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A VIN or Vehicle Identification number is a unique 17 digit code used to identify passenger vehicles, towed vehicles, and various motorized two wheel vehicles. VINs are necessary for the logistical purposes or registering a vehicle, as well providing important information such as manufacturer and mechanical information. A VIN is essential for identifying stolen vehicles, acquiring insurance policies, and ordering parts specific to the vehicle for repairs.
In the United States VIN use began in 1954. At the time there was not an accepted standard format in place so different manufacturer’s used different VIN formats. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the United States standardized the format of Vehicle Identification Numbers in 1981, requiring all new vehicles to have a 17 digit identifier. This format excludes the use of certain letters to avoid confusion with similar looking numerals. One example of this is the letter “O” and number “0”
Since 1981 the VINs position has been consistent on all new vehicles. The VIN will be located on the vehicle’s dashboard inside the windshield on the drivers side. If this is obscured you can also find the VIN on a sticker located on the driver’s side door jamb.
How is a Vehicle Identification Number Formatted?
In North America the VIN format known as Standard 3779 was issued by the International Organization for Standardization or ISO in 1980.
The first through third digits of the VIN are the World manufacturer identifier, which indicates the manufacturer and country of origin. The fourth to ninth digits are used as a vehicle description which identify the vehicle type, body style, platform, and model. The key for this system will differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. The ninth digit is known as a “check” digit which is unique because it is required in China and North America, but not in other parts of the world. The check digit is used to identify VINs that are invalid. The tenth to seventeenth digits are the “VIS” or vehicle identifier section. This is a code that is used to identify the specific individual vehicle. It is possible that this section includes information about unique options or powertrain configurations, but can also be a sequential number. In North America it is required that the last five digits of the VIN are numeric.
One element of the VIN that is standardized world wide is the tenth digit which will always indicate the model year of the vehicle.
What is a VIN Decoder?
A VIN decoder is an automated tool that will reference a database and give you all available information after entering a VIN. Simply type out or copy and paste a VIN into a decoder tool and it will provide you with a report which includes all of the information outlined above. Due to some variation between different manufacturer’s VIN formats the amount of information you received might differ slightly vehicle to vehicle. For example, one manufacturer may include in the VIN a specific code that signifies the type of transmission or engine displacement, and another manufacture may not. Differing information does not indicate an issue with the VIN decoder tool but simply a variance in how much information the manufacturer originally included.