What is VIN and how did it appear?

Probably all motorists have heard phrases like “breakthrough the VIN” or “verify the VIN”. However, not everyone knows what is hidden behind this abbreviation. The words “unique vehicle number” are remembered by many, but not everyone understands what these numbers actually mean and why there are so many of them.

VIN is an abbreviation for Vehicle Identification Number, which means “Vehicle Identification Number” in English. It consists of 17 characters (numbers and letters), which encode information about the main characteristics of the vehicle, manufacturer, and year of manufacture. The code structure is the same for all automakers, and before turning to the VIN decoding, you should talk about the history of its occurrence.

What is VIN and how did it appear

The standard describing the format of the identification number and called ISO3779 was adopted in 1977 in Canada. Its creators were faced with the task of developing a reliable and simple way to classify cars – not only in order to number them but also in order to protect them from theft.

The USSR had its own marking of cars for a long time, so the traditional rules for decoding VIN for Soviet cars do not apply

VIN consists of 17 Arabic numerals and Latin letters. At the same time, it was decided to abandon the letters “I”, “O”, and “Q”, since when reading them they can be confused with the numbers 0 and 1.

VIN is divided into three parts, each of which has its own abbreviation: 

  • WNI (World Manufacturers Identification – “worldwide manufacturing index”), which comes first;
  • VDS (Vehicle Description Selection – “descriptive part”) in second place;
  • VIS (Vehicle Identification Selection) at the end.

In the first part, WNI, the first three characters are the manufacturer’s code: 

  • the first character is the code of the continent (geographical area),
  • the second is the country code,
  • the third is the manufacturer’s code. 

True, there are times when the last character indicates the type of vehicle – passenger, cargo, and so on. It should be borne in mind that for a long time Soviet automobile plants used their own system for marking cars, so the traditional rules for decoding VIN codes do not apply to them.

The second part of the VIN consists of six characters that indicate the characteristics of the vehicle: model, body type, powertrain. For vehicles manufactured in the United States of America, it is a common practice to also indicate the curb weight of the vehicle and indicate the safety systems that a particular vehicle is equipped with. 

The ninth character of the VIN number – the control code – is not required for all cars

In this case, the sequence of characters is set by the manufacturer. In addition, the so-called control code can go as the ninth character – this is a number from 0 to 9 or the Latin letter X. This character is designed to indicate illegal changes to the identification number. The presence of the control code is mandatory for vehicles manufactured in North America and China, but for vehicles manufactured in Europe, it is recommended, but optional – at the discretion of the manufacturer. At the same time, regardless of the market, the control code must be on Volvo, BMW, Toyota, Saab, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz cars.

The eight-digit third part, VIS, is structured as follows. Most often (always for American, some Middle Eastern, and Chinese vehicles), the first is a number indicating the model year of the car.

Here it is necessary to make a small, but important digression. It’s no secret that the model year is often ahead of the production year. It so happened that at some point, American manufacturers began to indicate the next year instead of the current one for cars that were assembled in the summer and went on sale at the same time. Historically, cars produced after July 1st are included in the next model year. Although this trend is very common, it is not generally accepted.

When buying a car, special attention should be paid to the tenth character of the VIN, indicating the model year.

We return to the third part of the identification number. The second character is the manufacturer’s code. This symbol does not have a fixed format – some manufacturers, for example, Ford, indicate the month of manufacture of the car instead. Although the vast majority of automakers still adhere to the recommendations and provide information about the plant.

Numbers 12 to 17 are determined by the sequence in which the car passes through the assembly line of the factory and represent the unique body number of the car.

Where can I find the VIN?

Another important question that worries motorists: “Where to look for a VIN number on a particular car?”. On almost every modern car, the cherished numbers can be found in the upper left part of the instrument panel, as well as on the left A-pillar. In addition, VIN on American cars can be duplicated on the dashboard on the driver’s side (where the windshield “joins” with the hood) and on a sticker in the driver’s door opening. Depending on the brand of the car, the VIN may also be located in other places.

To get accurate information about the location of the number for each particular car, it is best to contact the thematic forums where the locations of the VIN are listed.

Some characters in the VIN number are easy to fix (for example, 3 by 8), so they need to be checked especially carefully

In conclusion, it is worth adding that when buying a car, experts recommend always paying attention to the 10th character – the year of manufacture, as well as carefully examining the numbers for corrections (3, for example, is easy to forward to 8 and so on).

Modern technology allows you to scan the VIN, so you can access complete information about the car in a matter of minutes. Moreover, special scanners are no longer needed for this, a mobile phone with a camera and a certain program that searches using a photo is enough.