Decoding a VINAutomakers started using various forms of identification numbers in 1954, and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration standardized VINs in 1981 so no car could be mistaken for another. All cars made since then have VINs that follow the same format. CarFax Inc., which sells vehicle-history reports based on VINs, offers a handy VIN decoder on its website:
- The first digit tells the country where the vehicle was made. A 1, 4 or 5 is used for the United States.
- The second digit tells who made it. For example, A is for Audi, Jaguar or Mitsubishi. B is for BMW or Dodge. C is for Chrysler and so on.
- The third digit tells the vehicle's type or manufacturing division.
- Digits four through eight give information about the vehicle's model, such as body style, engine type, transmission or other parts, depending on the manufacturer.
- Known as a "check digit," the ninth digit is the result when the other digits are plugged into a formula developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Computers can tell if a VIN is invalid if the check digit doesn't match the result of the formula.
- The 10th digit is the vehicle's model year. Letters and numbers 0 through 9 are used to denote the year -- 2014 is E -- and are recycled every 30 years. The letters I, O, Q, U and Z are never used.
- The 11th digit indicates the manufacturing plant where the vehicle was assembled. Each automaker has its own plant codes.
- Digits 12 through 17 make up a number created by the manufacturer. The number may indicate the order in which the vehicle came off the assembly line.