Today’s Lesson: Decoding VIN Numbers

Einstein Vin #'s

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!)

10th VIN digit year chart

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)

VIN# 3B3XA66A5MT041234
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
041234

After zero extensive research, I have also determined the following:

Understanding VIN #'s vs. Coolness Chart

21 comments to Today’s Lesson: Decoding VIN Numbers

  • TripleM

    Interesting stuff… next time someone asks me about the features of my vehicle, I’ll tell them to look at the VIN # and figure it out.

    but it doesn’t answer the ultimate question… Who is VIN? :)

  • TripleM

    looks like my cousin…. :)

  • Technically there are actually some variations along the way, starting in 1987 thru current the VIN has remained relatively unchanged. In 81 thru 86 there were some minor changes a few times which were simplified in 1987.

  • Sure,
    Most of the changes took place in the 4th 6th and 7th digit. In 1984 for example an CAMARO VIN should read like this
    1G1AP87HxDN1xxxxx
    1 = USA
    G = GM
    1 = Chevrolet
    A = Restraint System
    P = Series (Camaro or Z-28)
    87 = Body Type (87 = Coupe)
    H = Engine (LG4 V8)
    x = Check digit
    D = 1983
    N = Plant (Norwood OH)
    1xxxxx = Sequence number

    The 4th digit is the restraint, and the 6th and 7th digit refers to the body type.

    In 1985 & 1986 the 4th digit was replaced by the car line series IE
    1G1FP87HxDN1xxxxx
    1 = USA
    G = GM
    1 = Chevrolet
    F = “F-Body”
    P = Series (Camaro or Z-28)
    87 = Body Type (87 = Coupe – 2 door plain-back)
    H = Engine (LG4 V8)
    x = Check digit
    F = 1985
    N = Plant (Norwood OH)
    1xxxxx = Sequence number

    From 1987 thru Current the VIN would look like this
    1G1AP87HxDN1xxxxx
    1 = USA
    G = GM
    1 = Chevrolet
    F = “F-body”
    P = Series (Camaro or Z-28)
    2 = Body Style (2 = Coupe)
    1 = Seat belts (1 = Manual Belts) (2 = Driver and Passenger Airbags) (3 = Driver side Airbag ) (4 = Automatic Belts)(5 = Automatic Belts w/driver airbag) (6 = Automatic Belts w/driver & Passenger airbags)(7 = Manual Driver belt w/automatic passenger belts, w/driver and passenger airbags)
    H = Engine (LG4 V8)
    x = Check digit
    H = 1987
    N = Plant (Norwood OH)
    1xxxxx = Sequence number

    Light Trucks, and multipurpose Passenger VIN’s are actually slightly different as well, they are similar, For example in 1987 the 4th digit is the type of brakes, as it relates to the GVWR, so that would be another article altogether. More or less you can break out the 17 number VIN’s into three ranges (1981 – 1984) (1985 & 1986) and (1987 – 2012)

    A great source is a little white GM RPO book for example, if you can find one.

    Also note that the Check digit could have a Zero (0) or one (1)

    John

  • I goofed 87+
    1G1FP21HxHN1xxxxx
    1 = USA
    G = GM
    1 = Chevrolet
    F = “F-body”
    P = Series (Camaro or Z-28)
    2 = Body Style (2 = Coupe)
    1 = Seat belts (1 = Manual Belts) (2 = Driver and Passenger Airbags) (3 = Driver side Airbag ) (4 = Automatic Belts)(5 = Automatic Belts w/driver airbag) (6 = Automatic Belts w/driver & Passenger airbags)(7 = Manual Driver belt w/automatic passenger belts, w/driver and passenger airbags)
    H = Engine (LG4 V8)
    x = Check digit
    H = 1987
    N = Plant (Norwood OH)
    1xxxxx = Sequence number

  • Keith

    neat info, but…

    Saying VIN Number is redundant.

    VIN stands for:
    Vehicle
    Identification
    Number

    So, you’re saying Vehicle Identification Number Number

    Carry on

    • Hi Keith! I think that the “VIN Number” phrase must be a New England thing, like “wicked boss”. Nevertheless, you are 100,000% correct. I knew I would be called out on that, but I went for it anyway. What can I say, I’m a daredevil.

  • PIN Number is another one that enrages me.

    /gentle chiding ;)

  • TripleM

    If “VIN Number” was truly a New England phrase, it would be “VIN Numba”. Anywho – shared this with some coworkers – they find it very interesting so we are all checking our VINs for the fun of it!

  • Miguel

    As you might know this VIN will be more common

    LF13xxxx

    L=China
    F=Ford

    The rest you go figure this is what will see in our cars in the future because the L as the first digit is going to be more common as bread and butter all over the world because everything is made in China and that will include cars !

  • Thank you Jeremy to your this detail Vin decoding class! I am a developer and recently i have made a vin checker apps in online here VIN check

    This post will really help me to improve my apps in future. I hope i can serve those who want to buy a used car safely.

    Regards,
    T.A

  • Harry Schultz

    Fantastic blog you’ve got here. You will find me reading through your stuff often. Bookmarked!

  • Jason

    I got burned once when buying a used car, so now I run a vin check myself no matter what the owner says. it’s just $10 at vinaudit.com

  • peter

    I don’t think about the redundancy of PIN number unless I’m at an ATM machine.

  • richard

    1gtev14h9hf7xxxxx ok what does this vin tell you?

    • Hi Richard, it’s tough to decode the vin without knowing the vehicle it came from. Once you know the vehicle, then you can look up the VIN reference guide and learn more. Based on what you gave me though, I’d say it’s probably a 1987 GMC V-series (4 wheel drive) truck with a 5.0L engine.

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