How to Check Vehicle Options by VIN

Written by shanan miller
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How to Check Vehicle Options by VIN
You can find out all you need to know about a car by decoding its VIN. (red sports car image by palms from

In 1980, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) initiated a new way to standardise vehicle identification numbers, most commonly known as a VIN. VIN's for vehicles built from 1981 follow a universal standard so that no two vehicles have the same number and cannot be passed off as another vehicle. The VIN, a combination of 17 numbers and letters, identifies the vehicle's year, make, model, options, specific features and sequence of model production. Some VIN's are manufacturer specific and include the plant where the vehicle was assembled, while some digits show a standard digit for year and make.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • A VIN Number to Examine, from 1981 on.

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    Decode a vehicle's VIN

  1. 1

    Locate a vehicle's VIN by looking at the driver side windshield portion on the dashboard. You will notice that the VIN is in a hard-to-reach place in order to avoid being tampered with. Other common places to find the VIN would be along the driver's side door or in the boot, in the area near the spare tire.

  2. 2

    Digits one to three provide country, make and model information, also known as the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI). The first digit signifies the country where the vehicle was built and is labelled as 1, 4 or 5 for USA, 2 for Canada, 3 for Mexico, J for Japan, K for Korea, S for England, W for Germany, Z for Italy, Y for Sweden, V for France, 6 for Australia and 9 for Brazil. Digits two and three signify make and model, although this list can be somewhat complicated. For example, a Volkswagen manufactured in Germany might be worth more than a similar vehicle made in Mexico. The WMI allows you to more accurately determine a vehicle's value.

  3. 3

    Vehicle features such as safety and engine information can be found in digits four to eight. Some of these letters (for the fourth symbol) will mean the following: H is a safety code that signifies front and side airbags, B means the vehicle has safety belts and no airbags, L,F and K conclude different generations of airbags. Digits five and seven indicate the make and model of the vehicle, while the eighth digit signifies the size of the engine. For example: four identifies a four-cylinder; six a six-cylinder, etc.

  4. 4

    The ninth digit, which is never a letter, is a verification digit. This digit is the answer to a complicated math problem that can be created by the VIN, in which the answer equals the ninth digit. This is used to determine that the VIN is not counterfeit.

  5. 5

    To determine the year the vehicle was made, check digit 10. This digit signifies the year as follows: Letters A through Y are numeric values for 1980-2000. The year 1980 begins as an A, while the year 2000 ends with Y. The years 2001 to 2009 use numerals 1-9, and 2010 and later use the same alphabetical code beginning with the digit A.

  6. 6

    Digit 11 identifies shows where the vehicle was manufactured. There is no universal standard for this digit, and you will have to do some research to find out from the manufacturer which plant built your vehicle

  7. 7

    The last six digits of the VIN determines production length and when the particular vehicle was built during this time period. This is normally not a significant number for common and mass produced vehicles, but it does have significant meaning for collector of rare cars as well as limited edition or end-of-production vehicles. A vehicle's value can increase or decrease depending upon these numbers.

Tips and warnings

  • In some cases you might have to do an Internet search of the vehicle's manufacturers to determine the meaning of some digits in the VIN. You may also have to use an auto guide appraiser, found at your local book store which will break down the options included in the VIN.

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