Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) — We have all seen it and in most cases not really thought very much about it. It’s a seemingly random string of 17 digits and for most of us, we only do a VIN number lookup right after we purchase a vehicle to make the appropriate registrations.
What you may not know is that the VIN is not random and in fact there is a great deal of information about your vehicle encoded into the number. The VIN can tell you when and where the vehicle was manufactured, along with more details. By looking up your vehicle’s VIN, you can discover whether there have been any recalls by the manufacturer. The VIN can also help identify vehicles recovered from theft.
Fleet managers rely on VIN decoding to gather vehicle details and specs for vehicle maintenance, procurement, and fleet optimization.
First appearing in 1954, the VIN became standardized in 1981. U.S. VIN requirements have been stipulated by U.S. law 49 CFR 565 VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER (VIN) REQUIREMENTS. In addition; ISO 3779 and SAE J272 have defined a common format for the VIN. Based on these requirements, each VIN is 17 digits in length.
The VIN structure allows the use of all numerical digits (0-9) and all the letters of the alphabet with the exception of the letter “I” to avoid confusion with the digit “1”. The letters “O” and “Q” cannot be used in order to avoid confusion with the digit “0”.
Depending on the vehicle, the VIN placement may vary. You could find the VIN inside on the dashboard or door on the driver’s side. The number will also be referenced on the vehicle insurance and ownership papers.
The VIN is broken down into four sections:
The first three digits indicate the WMI. These digits are used to establish the general location of the manufacturer, manufacturer and vehicle type (e.g. passenger car, MPV, truck). The first digit is the country code. When the first digit is “1”, “4” or “5”, the region of manufacturer is in the United States. Examples of other regions include 2 = Canada, 3 = Mexico, J= Japan. Many other countries can be indicated as well.
For example, if we were to take this VIN, 1G1RC6E42BUXXXXXX — the WMI is “1G1”. The first digit of “1” indicates that the car was made in the United States. In the case of the second digit “G”, this tells us the manufacturer is GM. The third digit of “1” indicates that this is a Chevrolet passenger car.
When the manufacturer produces fewer than 500 vehicles of its type in a year, it is identified as a low volume manufacturer. These manufacturers will be identified by having the third digit as “9.” For these manufacturers, digits 12-14 will also be part of the WMI.
After that, digits 4 through 8 define the VDS. Here the manufacturer can specify details regarding the vehicle; which can include information such as the make, model, engine, brakes, safety systems or other details.
So, in the case of our example VIN, the VDS is “RC6E4”. Conveniently, GM is very open about their VIN details, and you can find a comprehensive list here.
Here we see that digits 4 and 5 (“RC”) say that this car is a Volt Standard, without leather and with navigation. So far so good.
Digit 6 being “6” defines the vehicle as a 4-door sedan hatchback with 4/6 windows. On to digit 7 being “E”, which for GM specifies the safety system. So that indicates Active manual belts with Front and Front Seat Side airbags (first row) plus Roof Side airbags (all rows).
Digit 8 which has a value of “4” specifies the engine type. Therefore, we have a 1.4L, 4 cylinder, flexible fuel, MFI (Multiport Fuel Injection) with DOHC (Dual Overhead Cam) engine.
Digit 9 is the check digit (value “2” here), which can range from 0-9 plus X. A mathematical formula is used with the other digits of the VIN to calculate a checksum. This provides you an opportunity to detect whether you have an error in your VIN. The details of the calculation can be found in 49 CFR 565.
Digits 10-17 define the VIS. Digit 10 is the year digit which is “B” which tells us that the model year for the car is 2011. On to digit 11 which is “U.” This lets us know that the car was built by the good people at the Detroit Hamtramack plant.
Finally, digits 12-17 are the serial number of the vehicle which are numerical and sequentially assigned.
As you can see, manually looking up the VIN can take some time. If you have a MyGeotab account, we can decode your VIN automatically for you.
To try out VIN Decode, you need to have Feature Preview enabled in your UI Settings. Note: Since these new features may change, break or disappear, we do not recommend using these features in a production setting. If you wish to enable Feature Preview in MyGeotab, click on your account name at the top right corner, click the Options button, and under UI SETTINGS, set the toggle for Feature preview to On. Click Save.
How to Use VIN Decoder in MyGeotab:
You can sort the results by VIN, make, or year.
If you are in North America, you can also check out the Manufacturer’s Information Database (MID) on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website to view manufacturer information and search for the decoder for your vehicle. Outside of North America, the reporting requirements are less strict and information can be a little more difficult to come by.
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