4 ways to decode the Vehicle Identification Number

Table of contents:

4 ways to decode the Vehicle Identification Number
4 ways to decode the Vehicle Identification Number

The chassis number or frame number (internationally known as "VIN", for its acronym in English: Vehicle Identification Number) is a unique string of letters and numbers assigned to each vehicle that is manufactured. While the number has been around since 1954, the steps below will work best on vehicles made after 1981, the year an international standard system was created. VIN numbers indicate where the car was built, what engine or transmission model you have, and other important information. You can also use a service to identify VIN numbers and determine if your car was part of an accident report. Read the details, whether you're just curious what each number and letter means, or if you want information about your car.


Method 1 of 4: Find Your VIN Number and Decode It Easily

Decode to VIN Step 1
Decode to VIN Step 1

Step 1. Locate your VIN number in the car to start the decoding process

You should look for the long, usually 17-digit serial number found somewhere on the car or truck. It can be in several places. You can read the wikihow article on how to find your VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) or you can look at the most common positions that you will find later.

  • Look in the gap at the base of the driver's side windshield for a small plate.
  • Look for a stamp on the driver's door.
  • You can also find it on the engine block, which is easily visible when you open the hood.
  • On most newer vehicles, some parts of the body (such as the fenders and hood) also have the VIN number in order to facilitate identification and match the vehicle parts.
  • Open the pilot door and look in the space where the side mirror should be if the door were closed.
  • Older cars may have it in other places, such as on the steering column, radiator bracket, or inside the left tire arch.
Decode to VIN Step 2
Decode to VIN Step 2

Step 2. Find detailed information quickly by entering the entire VIN number online

You can look for websites that decode the VIN for most manufacturers. Search VIN Decoder.net if you are looking for detailed and quick access information.

  • You can also look for it on the manufacturer's website, but there is no guarantee that you will find it there.
  • If your vehicle was manufactured before 1980, it may not have a standard VIN number. If the free VIN number lookup sites don't work, use a paid service like CARFAX, AutoCheck, or VinAudit. These will give you some free information, but the most complete will have a cost.
Decode to VIN Step 3
Decode to VIN Step 3

Step 3. Use a service to check if your vehicle has a history of damage

VIN number websites or other search services exist to inform you if your vehicle was involved in an accident, fire, or other damage situation. One cannot decode this information from a VIN alone, as it never changes. These services take advantage of the fact that the police and other organizations use this unique number to describe a car in accident reports.

  • First, try a free service on the US Bureau of Insurance Crimes website.
  • If you do not get free information online, you will have to pay for a Vehicle History Report. This service is offered on the sites described above, such as VinAudit.
Decode to VIN Step 4
Decode to VIN Step 4

Step 4. Use the other methods to decode it yourself

Follow the methods below if you want to entertain yourself by decoding it yourself or if your vehicle was made by an unpopular manufacturer that cannot be found on a website. Finding where and when a car was built is easy, but other methods require more effort.

These codes are fully standardized in North America. In the rest of the world, most manufacturers use the same standards, but they could use the digit number 9 or 10 for other purposes. In North America, the 9th should be used as a "revision code" to confirm that the VIN is real and the 10th should be used to indicate the year the car was built

Method 2 of 4: Find out where and when it was made

Decode to VIN Step 5
Decode to VIN Step 5

Step 1. Use the first digit to find the continent of manufacture

You can skip to the next step to find out which country it was made in, but this basic information is easy to review and remember.

  • If the first digit is A, B, C, D, E, F, G or H, the vehicle was made in Africa.
  • The J, K, L, M, N, P or R as the first digit indicates that the vehicle was manufactured in Asia, including the Middle East. Keep in mind that the VIN never starts with a zero or 0 due to the ease of confusion between the two symbols.
  • The S, T, U, V, W, X, Y or Z indicates Europe.
  • The 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 indicates North America, including the US, Mexico, and Canada.
  • The 6 or 7 indicates Australia or New Zealand. Keep in mind that nearby nations like Indonesia or the Philippines are considered part of Asia for this purpose.
  • The 8 or 9 indicates South America.
Decode to VIN Step 6
Decode to VIN Step 6

Step 2. Use the first two digits to narrow your search to country and manufacturer

Many vehicles are manufactured in different countries and not just where the company is based. Compare the first two characters of the VIN in an online table like this, including the first continent code described above, and find out where it was actually made. This will also let you know which company made the car.

