All About VIN Numbers Explained In Easy Terms
A VIN Lookup and Car Check Guide

When it comes to buying, selling, or owning a car, there’s a unique code that can be used to gain access to every single detail about any vehicle which is called the VIN or Vehicle Identification Number.  

It is a unique identifier assigned to every car by the manufacturer. With the VIN, you can get accurate information and make the right decisions in the used car market. 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll talk comprehensively about VINs on cars, exploring their significance, the valuable details you can access through their characters, and everything you need to know about VINs.

Now, let’s start our guide with the basics: What exactly is a VIN number, and where can you find it on your vehicle? 

History of VINs: What is a Vehicle Identification Number?

The VIN, or Vehicle Identification Number, serves as a car’s unique fingerprint, holding every detail about its origin, year, make, model, and history.

Typically consisting of 17 characters, or 5 to 13 digits in classic cars, each character carries specific details about the vehicle, such as its manufacturer, model, engine type, and production year. 

The VIN usually doesn’t have the letters Q (q), I (i), and O (o) just to avoid mixing it up with the 0 and 1 figures.

Where is the VIN found?

Some of the most common places you can find the vehicle’s VIN are:
  • The dashboard, near the windshield on the driver’s side
  • The driver’s side door jamb
  • The engine block
  • The driver’s side door frame
  • The certificate of title
  • The registration documents, and more.
  • Where is the vin number?

    Origin and Standardization of VIN Numbers

    The concept of VINs traces back to the early 1950s when automakers recognized the need for a standardized identification system.

    Imagine producing thousands of vehicles with no way to identify or track them. It was an unorganized system that had to be improved and the VINs were introduced. Initially, they varied widely in format and length, creating confusion and hindering efforts to track and recall vehicles.

    As safety and regulatory concerns grew, the automotive industry saw the necessity for a unified approach. This led to the standardization of VINs in 1981 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), with a set format and structure that remains in place today. 

    This systematic approach ensured consistency across all vehicles, making it easier for authorities, manufacturers, and consumers to interpret and utilize the information encoded in these alphanumeric strings.

    These modifications applied to all vehicles manufactured during and after the year 1981, but older car VINs are still valid even now.

    Classic VS. Modern VIN Numbers

    Classic VIN Numbers

    Before the standardization of the Vehicle Identification Number, manufacturers had the freedom to assign identification numbers to their vehicles with varying formats. This made classic VINs mostly between 5 to 13 digits and they lack the global consistency we see today. An example of a classic VIN number is:


    Here are some characteristics of classic VINs:

    Modern VIN Numbers

    The modern 17-character VIN system, established in the early 1980s, brought about significant improvements in standardization and information conveyance. An example of a modern VIN is:


    Here are key features of modern VINs:

    Deciphering VIN Characters: How to Read VIN Numbers

    The VIN is not just a random mix of characters as we have discussed in the previous section; it follows a structured format that provides specific details about the vehicle and is grouped into segments. These segments are:

    • World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI – First 3 Characters): These initial characters signify the vehicle’s country of origin and manufacturer.
    • Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS Fourth to Ninth Positions): These characters provide information about the vehicle’s make, model, engine type, and more. It’s like the specific vehicle’s genetic code, detailing its characteristics. In this section, you can also find the check digit.
    • Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS – Tenth to 17th Digits): This section contains crucial details like the model year, manufacturing plant code, and a sequential number unique to each vehicle.

    The VIN is a string of characters and numbers that can be used to access every single detail about a vehicle if you understand the meaning behind every character.

    Let’s take a closer look at the full breakdown of a 17 character VIN and what information each character holds.

    Breakdown of the 17 Characters in a VIN: What Does Each Digit in a VIN Mean?

    17 vin number digits

    First Character

    This character signifies the country of origin. For example, cars with VINs beginning with 1, 4, and 5 are manufactured in the United States. Here are some Country of Origin codes:

