How To Identify a Car by its VIN number

Updated July 19, 2017

The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) in your car is like the DNA in your body --- it can reveal all kinds of information once you decode its alphanumeric signature. Not only government agencies and car manufacturers use this number to track down a vehicle's "life" history, but also auto part stores use it to identify replacement parts for each model. So here is how to find the VIN on your car and what you can learn from it --- it applies to 1981 and later models. To decode your own car's VIN, see the Resources box at the bottom of this article.

Locate the VIN plate on the driver's door frame, on the dashboard (inside the windshield, driver's side), or on your Vehicle Certification of Title or Registration. Let's suppose that your particular VIN is this: 2G3WH52X6V1 100001.

Look at the first number: 2. This digit will tell you in which country your car was built. In this case, you know it was manufactured in Canada.

Read the first letter: G. It tells you who built your car, in this case General Motors.

Find the second digit: 3. This particular number identifies the corporation's division that built the car. In our example it belongs to Oldsmobile.

Read the next two letters: W and H. This identifies the series name --- Cutlass Supreme --- along with a manufacturer's sales code.

Find the next two numbers: 5 and 2. This couple of digits describe the type of vehicle and restrain system installed. From our example, we know you have a four-door sedan with manual seat belts and a driver/passenger inflatable restraint system.

Look at the next number and letter sequence: X 6: The first letter should indicate the engine size, while the number (referred to as a Check Digit) represents the result of a particular mathematical formula. In our case, the X tells you the car is equipped with a 3.4L engine, while the number 6 will confirm to the car manufacturer that the VIN code on your car is a valid number.

Read the next two digits: V and 1: The first letter will tell you when your car was built and the number to the right will identify the specific plant that built the car. If this sequence was stamped on your VIN code, you will know your car was built in 1997 by General Motors plant number 2 in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.

Check the last series of numbers: 100001. The car manufacturer uses this particular sequence of numbers to get information about options, including engine and transmission, delivered to the customer with this specific unit.

Things You'll Need

  • Vehicle Certification of Title or Registration
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About the Author

Since 2003 Dan Ferrell has contributed general and consumer-oriented news to television and the Web. His work has appeared in Texas, New Mexico and Miami and on various websites. Ferrell is a certified automation and control technician from the Advanced Technology Center in El Paso, Texas.