You’ve probably never taken much notice of your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN), a 17-character series of letters and numbers. Believe it or not, there’s a logic to each VIN that provides specific information about your vehicle, from its country of manufacture to its unique serial number. 

A vehicle’s VIN is essential when it comes to selling your car or purchasing a new vehicle. It’s a unique identifier kept with all the critical data registries, such as the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) and other jurisdictions, depending on where you live.

In most cars, you will find the VIN on the front of the dashboard or the window on the driver’s side. The best way to see it is to look through the windscreen from outside the car. Depending on the manufacturer, you might also find the VIN on the driver’s side door pillar, where the door latches onto the car. Check the owner’s handbook if you’re unsure where the VIN is on your car.

When you’re buying a used car, you can do a VIN search to obtain a vehicle history report, find records of its previous owners, accidents, and repairs and even check whether the car has ever been recorded as stolen. The VIN can also help you determine if the manufacturer issued a recall of the vehicle and whether those recall repairs were completed.

Here’s how to decode a VIN!

Each VIN on a car is a 17-character series of letters and numbers without spaces, provided your vehicle was manufactured after 1981. If a vehicle was manufactured before 1981, the VIN would most likely contain 11 characters.

For cars made post-1981, there are no VINs that contain the letters Q, I and O – these are omitted to avoid confusion with the numbers 0 and 1. Pretty interesting, right?

Although it may look like just a series of letters and numbers that are printed in a straight line, each section of a VIN provides a specific piece of information about a vehicle. Let’s take a further look!

1. Country Of Origin And Brand

Country of origin and brand

The first three characters of every VIN identify the vehicle’s manufacturer and where it was built. This is called the World Manufacturer Identifier or WMI code. The first letter will be the country of manufacture, the second the brand of the vehicle and the third the vehicle type or division. For example, many manufacturers use multiple plants worldwide to produce their cars, so a Volkswagen (VW) built-in South Africa will have a WMI code of AAV, while VWV will denote one built in Spain.

2. The Type Of Car

The type of car, engine and more

The next five digits of a VIN will decode information about the specific car itself. This can include things like the type of model, the body shape (sedan, SUV etc.), what type of engine it has and even the type of transmission it runs.

3. Security Check Digit

Security check digit

The 9th digit is a security code that is often known as a check digit. It is a code number or letter the manufacturer of the vehicle generates when on the production line to verify the authenticity of the rest of the VIN.

4. Year Of Manufacture

Year of manufacture

The 10th digit on a VIN denotes the year of manufacture of the vehicle. For example, the letter L means the car was manufactured in 2020. The year codes are used as a standard run from A – Z and then from 1 – 9 before restarting.

5. Assembly Plant

Assembly plant

The 11th digit on a VIN is the manufacturer’s plant code. This unique code identifies the plant where the vehicle was built.

6. Vehicle Production Number

Vehicle production number (Serial Number)

Finally, the last six digits of a VIN are the car’s serial number, otherwise known as the vehicle production number. The numbers 12 through to 17 are assigned to the vehicle when it is built as it rolls through the production line.

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