    Character Region Country
    A-H Africa AA-AH = South Africa
    J-R Asia >J = Japan/ KL-KR = South Korea L = China MA-ME = India MF-MK = Indonesia ML-MR = Thailand MS = Myanmar PA-PE = Philippines PL-PR = Malaysia RF-RG = Taiwan
    S-Z Europe SA-SM = United Kingdom SN-ST, W = Germany SU-SZ = Poland TA-TH = Switzerland TJ-TP = Czech Republic TR-TV = Hungary TW = Portugal VA-VE = Austria VF-VR = France VS-VW = Spain VX-V2 = Yugoslavia XL-XM = The Netherlands XS-XW = USSR X3-X0 = Russia YA-YE = Belgium YF-YK = Finland YS-YW = Sweden ZA-ZR = Italy
    1-5 North America 1, 4, 5 = United States 2 = Canada 3 = Mexico
    6-7 Oceania 6A-6W = Australia 7A-7E = New Zealand
    8-0 South America 8A-8E = Argentina 8F-8J = Chile 8X-82 = Venezuela 9A-9E, 93-99 = Brazil 9F-9J = Colombia
    Second Character

    Second Character Continuing from the first character, this character specifies the manufacturer in more detail. For example, ‘G’ stands for General Motors, ‘C’ can be Chrysler, and ‘B’ for BMW.

    Third Character

    The third character encodes the vehicle type or division. So, combined with the first two characters, you can learn if the vehicle is a truck, sedan, SUV, motorcycle, or any vehicle type.

    Fourth Character

    This character represents the general body type. For instance, "C" could denote a passenger car.

    Fifth Character

    This character further defines the vehicle's attributes by providing information about the engine.

    Sixth Character

    The sixth character reveals the type of engine installed in the vehicle.

    Seventh Character

    The seventh character is a code representing the restraint system installed in the vehicle. Note that since motorcycles have no restraint system, the seventh character gives more information about the engine.

    Eighth Character

    This character reveals the model of the vehicle.

    Ninth Character

    The check digit is calculated using a specific algorithm, developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, applied to the preceding characters. It serves as a quick check for the accuracy of the entire VIN.

    Tenth Character

    This character indicates the model year of the vehicle. "V" signifies a vehicle from the 1997 model year. Here’s are some year codes:


    • L 1990
    • M 1991
    • N 1992
    • P 1993
    • R 1994
    • S 1995
    • T 1996
    • V 1997
    • W 1998
    • X 1999


    • Y 2000
    • 1 2001
    • 2 2002
    • 3 2003
    • 4 2004
    • 5 2005
    • 6 2006
    • 7 2007
    • 8 2008
    • 9 2009


    • A 2010
    • B 2011
    • C 2012
    • D 2013
    • E 2014
    • F 2015
    • G 2016
    • H 2017
    • J 2018
    • K 2019


    • L 2020
    • M 2021
    • N 2022
    • P 2023
    • R 2024
    • S 2025
    • T 2026
    • V 2027
    • W 2028
    • X 2029


    • Y 2030
    • 1 2031
    • 2 2032
    • 3 2033
    • 4 2034
    • 5 2035
    • 6 2036
    • 7 2037
    • 8 2038
    • 9 2039

    Eleventh Character

    This character identifies the manufacturing plant where the vehicle was assembled.

    Twelfth to Seventeenth Characters

    These characters provide a unique sequential number for the vehicle, distinguishing it from others produced in the same plant. They serve as the serial number of the vehicle.

    It is worth mentioning that for motorcycle VINs, characters four through eight may encode slightly different information than car VINs. This is because the information provided varies by manufacturers but contains details of engine size, engine type, and even model.

    By understanding each character’s significance, you gain insights into the vehicle’s identity and you can refer to this guide anytime you need.

    How VIN Numbers Play an Important Part in Vehicle Identification

    Why is the VIN necessary? What is the role of VIN numbers in vehicle identification? Let us discover the answer to these questions.

    The VIN is an identifier that reveals to car buyers, sellers, enthusiasts, and owners, everything they need to know about cars, trucks, motorcycles, or any vehicle you can think of. It is the key to all vehicle information including accurate vehicle specifications and records. 

    With a VIN number lookup, anyone can access even the smallest detail about the vehicle in question. Some other roles that the VIN plays in the automotive industry are

    VIN Check Service

    Vehicle Identification Numbers are instrumental in viewing complete records of vehicles. Just think about how the VIN can help you avoid unreliable vehicles. Accident records, theft records, vehicle specifications, title brand records, and more can be decoded from the VIN in a few seconds with the right tools.


    During the registration process, VINs are essential for uniquely identifying each vehicle. This helps authorities maintain accurate records of the vehicles on the road. When you register a new car, the VIN is a critical piece of information needed to complete the process.