Some companies use the third digit as well to indicate the manufacturer or division of the company. However, the first two digits are sufficient to identify the country and manufacturer

Decode to VIN Step 7
Decode to VIN Step 7

Step 3. Use the 10th digit to determine the model

This method always works for cars from North America and often works for cars from other regions. Keep in mind that it may be a year after the car was actually built. A 2008 model car may mean that it was made in 2007 or 2008. See below for decoding instructions:

  • If the 10th digit is an A, B, C, D, E, F, G, or H, indicate the years 1980 to 1987, in alphabetical order, or 2010 to 2017.
  • The J, K, L, M and N are reserved for models from the years 1988 to 1992, or from 2018 to 2022.
  • The P means the model is from 1993 or 2023.
  • The R, S, and T mean it is from 1994 to 1996, or 2024 to 2026.
  • The V, W, X, and Y mean it is from 1997 to 2000, or from 2027 to 2030.
  • The 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 indicate the years from 2001 to 2009, or from 2031 to 2039.
  • An actual VIN contains the letters I, O, or Q. The year code has additional restrictions: the number 0 or the letters U or Z are never used.
  • If you're not sure if your car is new or old, check the 7th digit. If this is a number, your vehicle model is prior to 2010; if it is a letter, the pattern is 2010 or later (up to 2039).

Method 3 of 4: Get Additional Information

Decode to VIN Step 8
Decode to VIN Step 8

Step 1. Acquire the decoding sheet from your company

To get additional information, such as the make of the engine or the exact assembly plant that made the vehicle, you will need to know the internal system used by the car manufacturer.

  • If you don't know the car manufacturer, you can look it up in the second digit. Look up the codes of the most common manufacturers on the internet.
  • Use a VIN lookup service or the sheets to decode it on the manufacturer's website. If this doesn't work, use a search engine and put in the words "VIN decoder sheet" + "(company name)". This can be difficult or impossible for some manufacturers.
  • Contact the company's support service if you have one and ask about VIN decoding specifically for your cars.
  • Ask an auto shop if you can see their decoding tables. Workers use the charts to guide the parts and adjustments they make.
Decode to VIN Step 9
Decode to VIN Step 9

Step 2. Use the third digit to determine the vehicle type or company division

Depending on the manufacturer, the third digit of the VIN is used either to determine the location of a company division or to describe the type of vehicle. Most of the time, this digit simply means "car" or "truck" or provides little information that the country code does not provide, for example, "Made by Honda Canada".

Decode to VIN Step 10
Decode to VIN Step 10

Step 3. Use the 4th to 8th digits to decode information about the component types

These make the "Vehicle Description System", or VDS (for its acronym in English). Based on company-specific codes, these describe the vehicle's engine and transmission type, exact model, and similar information.

Technically, the ninth digit is also considered part of the "VDS" section, but it is used to confirm if the VIN is real, not to describe a component

Decode to VIN Step 11
Decode to VIN Step 11

Step 4. Use the 11th digit to find the exact assembly plant

If you want to know in which factory it was made, the 11th digit will help you know. Like everything else in this section, you'll have to find the company's system to find out more. Go to the beginning of this section to find out how to do it.

Decode to VIN Step 12
Decode to VIN Step 12

Step 5. Use the 12th to 17th digits to find the serial number or miscellaneous information

Each manufacturer can decide how to use this space for their own reasons. Most commonly, this individual 6-digit number gives the serial number of the vehicle.

  • Some manufacturers never repeat their serial numbers, while others start with 000001 every year.
  • The 10th through 17th digits are known as the "Vehicle Identification Section".

Method 4 of 4: Check if the VIN is Real or Fake

Decode to VIN Step 13
Decode to VIN Step 13

Step 1. Use an online VIN calculator to quickly confirm if it is real

Use a search engine to find it and enter your full VIN. Remember to use capital letters.

  • Follow the instructions below if you want to calculate it yourself.
  • Shady car dealers replace VIN plates to hide damage history. Using an online calculator can quickly confirm if it is a bad copy, but a clever criminal will use the real plate of a similar model. Here you will be able to compare the VIN on the door with the one on the dash or the other bodywork components, thus determining if the important parts have been replaced with used or different ones, which will be a sign of accidents or rebuilding.
Decode to VIN Step 14
Decode to VIN Step 14

Step 2. Understand the purpose of the ninth digit

This is a required "check digit" in North America, but is commonly used throughout the world as well. This digit can be used in a mathematical calculation to determine if the VIN is false and for no other purpose.

