With millions of vehicles that hit the road each day, it could be very difficult to try to identify a certain type of automobile if you were just looking at as it whizzes past you on the freeway.   The only way to tell the difference between a neighbor’s car from the one that you see in the parking lot at work is by the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).  Often referred to as a vehicle’s fingerprint, the VIN is a helpful tool for repairs, changes in ownership and to alert when the vehicle has been stolen.

VINs and Why Do We Use Them on Vehicles

Since 1981, the US Department of Transportation developed a VIN system based on the specifications from the Code of Regulations, Title 49, Chapter V, Part 565.  Before 1981, vehicle manufacturers created stamps to place on vehicles with a corresponding number.

Use our VIN decoding tool

A VIN is unique for each manufactured vehicle in the United States.  Other countries have a system for identifying vehicles but this article covers what a VIN is used for vehicle manufacturers regulated by the US Department of Transportation.  The VIN is divided into 3 separate sections.

The first section incorporates 3 digits:

  • 1st digit: where the vehicle was assembled. If the vehicle is received parts from different countries, there is a particular letter or number that will represent what region the parts came from.
  • 2nd digit: identifies the auto manufacturer
  • 3rd digit: what division the vehicle was assembled or manufactured in.  For example, the code for an American manufactured Ford is 1F and the division could be 1FA, 1FB, etc.

The second section incorporates 5 digits:

  • 4th digit: represents the weight of the vehicle
  • 5th digit: represents the type of model such as: van, truck, pickup
  • 6th digit: identifies a special brand of the model such as Camry, Civic, Highlander
  • 7th digit: represents what the body type the vehicle is
  • 8th digit: what type of engines and components are in the vehicle

The third section incorporates 3 digits:

  • 9th digit: what is referred to as a check digit. To ensure that the VIN has been calculated correctly, this digit is put in the number.
  • 10th digit: represents the year that the vehicle was manufactured
  • 11th digit: represents the location of the factory when the vehicle was manufactured

The remaining digits from 12-17 are for vehicle manufacturers that make less 500 cars per year.

Using the VIN

After leaving the dealership or heading home from a private owner, a buyer should be aware of importance of the VIN.

Location of the VIN

For starters, you should be able to locate the VIN on the vehicle.  There are several places where a vehicle manufacturer will put the VIN on: dashboard, panel on a trunk or floodgate, door or inside the glove compartment.

Accident Information

When a vehicle is involved in an accident, the VIN is recorded so it can be reported to the insurance company or to the authorities.  Car dealerships have the opportunity to check out an accident history on the vehicle by utilizing the VIN.  This can help a potential buyer from purchasing a vehicle that has been involved in accidents.


When a vehicle is stolen,  the VIN is utilized to track down the vehicle.   Vehicle manufacturers have come up with different ways to cut down the destructive of VINs after a vehicle has been stolen.  One way is to etch the VIN in the glass of the window.  This technology prevents the lifting of the VIN from the vehicle.