    Parts ordering and repairs

    Another important role the VIN plays in the automotive industry is finding accurate vehicle parts for part replacement and repairs. With a VIN decoder, you can be sure of any vehicle’s parts including the year, make, model, engine specifications, transmission, and more.


    When a safety-related issue emerges, manufacturers use VINs on cars to identify and contact affected vehicle owners. This ensures timely repairs and mitigates potential risks. For example, if a specific car model has a defective airbag, the manufacturer can use VINs to pinpoint the exact vehicles needing attention. Car buyers can also access this information before payment to identify vehicles with pending recalls and safety issues

    Warranty Claims

    VINs play a vital role in warranty claims. Manufacturers and service providers use VINs to verify a vehicle’s eligibility for warranty coverage and track its repair history. If your car experiences a mechanical issue within the warranty period, the manufacturer or dealer uses the VIN to determine coverage and provide free repair services.

    Theft Prevention and Recovery

    VINs are instrumental in preventing and addressing vehicle thefts. Law enforcement agencies use VINs to identify stolen vehicles, and buyers can use them to check the history of a used car before purchase. If a vehicle is reported stolen, the VIN is entered into databases, making it easier to track and recover.

    Insurance Coverage

    Auto Insurance companies rely on VINs to assess and provide coverage. VIN information helps determine the car’s make, model, year, and other details crucial for calculating premiums and processing claims. If you file a claim after an accident, the insurance company will check car insurance by VIN number to verify the specifics of your covered vehicle.

    Better Inventory Management

    For dealerships and other automotive businesses, the VIN gives accurate vehicle information that can help boost sales and bring in customers. Aside from history, businesses can easily showcase any vehicle’s options and standard packages installed on a car with a window sticker through the VIN. Try it, the more information you provide, the more sales you get. 

    These are just the basics of what you can access with the VIN in the U.S. and other countries. With an accurate VIN Check tool like the one provided by Detailed Vehicle History, you can check detailed history and records. Interested? Let’s take a look at this in the next section.

    Carfax Alternative: How VIN Numbers on Cars Are Used To Look Up a Vehicle’s History


    Not every vehicle you find in the market is reliable. Some of these cars, motorcycles, or trucks, are just a disaster waiting to happen. Accident records, lien and loan records, stolen records, salvage titles, and more; all could be linked to a vehicle looking all beautiful in the parking lot. This is why it’s important to check vehicle records with the VIN before agreeing to any purchase.

    A vehicle history report is a document that shows the history and records of a vehicle since it was registered. With the help of the VIN, these records can be easily and instantly retrieved to make the used car buying process significantly easier. Some of the details you can find with our Carfax alternative include:


    Ownership History

    Tracking changes in ownership is a core function of VINs. By offering a comprehensive ownership history, A car VIN lookup reveals patterns of short-term or long-term ownership, shedding light on how well a vehicle has been maintained over time. 

    You can also find out the location, duration of ownership, and year of purchase. Remember that if a car has changed owners frequently, potential buyers may want to investigate the reasons behind the turnover.

    Odometer Rollback

    Some sellers and dealerships roll back their vehicles’ odometer readings just so that the car appears younger and has a higher value. Detecting odometer fraud is a critical aspect of getting a VIN report. 

    In the report, you can vividly boldly see the actual mileage of the vehicle and easily avoid falling victim to any form of scams.

    You can also find out the location, duration of ownership, and year of purchase. Remember that if a car has changed owners frequently, potential buyers may want to investigate the reasons behind the turnover.

    Accident Illustration

    Accident History

    Accidents leave a lasting mark on a vehicle’s history, and reports provide a comprehensive accident history. This includes details about the type and extent of damages a vehicle may have sustained in previous incidents.

     Discover the specifics of past accidents and the potential impact on the car’s structural integrity and safety.


    icon lien

    Lien & Loan Records

    Vehicle Identification Numbers help buyers identify any outstanding liens or loans on vehicles, preventing unforeseen financial complications after purchase.

     Discovering an outstanding loan through a VIN check allows buyers to negotiate with the seller or choose alternative options. It also takes away the risk of having your vehicle repossessed after purchase.


    Vehicle Usage

    VINs tells of a vehicle’s usage, providing details about whether it served as a personal vehicle, was part of a fleet, or operated for commercial purposes. This insight helps buyers understand the wear and tear the vehicle may have experienced.

