VIN numbers allow ordinary people to be detectives, and who doesn’t want to solve a mystery?
FACT: In 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration forced the standardization of VIN’s (Vehicle Identification Numbers) on all of the car manufacturers. From that point forward, all VIN’s were a 17 digit code, each digit representing an important detail about that car. LIES!! BLASPHEMY!! Ok, fine…. 16 of them are important car details, blame Einstein for the seventeenth digit. We will cover that later….
FACT: I, O, and Q are letters that are not used in VIN’s because they could be confused with 1 & 0. Letters U & Z aren’t used for the 10th digit. Crazy, I know.
FACT: Albert Einstein never owned a car, so he likely knew nothing about VIN numbers or their meaning. Does that make all of you guys smarter than Einstein? Yes, it absolutely does.
Now Let’s Break It Down, WMI Style.
WMI = World Manufacturer Identifier, which is what the first 3 digits of the VIN are called as a group.
1st Digit: Identifies the country in which the vehicle was manufactured. (1 = North America, J = Japan, etc.)
2nd Digit: Identifies the vehicle manufacturer (Ford, Honda, Chrysler, GM Canada, BMW, etc.)
3rd Digit: Identifies the manufacturer division (Buick, Oldsmobile, Saturn, GMC Truck, etc.)
Vehicle Attributes – What it is.
Characters 4 through 8 = Vehicle Attributes. (The safety options, vehicle series, body style & engine)
4th Digit: Identifies the safety / braking / suspension options. (Seat belts, air bags, brakes etc)
5th Digit: Identifies the series of the vehicle. This is where all of the magic happens folks! (We are talking about C, K, R, V, W, D, and all of those sweet, sweet letters in between. Chevy “C”10 truck, GMC “K”1500 truck, Dodge “D”150 truck…..you know, that kind of thing. )
6th & 7th Digit: Identifies the Body Style. ( 2 Door, 4 Door, Coupe, Sedan, Convertible, Hatchback, GT, SS, etc.)
8th Digit: Identifies the Engine! (Two engines of the same size, during the same year, can actually have different parts bolted to them. A perfect example is the 4.3L “W” engine vs. “Z” engine. As you may have guessed, those “W” and “Z” letters would be found 8 digits into the VIN #.)
1991 Chevrolet S10 Blazer VIN Example > 1GNCS18Z3M0111234
Check Digits! – What Can Math Do For You?
9th Digit: Identifies that you don’t have a fake VIN number. It is better known as the “Check Digit”. Internet legend says that Einstein was quite an advocate of check digits, because it legitimized the numbers in the sequence through complex math. Was he just showing off? Eh. You decide. Want the math? Here.
10th Digit: Identifies the year of the vehicle. This is super helpful when in junkyards, selling totally awesome auto parts, and impressing the ladies. Each letter / number is equal to a specific year. See the reference chart below for details. (Print this chart out, and you can identify cars from 1980-2019 in an instant!)
The Rest of Those Crazy Numbers…..
11th Digit: Identifies the assembly “Plant Code” for the vehicle. (Lansing? Bowling Green? Detroit?, Etc.)
12th – 17th Digits: Is the sequential number in which the car was built. These often start with 100001 at the beginning of production. For vehicles that changed in some manner in the middle of a production run, this number is important to know. Oh hello Ford trucks, I didn’t see you standing there.
What does it all mean? Let’s have an example!
Note: You need a reference guide to decode some of the specifics of your VIN. Most guides can easily be found on Google.
1991 Dodge Spirit R/T (awesome)
3 = Mexico
B = Dodge
3 = Passenger car
X = Driver Air Bag, Passenger manual Seat Belt
A = Acclaim / Spirit / Lebaron 4 Dr
6 = “Special” Price Class
6 = 4 Door Sedan
A = 2.2L 16 Valve Turbo III
5 = Check Digit
M = 1991
T = Toluca
zero extensive research, I have also determined the following: