4 ways to decode a VIN (vehicle identification number)

Table of contents:

4 ways to decode a VIN (vehicle identification number)
4 ways to decode a VIN (vehicle identification number)

The VIN, or Vehicle Identification Number, is a unique series of letters and numbers assigned to each new vehicle leaving a dealership. This number has existed since 1954, but it has been used systematically since 1981 in an international context. It allows you to know when and where a vehicle was manufactured, what model of engine or transmission it is equipped with and other such information. It can also be used to find out about the car's past (accidents for example). If you want to decipher your car's VIN to know its route or just because you are curious about what is hidden under this series of numbers and letters, this article is for you.


Method 1 of 4: spot where the VIN is and learn how to easily decode it

Decode a VIN Step 1
Decode a VIN Step 1

Step 1. The first step is to locate where your VIN is located

You need to find a long series of mixed letters and numbers (about 17) somewhere in or on your vehicle. Here are some common places where builders have positioned their VINs.

  • Look for a plate at the base of the windshield on the driver's side dashboard.
  • Look for a sticker on the driver's side door.
  • It can also be located in front of the engine block and is easily visible once you open the hood.
  • On most new vehicles, the number can be found on different parts of the vehicle, such as the hood, trunk lid, or bumpers to identify it.
  • Open the driver's side door and see where the mirror would be if it was closed (inside the door).
  • On older cars, the number may be found elsewhere, for example on the steering column, the radiator bracket or on the inside pillar of the left door.
Decode a VIN Step 2
Decode a VIN Step 2

Step 2. Find information about your vehicle on the Internet using the VIN

There are indeed sites capable of automatically decrypting your VIN. Try the VIN Decoder.net site.

  • Some manufacturers present their VIN codes on their sites, but nothing is less certain.
  • If your vehicle was built before 1980, it may have a specific VIN. If your internet attempt didn't work, try your luck with companies like CARFAX, AutoCheck or VinAudit. Usually they give you some basic information. If you want all the details of the VIN, you will have to pay.
Decode a VIN Step 3
Decode a VIN Step 3

Step 3. Use some online services to find out about your vehicle's history

Indeed, there are specialized sites which, from the VIN, are able, if there is one, to provide you with the history of your car. They will tell you if the vehicle has been involved in accidents, burned down, etc. It is impossible to guess from just reading the code. The latter is immutable, a vehicle never has only one VIN, which allows for example, the police or the fire brigade (in certain countries only) to report any incident. Their reports are recorded in the VIN file.

  • For the United States, try going to the National Insurance Crime Bureau website. It's free.
  • If these methods do not work, you will probably have to pay to have a history of the vehicle. Sometimes, as with VinAudit, it is included in the services.
Decode a VIN Step 4
Decode a VIN Step 4

Step 4. Otherwise you can or will have to decode your VIN on your own

Below, you will have all the details concerning the decoding of a VIN. Indeed, it is possible that you have a vehicle with a somewhat original VIN because of the manufacturer or simply because you want to understand how a VIN is built. Knowing when and where your vehicle was built is fairly straightforward; the same cannot be said for other information provided by a VIN.

These codes are now fully standardized in North America. The same is also true in most countries of the world, even if there are variations on the coding of the 9th and 10th characters. In North America, the 9th is used to check if the VIN is a real one and the 10th is used as a reference for the year of construction

Method 2 of 4: Find out when and where the vehicle was built

Decode a VIN Step 5
Decode a VIN Step 5

Step 1. The first character indicates the continent of manufacture of the vehicle

If this information is of little use to you, you can skip this step. For your information, know that the coding of the continents is quite easy to memorize.

  • If you read one of the following letters in the first position: A, B, C, D, E, F, G or His that the vehicle was assembled in Africa.
  • If it's J, K, L, M, N, P or R, your vehicle is coming from asiaIncluding the Middle East. You noticed that the letter O was missing: this is to avoid confusion with the zero (0).
  • If it's S, T, U, V, W, X, Y or Z, your vehicle comes from Europe.
  • In the case of figures placed in the first position such as 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, this tells you that the vehicle was manufactured in North America.
  • The 6 and 7 are attributed to Australia and New Zealand. Some countries yet close to this area, such as Indonesia or the Philippines, are considered part of Asia.
  • The 8 and 9 are attributed to South America.
Decode a VIN Step 6
Decode a VIN Step 6

Step 2. Using the first two characters, you will learn the country of manufacture of the vehicle and the name of the manufacturer

In the context of offshoring, more and more vehicles are being built in countries other than the one where the manufacturer's head office is located. On this site, having the first two characters, you will find a table which lists the main countries and their respective codes. The first character corresponds, as we have written, to the continent and to the country of assembly, the second gives the identity of the manufacturer (ZF is used by Fiat in Italy).

