The Meaning of a VIN Number

By Louis Albornoz  (

Vehicle identification numbers, more commonly known as VIN’s, are used for a variety of reasons. Their primary purpose is to identify motor vehicles but they are often used to track other things such as registrations, insurance coverage, and even parking tickets.

Decoding the VIN of your own vehicle will probably not yield any surprising information but if anything, vehicle identification numbers can be helpful in discovering important facts about a car you may want to purchase.

There are many companies in the business of providing vehicle history reports, such as, and these valuable reports are all based on that magical and mysterious code known as the VIN.

Before 1980, there was no industry standard for vehicle identification numbers. Nowadays, auto manufacturers use 17 digits in total to give a VIN number meaning. Different combinations of numbers and letters are used (except the letters I, O, and Q) to represent specific information about the vehicle.

The following information applies to most standard vehicle identification numbers:

1. The first three digits of a VIN are known as the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI) and these digits simply identify the manufacturer of the vehicle. Some automakers use the third digit though to identify subdivisions or particular brands. This is common to GM and other large auto manufacturers.

2. The fourth through ninth digits are known as the Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS) and identify the model and the body style. The ninth digit though is almost universally used as a check digit. A check digit is a single letter or number used to verify the accuracy of the vehicle identification number transcription.

3. The tenth through seventeenth digits are known as the Vehicle Identification Section (VIS) and identify various characteristics of the vehicle, such as the plant where it was built, its options, and in what order it came off the assembly line.

Since there are endless permutations of VIN codes, the best way to decode the VIN of your own vehicle is to use a VIN decoder.

There are many free VIN decoders available on the Internet. You can use any search engine to find one and once you have done so, you simply input the VIN of your vehicle and its unique information is then displayed for your review.

The meaning of a VIN number is fairly uninteresting to most people except employees of your local DMV, law enforcement personnel, and die-hard car collectors.

The DMV will use your VIN to maintain a detailed record of your vehicle and issue you ownership and registration documents.

Law enforcement personnel usually use VIN’s in the course of vehicle theft recovery and prosecution.

Die-hard car collectors use VIN’s to identify rare and/or valuable cars and their special features.

A VIN is usually a small, rectangular metallic plate that is attached to the driver’s side of the dashboard, near the bottom of the windshield. Vehicle identification numbers can also be found on major components of a vehicle such as the engine block, chassis, and transmission.


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