Ultimate Guide to Understanding a VIN

Diagnosing a VIN code on your own can be a nightmare. The differences in the way manufacturers encode their VINs make this process challenging. As a result, you may need a special VIN decoder to decode the VIN within minutes and access all the relevant details about the car. 

Using a VIN decoder such as Free VIN Check allows you to precisely identify what each VIN code represents. This site can also reveal comprehensive and in-depth vehicle reports based on a VIN. Click here to learn more about this VIN check tool.

What Exactly Does a VIN Mean?

Every brand-new vehicle available for sale in the United States must be assigned a unique code by its manufacturer. This unique code is what you usually hear as VINs, and is primarily a 17-digit character containing both numbers and letters. This code is a big deal to any vehicle because it can reveal its engine type, model year, manufacturer, engine size, and other specs. Closely scrutinizing this code can show a vehicle’s history, including manufacturer recalls, accidents and damages, theft records, etc.

And what about VINs that contain less than 17 digits? These are relevant in the automobile industry as well. 

Vehicles that were born before 1981 have 13-digit or 11-digit VINs. These VINs with shorter characters may represent slightly different details compared to the standard 17-digit VIN, so you can only decode them differently. Don’t be sad if your VIN has less than 17 digits, as you can still find decoders that work well with your VIN.

Where Can You Find Your Car’s Vehicle Identification Number?

The location of the VIN on a vehicle will generally depend on the car’s manufacturer. Some prefer to place it on non-removable parts and hard-to-reach spots to make it more difficult for attackers to alter it. Other manufacturers prefer to put them in easy-to-access places to allow the police or any other force to perform quick and easy identification checks. Either way, they are often located in these places:

  • The dashboard from the offside. To view this VIN, stand outside your car on the driver’s facet, and check the corner where the windshield connects to the dashboard.
  • Inside the driver’s door, where it latches when it is closed: To see it, open it and check the door post.
  • On the seat belt lock
  • Chassis of your vehicle
  • In the engine bay
  • Beneath the plastic rim around the passenger door opening
  • The top left of the toolbar
  • The division between the passenger compartment and the engine  

Additionally, VINs are often on documents about the vehicle in question. These documents are the insurance card or insurance policy, vehicle title, and registration documents. Placing the VIN on these crucial documents protects the car from theft. Any attacker may need to look for all places with the VIN to be able to alter them.

Diagnosing a VIN: What Does Each Digit in a VIN Represent

Below you can find out what each digit in a VIN tells you about the vehicle in question:

Section 1: World Manufacturer Identifier

The first three characters of a VIN represent the country of manufacture, manufacturer, and specific division within that manufacturer. I.e

  • The 1st digit represents the country where the vehicle was manufactured
  • 2nd digit shows the manufacturer of the car
  • The 3rd digit represents the specific division of a manufacturer that created the vehicle.

Section 2: Vehicle Descriptor Section

This section represents a technical description of the vehicle, featuring the engine size, safety aspects, and body style:

  • 4th digit shows safety features as well as the vehicle’s model-specific features
  • The 5th digit is a letter that gives details about the exact series of a specific model
  • The 6th and 7th digits represent the vehicle’s body style and type
  • The 8th digit is a letter that specifies the vehicle’s engine size

You can call the 9th digit the unique one as it determines the authenticity of the entire VIN code.

Section Three: Vehicle Identifier Section

The vehicle details in this section specify the vehicle’s release date, assembly plant, and serial number.

  • The 10th digit shows the year of production
  • The 11th digit represents the location of the plant
  • The 12th through the 17th digit combines characters that symbolize the vehicle’s serial number. It is the production line number and can help you track down a particular part when a specific model underwent alterations during manufacture and production.  

What Information Can You Find Out with VIN

The VIN can reveal details about a vehicle’s specifications, make, and model. The specifications typically include the manufacturer, make and model, model year, brand, body style, drive type, engine displacement, number of cylinders, and transmission type. 

It can also reveal details on the vehicle’s past, including:

Accident/Damage records: 

Checking a VIN against multiple databases reveals whether a vehicle has had an accident and the number of times it has occurred. Sometimes it can indicate the severity of the accident or damages.

Theft records and recalls:

A VIN can also reveal vehicle theft claims associated with a car. It can tell whether a car was recalled by its manufacturer and if the recall is open or closed.

The number of previous owners:

Checking the VIN of your car can tell you the number of owners the vehicle has had. Of course, if a car has had too many owners within a short period, it should be a significant red flag indicating some malfunction.

A VIN can reveal other details on a vehicle’s history, including; 

  • whether the car was used as a taxi or any form of leasing, 
  • its real mileage, 
  • legal prohibitions against it, its maintenance history, part replacements, title records, safety ratings, and more.

And sometimes, the kind of information you can find depends on the service you choose to decode your VIN. A quality service draws from many reliable sources, such as the NHTSA, and gives you a much more detailed report.  

Here’s When and Why You Should Check a Car’s Vehicle Identification Number

Before you buy a used car, checking its VIN can help you avoid buying a car with many issues due to a problematic past—for example, stolen vehicles and cars with rebuilt or salvage titles, etc. Also, before you buy a used car, ensure that the VIN code in the car chassis (or any other location) matches the VIN code on the vehicle registration document.

Checking a VIN for a car sale lets you find interesting details about your vehicle. It will help you explain these details to your potential customers, which may aid in winning them to buy the car.

You must also check the VIN when purchasing new or replacement parts. Various manufacturers create different functions for the same model, so if you are buying just any replacement part, it may not suit your vehicle. Choosing parts based on the VIN eliminates the chances of getting unsuitable match parts.


More often than not, it gets challenging to verify the validity of a VIN by yourself, if not time-consuming. In this case, you can consult Free VIN Check to help you confirm whether your vehicle’s number is legitimate. Free VIN Check is a zero-cost VIN check. 

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