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Decode the VIN

If you're like most people, you probably think a vehicle identification number (VIN) is just a series of random characters. Actually, each characters in this highly structured code has its own meaning. In fact, deciphering these codes is a hobby for some car enthusiasts, including collectors who want to own one of the first or last cars to come off an assembly line.

When you're considering purchasing a pre-owned vehicle, it's always a good idea to obtain a vehicle history report (VHR). Knowing how to read the VIN could help you make an informed decision before you buy.

Decoding a Sample VIN

The infographic below provides a simplified look at a sample VIN. Keep in mind that vehicles manufactured before 1981 might have fewer characters than today's standard VIN of 17 characters

vin branded

Model Year & Country Codes

Model Year Character Codes

As shown above, the 10th character of the VIN indicates its model year.

  • A: 1980 or 2010
  • B: 1981 or 2011
  • C: 1982 or 2012
  • D: 1983 or 2013
  • E: 1984 or 2014
  • F: 1985 or 2015
  • G: 1986 or 2016
  • H: 1987 or 2017
  • J: 1988
  • K: 1989
  • L: 1990
  • M: 1991
  • N: 1992
  • P: 1993
  • R: 1994
  • S: 1995
  • T: 1996
  • V: 1997
  • W: 1998
  • X: 1999
  • Y: 2000
  • 1: 2001
  • 2: 2002
  • 3: 2003
  • 4: 2004
  • 5: 2005
  • 6: 2006
  • 7: 2007
  • 8: 2008
  • 9: 2009

Country of Origin Character Codes

The 1st character in a car's vehicle identification number indicates the country in which it was manufactured.

Some of the country codes include:

  • 1, 4, 5: United States
  • 2: Canada
  • 3A-37: Mexico
  • 6A-6W: Australia
  • J: Japan
  • SN-ST: East Germany
  • VF-VR: France
  • VS-VW: Spain
  • WA-W0: West Germany
  • ZA-ZR: Italy

If you are not sure where to look for your vehicle's VIN, visit our section on Locating a Vehicle Identification Number.

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