What is a VIN or Vehicle Identification Number

Everything you need to know about VINs

A vehicle identification number (abbreviated simply to VIN) is a number car manufacturers assign to vehicles to identify them and their characteristics, including the year, engine type and transmission choices, make and model, manufacturer and more. VIN format was standardized in 1981 and now consists of 17 characters (both letters and numerals), excluding the letters I, O and Q, which can be confused with the similar-looking numerals.

VIN standards, namely ISO 3779 and 3780, were issued by the Standardization Organization. With somewhat different implementations, they are commonly used in the EU (ISO 3779) and the U.S. (ISO 3780).

VIN information

A VIN number contains three sections:

  • The first three symbols of the VIN are known as the World Manufacturer Identifier. They identify the car manufacturer.
  • The fourth to ninth characters represent the Vehicle Descriptor Section, which reveal the vehicle’s model, platform, body style, etc. The ninth character doesn’t give any details about the vehicle, but instead is used to verify that the VIN is correct. It is represented by numerals (0 to 9) or the letter X.
  • The tenth to seventeenth characters reveal specific details about the individual vehicle, including its engine, transmission choices, assembly plant code and other features.

Where is the VIN normally located?

A VIN code may be found in multiple places. Here are some common locations to look for it:

  • On the door frame of the driver’s side (sometimes passenger’s side) front doors
  • On the dashboard (most commonly on the left side)
  • On the firewall
  • On the engine
  • On the radiator support bracket
  • On the driving wheel or on the steering column

It may also be in the vehicle’s registration, title, maintenance book, insurance policy or guarantee book.

In addition to the above features, the VIN number identification can help reveal other essential information about a particular vehicle, such as its previous uses, history of accidents or damage, or title information. For that reason, a VIN check is a must when purchasing a pre-owned vehicle. By knowing the vehicle’s VIN, you can find out if the seller or dealer is being fair and honest with you or if the vehicle you are considering has some hidden issues.