Into the Past: 5 Steps to Identify the History of Your Car

  • Michael Grant
  • November 8, 2017

Every vehicle made in the United States and Canada has a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). It is a unique identification number that provide a lot of information about the vehicle including where and when it was made, even down to the specific plant where the car or truck was manufactured.

The VIN also allows people and authorities to track a vehicle through changes in ownership and any problems the vehicle has been involved in, from accidents to thefts or natural disasters. If your car is lost or stolen, the Vehicle Identification Number can help track it down or identify it if is recovered after an accident.

1. History

Automakers in the United States began using a vehicle identification number (VIN) for each vehicle they produced starting in 1954. In the 1980’s this became standardized when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandated a specific set of numbers and digits in a fixed format that they required to be affixed to every vehicle manufactured in America. Other countries followed suit and soon there was a universal Vehicle Identification Number for every car or truck manufactured. Later, in 1987 the Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention Standard required all car and truck makers to also put the VIN on the engines, hoods and other parts of the vehicle.

2. Modern times

Today you can easily find the Vehicle Identification Number on most cars since it is placed onto the dashboard on the driver’s side, and clearly visible through the windshield from outside the vehicle. You can also find it on a sticker or plate on the inside of the driver’s side door or on the frame sill where the door closes. It may also be found inside the glove compartment, and it will always be on the car’s title of ownership and registration.

3. Identification

Car manufacturers use all letters and numbers in the Vehicle Identification Number, with the exception of the letters I, O and Q. Every number and letter in the VIN has a specific meaning, and the VIN is broken up into sections.

The first section identifies the manufacturer of the vehicle, and uses the first three digits. Here is a detailed explanation of the VIN decode:

  • The first digit identifies the nation of origin or if the car was built in part in different countries, this reflects the nation where the car was assembled. In the case of some larger countries, they are split into regions. Cars built in Japan are assigned a J in the first digit, but vehicles built in the U.S. can have a 1, 4 or 5, depending on the region where they were assembled.
  • The second digit identifies the manufacturer of the vehicle. In the United States, the Society for Automotive Engineers issues manufacturer codes.
  • The third digit identifies a division within the manufacturer or a general vehicle type. For example, the code for an American-made Ford is 1F, and depending on the type of vehicle, it may be a 1FA, 1FB and so on. A U.S. General Motors vehicle is a 1G. Chevrolet is a division of GM, so the first three digits for a Chevrolet are 1GC.

4. Description

The second set of numbers in the Vehicle Identification Number are sometimes called the vehicle descriptor section. This comprises the digits from 4 to 9 of the VIN. These digits identify the vehicle model, body style, engine type, transmission and more. These numbers are very helpful to car repair shops because they can use this his information to identify systems installed by the manufacturer when they are servicing the vehicle for a customer. One secret is that the ninth digit, or check digit, is used to detect invalid VINs based on a mathematical formula that was developed by the Department of Transportation.

5. Origins

The last section of numbers in the Vehicle Identification Number is called the vehicle identifier section. It gives the year, the manufacturing plant in which the vehicle was assembled and each car manufacturer has its own set of plant codes. The last five digits in this section indicate the production or serial number but these vary from each manufacturer.

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Hello, my name is Michael and I'm a cancer survivor. I'm also a home entrepreneur and stay-at-home grandfather. In the past thirty years, I've dabbled in the the financial sector, the technology industry, as well as a little business consulting. I guess you can call me a jack of all trades!