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How to Read a VIN Number (Model Year, Engine Specs, Assembly Plant, and More)

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The vehicle identification number isn’t just a random combination of letters and numbers. In fact, each sequence of characters contains specific information about each and every vehicle. 

The VIN decoder uses these unique character sequences to lookup the values for every vehicle and return the details the database contains about it. 

While you can certainly just plug in your VIN above and get back the data you need, it can also be helpful to understand how to decode the VIN. 

How to Read a VIN Number
How to Read a VIN

What does each digit mean in a VIN?

Refer to the list below to find out what each digit means when you decode the VIN.

  • Position 1: Country of origin.
  • Position 2-3: Vehicle manufacturer, type, and division.
  • Position 4-8: Details about the vehicle’s attributes and features including body style, engine information, safety features, etc.
  • Position 9: Security check code.
  • Position 10: Model year.
  • Position 11: Assembly factory details.
  • Position 12-17: Serial/production number.

VIN Positions 1 to 3: World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI)

The first 3 digits of the VIN are known as the World Manufacturer Identifier, or WMI. 

These characters provide details on the country where the vehicle was manufactured and the manufacturer of the vehicle

The first character represents the country. 

For example:

  • 1,4, and 5 in the first position indicate that the vehicle was produced in the United States. 
  • 2 indicates that the vehicle was made in Canada.
  • 3
  • J indicates that the vehicle was manufactured in Japan. 

The second represents the manufacturer, and the third represents the manufacturing division or vehicle type.

For example, the code 1G1 represents GM Chevrolet passenger cars.

VIN Positions 4 to 8: Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS)

The middle section of a VIN is known as the Vehicle Descriptor Section, or VDS.

These characters contain information about the vehicle’s attributes. The attribute details contained in each VIN may vary, but if the information is available, you can find details about:

  • The body style. 
  • Trim details. 
  • Engine type and specs.
  • Fuel type.
  • Estimated mileage.
  • Braking systems.
  • Airbag systems.
  • Assistive technology.
  • Transmission.
  • Steering.
  • Suspension.
  • Tires.
  • Dimensions.

This information can be useful for mechanics servicing the vehicle and when you need specific replacement parts that will work for your car, truck, or motorcycle. 

What does the 8th digit in a VIN Number mean?

Digits 4 through 8 in a vehicle identification number are part of the vehicle description section. 

These digits are used to describe the features and components of the vehicle, including:

  • Engine.
  • Transmission.
  • Body style.
  • Trim.
  • Safety features.
  • Assistive technology. 

The 8th digit in a VIN is used to describe the engine size and type. 

This information is extremely valuable when you need to replace specific parts on your vehicle. 

You can get the full specs for your vehicle by checking the VIN with our free VIN decoder.

VIN Positions 9 to 17: Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS)

The last section is known as the Vehicle Identifier Section, or VIS.

These characters include:

  • A security check digit designed to detect invalid or fraudulent VINs.
  • The model year, which is based on a sequential chart. 
  • The name of the assembly plant where the vehicle was manufactured.
  • The production/serial number of the specific vehicle. 

Model Year by VIN: Character 10

A vehicle’s model year is contained in the 10th digit of the VIN. It will be represented by a single letter or number.

For a quick reference to the vehicle model year chart for a VIN, refer to the table below:

Character CodeModel Year

When vehicle identification numbers were standardized, the model year codes started with A for 1980. Model years cycle through A-Y (excluding O, I, Q, Z) and 1-9, and start over again every 30 years.