Virtually all production vehicles made after 1981 include a Vehicle Identification Number or VIN that is defined and regulated by the International Organization for Standardization. The VIN is comprised of 15 to 17 digits -- both letters and numbers. The VIN serves two essential purposes: It provides the vehicle with a unique identity, allowing agencies to know its owner history, and it encodes a great deal of information about the cars origin and attributes. Understanding how to read and decode the VIN is a useful skill for any car owner.
Vehicle Origin and Manufacturer
The first three digits of the VIN, when taken together, comprise the ISO World Manufacturer Identifier code. By looking up these digits a person can determine two things: the name of the company that built the vehicle and the nation in which the vehicle was assembled. However, this does not necessarily indicate what the vehicle's make is but rather what corporation is responsible for its production. For example, depending on when it was made a Dodge truck might have a VIN indicating that it was made by Chrysler or Daimler-Chrysler.
The remaining digits can be deciphered based on the coding standards that vary from manufacturer to manufacturer but follow the same basic structure. Digits five through seven indicates the vehicle model. Additionally, these numbers indicate the trim level. The trim level designation can be used to find out what features that car had when it left the factory such as leather seats, power windows or anti-lock breaks.
Universal Feature Designations
There are two cases were a digit place always represents the same piece of information regardless of the manufacturer. The fourth digit indicates what type of air bags, if any, are in the vehicle. The eighth digit specifies what type of engine came with the vehicle. The place of these digits is universal, though all manufacturers do not necessarily use similar codes.
Manufacturing Date and Location
The tenth digit is used to specify the year the vehicle was built. Because the ISO system is almost 30 years old, some letters or numbers may indicate more than one possible year of manufacture, although it should be easy to resolve this when put into context. The 11th digit of the VIN represents the manufacturing facility where the vehicle was assembled.
Production Number and Check Digit
The final six digits of the VIN serve as a serial number. For example, if the final digits are 000050 then it can be deduced that the vehicle was the fiftieth of its make and model to be assembled. As an additional security feature to prevent fraud, the ninth digit of the VIN is used to verify the authenticity of the VIN. This is similar to security features common on credit cards that are used to determine whether the card number is valid.
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