What is a VIN and what is it used for?
Every car has a unique identifier called a Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN. Vehicles produced since the 1960s have included production serial numbers, but it wasn’t until the early 1970s that a VIN became standard. Early VIN codes had a 10-digit standard, while NHTSA regulations later required all 1981 and newer vehicles to be sold with a 17-digit VIN number.
A VIN code identifies every individual car manufactured in the last 60 years as well as most towing vehicles, motorcycles, mopeds and scooters.
Having a VIN helps validate the authenticity of a particular vehicle, find stolen cars, discover accident and salvage history, find out if a car was an insurance claim vehicle and determine its owner history, to name just a few examples.
While there are several competing standards to calculate a VIN, Canada uses FMVSS 155, Part 565. In that standard, the VIN is comprised of 17 characters in the following general sections:
- Characters 1-3 indicate the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI) based on the WMI code.
- Characters 4-8, called the Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS), specify the vehicle’s attributes.
- Character 9 acts as a check digit which is used in a mathematical algorithm to determine the validity of the VIN.
- Characters 10-17, called the Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS), provide more details of the vehicle, where the 10th character is the model year, the 11th character is the plant code, characters 12-14 identify the manufacturer, and the characters 15-17 are sequential numbers assigned by the manufacturer.
The individual components of the VIN are explained below:
- Characters 1-3: In the WMI code, the first character identifies the region where the manufacturer is located. Canada is assigned the character 2. A manufacturer who builds fewer than 500 vehicles each year will use the number 9 as the third digit, and the 12th, 13th and 14th positions of the VIN for a second part of the identification.
- Characters 4-8 identify the type of vehicle, and may indicate the model and body style of the car. Since the 1980s, many manufacturers have used the 8th digit to identify the engine type when there are multiple choices of engine for that vehicle. Note that the 7th character must be alphabetic when the vehicle in question is one of the following: a multi-purpose passenger vehicle, a passenger car, a three-wheeled vehicle, or a truck with a GVWR of 4536 kg or less.
- The 10th character indicates the model year of the car. For example, a code of D represents the year 2013. Note that the number 0 and the letters U and Z are not allowed to be used in this value.
- The 11th character identifies the factory where the vehicle was manufactured.
- The 12th to 17th characters are sequentially assigned by the manufacturer when the manufacturer builds 1,000 or more vehicles of a certain class each year.
- The 13th character must be numeric if the vehicle is one of the following: a multi-purpose passenger vehicle, a passenger car, a three-wheeled vehicle, or truck with a GVWR of 4536 kg or less.
- The 14th to 17th characters need to be numeric for all vehicles.
- The 15th to 17th characters are assigned by the manufacturer when the manufacturer builds less than 1,000 vehicles of a certain class each year.
- Note that the letters I, O, and Q are not allowed in the VIN itself.
Although a VIN can be decoded using the check digit as mentioned above, a VIN can also be read with a barcode scanner or a digital camera and then decoded using various websites.
You can find the physical VIN on an integral and permanent part of the vehicle, such as the driver side dashboard where it meets the windshield. You can also find the VIN on your car’s insurance policy, and on your vehicle’s title and registration documents.