The acronym VIN stands for vehicle identification number, a unique 17-digit alpha and numeric string of characters for each vehicle. VIN numbers have been mandated by the U.S Department of Transportation to be stamped on every vehicle since the early 1980s.
A VIN is used to track vehicle registrations, recalls, warranty claims, thefts and insurance coverage. Each character in the VIN has a specific purpose.
Decoding the VIN by character
1st character – identifies the country of manufacture. For example, U.S. (1 or 4), Canada (2), Mexico (3), Japan (J), Korea (K), England (S), Germany (W), Italy (Z)
2nd – identifies the manufacturer. For example, Audi (A), BMW (B), General Motors (G), Ford (F), Honda (H), Mercedes-Benz (D), Nissan (N), Toyota (T), Volkswagen (V)
3rd – identifies the vehicle type or manufacturing division
4th through 8th - identifies vehicle attributes, such as body style and engine type
9th – called the “check digit,” the ninth character uniquely identifies the vehicle, ensuring that no two cars within a 30-year period have the same VIN
10th – identifies the model year
11th – identifies the assembly plant
12th through 17th – identifies the sequence of the vehicle off the assembly line, with the last four characters always numeric
Where is the VIN stamped?
Auto manufacturers stamp the VIN in several different places on a vehicle. The most visible one is through the front windshield, located on the driver side interior dash by the windshield. Another location is on the driver’s side door jamb. A VIN may be stamped on the front or top of the engine block, the engine frame and many other hidden parts of the vehicle.
Consumers can also opt to have their VIN permanently etched into various parts of the car, a practice encouraged by insurance companies to help discourage theft and selling of car parts.