Some manufacturers use the third character to specify a particular branch of their activity. Thus, ZFC is the “Industrial Vehicles” branch of Fiat. The first two characters are however sufficient to find the country and the manufacturer

Decode a VIN Step 7
Decode a VIN Step 7

Step 3. Using the 10th character, find the model year

Warning ! Often a model is said to be 2014 when it was built in 2013. There is often this lag when new models are released in the fall. This 10th character is fully reliable in most developed vehicle manufacturers. Below you will find the decoding keys for this 10th character:

  • If in 10th position you have an A, B, C, D, E, F, G or an H, this indicates that the vehicle was or will be, respectively, built a year between 1980 (A) - 1987 (H), or between the years 2010 (A) - 2017 (H)
  • On the same principle, the letters J, K, L, M and N have been and will be assigned to vehicles of the years 1988 - 1992, and 2018 - 2022.
  • P means and will mean that the model is from the year 1993 or 2023.
  • R, S and T are, and will be, assigned to the years 1994 - 1996 and 2024 - 2026.
  • For V, W, X and Y, we are in the years 1997 - 2000 and 2027 - 2030.
  • The numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are and will be used for the years 2001 - 2009 and 2031 - 2039.
  • A real VIN never contains the letters I, O or Q. The “Year” code also has restrictions: it will never be a 0 (zero) nor the letters U or Z.
  • As for the 7th character, it lets you know if your vehicle is old (before 2010) or recent (after 2010). If it's a letter, your car is after 2010 (but earlier than 2039!) If it's a number, it's older.

Method 3 of 4: Additional information

Decode a VIN Step 8
Decode a VIN Step 8

Step 1. Ask your vehicle manufacturer how to code

If for some reason you want more information about the engine or the factory where your car was assembled, the easiest way is to check with the manufacturer.

  • If you don't know who the constructor is, use the second character of the VIN for help. With the latter and by going to the Vinguard site (or another), you will be able to find out more.
  • It is also possible that the manufacturer of your vehicle puts online a search engine of VIN or displays a table of its codification. If this is not the case, in a search engine like Google for example, type something like "VIN table codes" to which you will add the name of the manufacturer. For some of them (the little ones or the old ones), the task could well prove to be difficult.
  • Contact the company that built your vehicle and ask them for their VIN information.
  • Spare parts stores and garages have tools to know this or that information on a particular model (for their purchases of spare parts, for example).
Decode a VIN Step 9
Decode a VIN Step 9

Step 2. The 3rd character indicates either the type of vehicle or the subsidiary of the manufacturer group

Some manufacturers have two or three branches (light vehicles, industrial vehicles, coaches) and they use this third character to specify it. Otherwise, it can be a precision on such geographical location (eg: Honda Canada).

Decode a VIN Step 10
Decode a VIN Step 10

Step 3. Use characters 4 to 8 (descriptor code) to learn more about the different components of the vehicle

This is called the "descriptor code" or "VDS" in English. It is used to have information on the installed engine or the type of transmission. Manufacturers are not obliged to fill in this part.

Normally, the 9th character is part of the descriptor code (it then indicates the equipment code of the vehicle), but more often it is a character which makes it possible to verify if a VIN is true or false

Decode a VIN Step 11
Decode a VIN Step 11

Step 4. The 11th character is used to precisely know the assembly plant of your vehicle

Finally, this is theoretical! Everything will depend on the transparency of the company in the matter. In case of difficulty, carefully re-read what has been written previously.

Decode a VIN Step 12
Decode a VIN Step 12

Step 5. The “progressive serial number”, from the 12th to the 17th character, is left at the disposal of the manufacturer

Most often, these six digits make up what is known as the vehicle's serial number.

  • As for the serial number, some manufacturers set it to 000001 every January 1, others do not.
  • From the 10th to the 17th, we have what is called the “indicator code” of the vehicle.

Method 4 of 4: Check a VIN to know if it's true or false

Decode a VIN Step 13
Decode a VIN Step 13

Step 1. On the Internet, immediately check whether a VIN is true or false

Look for these sites by entering a search engine "VIN checker" or something like that. There, you will enter your entire VIN, respecting the capitals.