     For example, If a car was part of a commercial fleet, it might have higher mileage and different usage patterns than a typical personal vehicle.

    Car Icon

    Vehicle Specifications

    With a car VIN lookup, you can view the accurate specifications of your vehicle in just a few clicks. Check the year, make, model, trim, and engine specifications, – such as the engine size and type, transmission, Country of origin, fuel type, drive type, number of doors, curb weight, MSRP, body type, vehicle type, vehicle size, and standard seating.


    Title Check

    One of the critical roles of VIN number on cars is to help buyers verify the title status of a vehicle. This ensures that the vehicle is free from liens, salvages, rebuilt titles, junk titles, flood damage, vandalism, repossession, or other title issues that could complicate the buying process. 

    Damage History

    You can verify the vehicle’s damage history by checking the VIN of the car. Check if the car has major or minor damage records, dents, scratches, structural damages, fire, hail, and flood damage, and more.


    Stolen Check

    No one wants to end up with a stolen vehicle and the VIN check ensures you spot it instantly. With the VIN number on cars, buyers can check if a vehicle has been reported as stolen. 

    This check adds an extra layer of security and reassurance for prospective owners. Knowing a car’s stolen status helps buyers avoid legal complications and ensures peace of mind.


    Market Value

    Do you know how much a vehicle is worth? Used car pricing differs from state to state and this is why a detailed vehicle history report is important. It ensures that they make informed decisions in negotiations. Get accurate up-to-date pricing trends on the vehicle in different conditions such as excellent, good, fair, and poor, and their market prices including dealer retail, private party, and trade-in values.

    Detailed Vehicle History takes pride in providing some unique information on sales and auction history that is not available anywhere else in the world!

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    Sales History

    When it comes to the sales journey of a vehicle, VINs act as good record-keepers. With this number, you can check the vehicle’s listings, date of listing, retail value, price, odometer readings, condition, and essential details about previous sales transactions, offering potential buyers valuable insights into the car’s past. 

    If a car has changed hands multiple times in a short span, the VIN history report can reveal this pattern, prompting further investigation into its condition and reliability.

    Law Icon

    Auction History

    For vehicles that have been in auctions, the VINs serve as an easy way to get auction records and images if available. 

    With our car VIN lookup tool and VIN on cars, you can view the seller type, auction date, condition, primary and secondary damage, and more. 

    This includes sale prices, date of auction, seller type, location, type of auction,  and any noteworthy events that occurred during these auctions.

    Service and Maintenance Records

    Service records and Maintenance Schedules

    VIN numbers on cars offer insights into the vehicle’s maintenance records over the years and you can also find recommended maintenance tips for coming years. 

    This information gotten through a car VIN lookup helps buyers assess the overall care and condition of the car.

    Carfax vs. Detailed Vehicle History: The Top Carfax Alternative

    Comparison Detailed Vehicle History Carfax
    Detailed vehicle specifications
    Ownership History
    Accident History
    Damage checks
    Market value data
    Offline VIN Decoding
    Support for classic vehicles
    Maintenance recommendation
    Auction records with photos
    Sales listing with photos
    Branded title check
    Salvage title check
    Ownership history map
    Support for heavy duty trucks, trailers & motorcycles
    Mobile & desktop application
    Credits, reports and window stickers never expire

    See how Detailed Vehicle History compares against Carfax. Read here

    Importance of VINs in Buying Used Cars

    Now that you know what you can get from a VIN check, you must also understand the benefits. For most used car buyers, making the right choice in the market is completely dependent on how much information they can hold on. Here are some of the benefits of a VIN history report:

    Understanding how each aspect of a vehicle’s history is encoded in the VIN empowers buyers to make well-informed decisions and with the right tools, you can be sure to walk out of the parking lot with a huge smile on your face.

    Buying a used car? Dont forget to run a VIN check

    appeared on Craigslist for $41,000, seemingly a bargain. However, a closer look revealed some concerning details.

    Despite its low mileage and clean interior, the seller mentioned it had a rebuilt title. Digging deeper, it became apparent that the car had two previous owners, was previously leased, had a reported accident, and discrepancies in mileage. Additionally, it had two lien or loan records, a salvage and fire title, and an auction record.

    These issues hinted at a troubled past, indicating that the car had experienced more than its fair share of problems and may not be a wise investment. This underscores the importance of running a VIN check and thoroughly examining a vehicle’s history before making a purchase.