED   2003 Honda Accord
Model Year   2003
Make   Honda
Model   Accord
Trim Level   EX
Body Type   2 Door Coupe
Manufacturer   Honda of American Mfg. Inc.
Production Seq. Number   004352
Engine Type   V6, 3.0L; SOHC 24V; VTEC
Fuel Type   Gasoline
Engine Code   M8
Drive Line Type   FWD
Transmission   5 Speed Automatic
Vehicle Type   Passenger Car
Vehicle Class   Mid-size Car
Restraint System   Dual Air Bag; Seat Belts
Assy. Plant   Marysville, Ohio Plant
Check Digit   3


The check digit appears in the 9th position. It is used to detect an invalid VIN based on a formula set up by the Department of Transportation. The number itself provides no information about the vehicle.

As a tip, you can find the model year of any vehicle by checking the 10th digit in the VIN. Listed as either a letter or a number depending on the decade, it is a quick check when needed. For example, W=1998, X=1999, Y=2000, 1=2001, 2=2002, 3=2003, 4=2004, 5=2005, 6=2006, 7=2007, 8=2008, 9=2009, A=2010, and B=2011.

Send us a comment if this Vehicle Identification Number information has helped you.

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