  • If you want to check it out for yourself, follow the instructions below.
  • Some unscrupulous car dealers don't hesitate to fake VINs, usually to hide the vehicle's gloomy past. So, if you go to the Internet to see what it is, you will quickly see if it is a tampered car. Then you will know what to expect.
Decode a VIN Step 14
Decode a VIN Step 14

Step 2. Understand what the 9th character is for

It's a kind of "control character" in North America, but also increasingly around the world. This character is there just for verification, it has no other role, you will realize later.

  • Note: this character is either a number or the letter X. If the 9th character is another letter, the VIN may be wrong, but it is also possible that it is an old, previous VIN to 1980 or that the vehicle was manufactured outside of North America. Another possibility that should not be ruled out is that the manufacturer has decided not to follow this 9th character rule.
  • Write this 9th character apart, we will find it later.
Decode a VIN Step 15
Decode a VIN Step 15

Step 3. Replace each letter with the number we are going to tell you

You must first replace each of the letters of the VIN code with a specific number. Keep the numbers in the order of the letters! So, if your VIN starts with AK6, it will become, for our calculations, 126.

  • The letters A and J must be transformed into a 1
  • B, K and S in 2
  • C, L and T in 3
  • D, M and U in 4
  • E, N and V in 5
  • F and W in 6
  • G, P and X in 7
  • H and Y in 8
  • R and Z in 9
  • If you come across the letters I, O, or Q, be aware that your VIN is a fake. These are letters that are never used. Indeed, they are too easy to falsify. Skip this step if you already know the VIN is a fake.
Decode a VIN Step 16
Decode a VIN Step 16

Step 4. Enter the 17 digits that make up the VIN

Leave space between each number, as well as below. If necessary, to have more space, take your sheet in the direction of the width. The series must be written on one and the same line.

Decode a VIN Step 17
Decode a VIN Step 17

Step 5. On the line below, write the following series by aligning it vertically with your series:

8 7 6 5 4 3 2 10 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2. Put them in that order. The middle "10" must be entered under only one of the digits of your VIN.

Decode a VIN Step 18
Decode a VIN Step 18

Step 6. Multiply each of the columns

Multiply the top digit with the digit (or number) that is just below it. Keep the results of your multiplications separate. It is not about getting a long number without a space. Let's take an example.

  • Or a false VIN whose letters have been transformed into numbers: 4 2 3 2 2 6 3 4 2 2 6 3 2 0 0 0 1
  • You write below the series seen previously: 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 10 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
  • Then multiply 4 and 8 (the first two digits of the two series), which gives 32. Multiply 2 and 7 (the two second digits of the two series), which gives 14, and so on. In the end, you get the following series: 32; 14; 18; 10; 8; 18; 6; 40; 0; 18; 48; 21; 12; 0; 0; 0; 2.
Decode a VIN Step 19
Decode a VIN Step 19

Step 7. Add up all of these numbers

  • In our case, we have: 32 + 14 + 18 + 10 + 8 + 18 + 6 + 40 + 0 + 18 + 48 + 21 + 12 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 2 = 247.
Decode a VIN Step 20
Decode a VIN Step 20

Step 8. Divide the final result by 11 and write the rest

In this division, stop at the whole part. The calculation can be done by head, by hand or with a calculator for a long division.

  • Note: if the remainder is "10", enter "X".
  • In our case, we make 247/11 = 22. The remainder is 5. Write

    Step 5..

  • If you take a calculator to do the calculations, it will give you the result with the decimal places and not the rest. Likewise, if you are not sure if you have the right rest, use one of those online applications that give the rest of a division: this is the case, for example, of the Calculatorsoup.com site.
Decode a VIN Step 21
Decode a VIN Step 21

Step 9. Now locate the 9th digit of your VIN

If it is the same as the rest you found, then you are dealing with a real VIN. Otherwise it is probably a fake. Special case: if the vehicle was assembled in North America after 1980, it is undoubtedly a fake.

  • In the case where the remainder is "10" (or "X" as it was called), your famous 9th character must be an "X", since the constructors do not have the possibility of using numbers.
  • In this case, the 9th character of the original VIN is a "2", the rest of the division is "5": your VIN is probably a fake!


  • On the Internet, you will find tables concerning the characters assigned to certain special vehicles, such as those with flex fuel engines.
  • In the case of a VIN affixed to a windshield, the easiest way is to read it from the outside. Also note that the letters I (i), O (o) and Q (q) are never used to avoid confusion with the numbers 1; 10 and 0.

Popular by topic