  • Note- The check digit is always a number or the letter X. If it is a different letter, then the VIN is fake, the car was built before 1980 and uses a different standard, or it was made outside of North America and unusually manufacturers they decided not to follow the check digit standard.
  • Write your own ninth digit now to check at the end of the calculation or look it up again.
Decode to VIN Step 15
Decode to VIN Step 15

Step 3. Replace each letter with a number based on the information below

For the first step, you have to replace each letter of the VIN with a number that can be used for calculations. Use the following system and keep the digits in the same order while replacing them. For example, if VIN starts with AK6, you should rewrite it as 126.

  • A and J become 1
  • B, K and S become 2
  • C, L and T become 3
  • D, M and U become 4
  • E, N and V become 5
  • F and W become 6
  • G, P and X become 7
  • H and Y become 8
  • R and Z become 9
  • If there is an I, O, or Q in the VIN, it is false. Royals never use these letters as they can easily be mistaken for a number. You can skip the rest of this method if you've already found out that the VIN is real.
Decode to VIN Step 16
Decode to VIN Step 16

Step 4. Enter the new 17-digit number

Leave plenty of space between each digit and below each one. Consider turning the paper over to the other side so that you have enough room to write it on one line.

Decode to VIN Step 17
Decode to VIN Step 17

Step 5. Write the following line of numbers, one number below each digit:

8 7 6 5 4 3 2 10 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2. Keep the same order. Keep in mind that 10 is the same number and must only go under one digit.

Decode to VIN Step 18
Decode to VIN Step 18

Step 6. Multiply each column of numbers

Each digit in the top row must be multiplied by the number below it. Write the results of each problem separately. Don't turn them into one big number. This is an example:

  • A fake VIN with letters converted to numbers as described above: 4 2 3 2 2 6 3 4 2 2 6 3 2 0 0 0 1
  • The series of numbers to multiply: 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 10 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
  • Multiply 4 x 8 (the first number on each line) to get 32. Multiply 2 x 7 (the second number) to get 14. Continue until you get the following results: 32; 14; 18; 10; 8; 18; 6; 40; 0; 18; 48; twenty-one; 12; 0; 0; 0; 2.
Decode to VIN Step 19
Decode to VIN Step 19

Step 7. Add each number to the final list

Put each number you got from the multiplication together to get a single number.

  • Continuing with the previous example, we get 32 + 14 + 18 + 10 + 8 + 18 + 6 + 40 + 0 + 18 + 48 + 21 + 12 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 2 = 247.
Decode to VIN Step 20
Decode to VIN Step 20

Step 8. Divide the result by 11 and write the remainder

Don't calculate this division problem down to the decimal point, just do it for the whole number. You can use a calculator, do long divisions, or do it in your mind.

  • Note: If the remainder is 10, write X instead.
  • Using the example above, 247/11 = 22 remainder 5. Write

    Step 5..

  • If you are going to use a calculator that gives you answers in decimals and you are not sure how to find the remainder, better use an online remainder calculator.
Decode to VIN Step 21
Decode to VIN Step 21

Step 9. Check the ninth digit of an original VIN

If it's the same as the rest you wrote, the VIN is real. Otherwise the VIN is probably fake. The VIN will definitely be false in this case if the car was made in North America after 1980.

  • Keep in mind that if the remainder is 10, the digit 9 of an actual VIN will be X, since the manufacturer cannot use a two-digit number (10) as a verification number.
  • In the example above, the 5th digit of an original VIN is 2 but our remainder is 5. These numbers are not the same, so the VIN must be false.


  • If you want to buy a used car, you will need to obtain its history or the VIN equivalent, and verify the car's VIN report. You will also need to check the boot lid and hood or front fenders to ensure that the VIN numbers match.
  • Never trust a seller regarding VIN number verification. Check it out on your own.
  • Tables are available online with the digits assigned to flex-fuel vehicles.
  • To read a VIN number plate on the windshield more easily, look at it from the outside of the car, looking through the windshield. Keep in mind that the letters I (i), O (o) or Q (q) are never used to avoid confusing them with 1 and 0.

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