How to Tell the Year of Car From the Vin Number

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The Vehicle Identification Number is unique for each car manufactured in the United States. Since the 1980s the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has required car manufacturers to assign a 17-character VIN to each car made. The allowed characters are all nine digits and all the letters of the alphabet except for I, O and Q. It is possible to determine, among other things, which year a car was made by looking at the VIN, which usually is located on a small metal shield on the dashboard by the windshield on the driver's side of the car.

Things You'll Need

  • A car's VIN number
  • List of codes denoting years
  • Locate the VIN number of the car in question. It is normally placed on a metal plate on the driver's side of the car inside the windshield on the dashboard. There are other places the VIN appears as well, such as the front of the engine block and the front end of the frame.

  • Make note of the 10th character of the VIN.

  • Compare the tenth character of the VIN to this list to determine its year of manufacture: 1980(A), 1981(B), 1982(C), 1983(D), 1984(E), 1985(F), 1986(G), 1987(H), 1988(J), 1989(K), 1990(L), 1991(M), 1992(N), 1993(P), 1994(R), 1995(S), 1996(T), 1997(V), 1998(W), 1999(X), 2000(Y), 2001(1), 2002(2), 2003(3), 2004(4), 2005(5), 2006(6), 2007(7), 2008(8), 2009(9).

Tips & Warnings

  • Note that there was no standard prior to 1980 for VIN numbers. Before that year, manufacturers used their own system. Therefore, any numbers for vehicles before that year will not conform to the format.
  • You can also type the car's VIN into a website that provides vehicle history, such as CarFax.com, to find the year of manufacture.
  • Thieves sometimes replace the dashboard VIN plate with that of a junk car of the same make and model. If you doubt the veracity of the VIN for any reason, compare the plate to the VIN on another location of the car. VIN numbers are also inscribed on the front of the engine block and the on front end of the frame.

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