VIN is an acronym for Vehicle Identification Number. You know, that pesky, unintelligible number your insurance company asks you for. Well, here's a little about it. Let's call this...

Everything you wanted to know about a VIN but were afraid ask.

Beginning with the 1981 model year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Department of Transportation, required manufacturers selling over the road vehicles in the United States to produce the vehicles with a 17 character Vehicle Identification Number.

The standard establishes a fixed format, including a check digit and applies to all passenger cars, multi purpose passenger vehicles, trucks, buses, trailers, and motorcycles with a gross weight of over 10,000 pounds or less.

What do all those numbers mean you might ask?

The VIN is actually broken down into three distinct sections. The first section designates the World Manufacturers Identification. It is three characters in length and each character is coded to identify the Nation of Origin, Manufacturer and Make/Type of vehicle. Here's a sample, all values are theoretical

Character 1 = X, X= Japan
Character 2 = X, X= Toyota
Character 3= X, X = Passenger Car

The second section has five characters and is designated as the Vehicle Description Section. The Vehicle Description Section identifies the vehicles Model, Body, Style, and Engine. Here's yet another sample.

Character 4 = X, X = 4 Door Sedan
Character 5 = X, X = 1.5 Litre Engine
Character 6 = X, X = Corolla
Character 7 = X, X = Transmission Type - manual vs automatic
Character 8 = X, X = Equipment such as air bags, daytime running lights, etc

Character 9 = X, X = a check digit

The third (and yes, last) section of the VIN is the Vehicle Identification Section. It is eight characters in length and describes such things as model year, plant of manufacture and sequential production number.

Character 10 = X, X = 2000
Character 11 = X, X = Tokyo
Character 12 thru 17 = 1,2,3,4,5,6

So there you have folks, we've just described a 2000 Toyota Corolla, 4 Door Sedan with a 1.5 litre engine, manual transmission with daytime running lights and air bags. It was made in Tokyo, Japan and was the 123,456 car produced of that type in that plant.

If your still with me, I'd also like to point out that the values for each of the VINs can and will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer thereby wreaking havoc in trying to read these things.

The Check Digit

borgo has done an excellent job of detailing the specifics on a VIN number and how they relate to what's actually on the vehicle or the options the vehicle has. Let's take a look at one of the lesser known numbers which make the whole thing work properly.

In position 9 of the VIN number is a character called a check digit. This character can be any number between 0 and 9, or X. To get this check digit, we preform the calculations below:

In our example, we'll use the VIN number JT2MA71N2M0155441
Don't worry, this vin is completely fictional, but correct. You can head over to carfax and punch it in and it should come back with 0 records.

Step 1:

First, convert every letter in the vin, to it's associated number. Any numbers in the original remain the same in their same place.

A = 1; B = 2; C = 3; D = 4; E = 5; F = 6; G = 7; H = 8;
J = 1; K = 2; L = 3; M = 4; N = 5; O = 6; P = 7; R = 9;
S = 2; T = 3; U = 4; V = 5; W = 6; X = 7; Y = 8; Z = 9;

Step 2:

Now you must multiply each of the 17 digits in the vin by a set "weight" or multiplyer. The multiplyer is Position Specific.

1st  = 8;  2nd = 7; 3rd  = 6;  4th = 5;  5th = 4; 6th  = 3; 7th  = 2;
8th  = 10; 9th = 0; 10th = 9; 11th = 8; 12th = 7; 13th = 6; 14th = 5;
15th = 4; 16th = 3; 17th = 2;

Step 3:

After multiplying all of the digits by their weight, you should come out with a sum for each number. Add all of the sums together, then divide by 11. The remainder of the answer divided by 11 is the check digit. If the remainder is '10' the check digit is 'X'

Here's our example:

VIN		J  T  2  M  A  7  1  N   2  M  0  1  5  5  4  4  1

Assigned Values	1  3  2  4  1  7  1  5   2  4  0  1  5  5  4  4  1
Multiplyer	8  7  6  5  4  3  2  10  0  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2

SUM		8  21 12 20 04 21 02 50  00 36 00 07 30 25 16 12 02

Add them all together: 266
Divide by 11: 24
266 - 11 * 24 = Remainder of 2
2 matches position 9 within the VIN. Therefore, the VIN
is correctly entered.

That's how the check digit works folks! It's not any type of security system, just a method to keep people from punching in a vin number incorrectly; since if you enter it incorrectly, the check digit will be different. It's similar to the one that's in use with your credit cards.
The example VIN that I provided was originally a VIN number that's had it's sequence number changed and the check digit recalculated. The number is useless, except the check digit is correct; so you can run it through carfax and other VIN reporting software and it won't give you an error. I don't think you can take it to the DMV and get a vehicle registered with it.

Vin Number stands for Vehicle Identification Number and it must be on every vehicle sold inside the United States and across the world. In Europe they are known as the chassis number. The VIN is used by the government to track all motor vehicles in the united states, and is located on every vehicle title. Using the VIN number it is possible to track a vehicle's history in terms of transactions, and if it was involved in a major accident. It is also possible to use the VIN to determine a vehicle's exact make-up as delivered by the factory, and as such is used to determine the provenance of a classic car. Today, the VIN number is located on the driver's side of the dashboard, and visible through the windshield. In older cars the VIN may be located anywhere, including inside the driver's door and on the firewall.

The reason a vehicle's original equipment can be determined by a VIN is the number is assigned by the manufacturer, and is used by the manufacturer to track its own products. If you have the correct codes, it is possible to determine the date of manufacture, body style, engine, transmission and even paint color. For example with the classic 64 1/2 through 1966 Mustang the engine code C denoted the 289 engine, 2 barrel carburetor with 200 horsepower output. The A code gave the same 289 a four barrel good for 225 hp, and K code denoted the high output 271 horsepower engine used in the Shelby GT-350 though it could be ordered in a standard mustang. No matter what the owner says, it isn't a real K-code without the K in the VIN.

This matters because classic cars have become increasingly rare over the years, and the most prized have become extremely expensive. For example, Chrysler products equipped from the factory with the rare 426 Hemi option have sold for as much as a million dollars at auction. Of course such a car has to be exquisite, and the term 'numbers matching' means the car is exactly as the factory delivered it. This has led to a bit of action whereby older, severely damaged cars may have value solely for their VIN. For example a Plymouth Road Runner with a hemi VIN that has no engine, suspension and is rusted through in multiple locations may still command four figures because it has that rare VIN. Junk cars have been completely rebuilt around their VIN even though it might be much cheaper to simply put the hemi into a nicer body.

There are many websites where older VIN numbers can be checked for production dates and equipment, sometimes the manufacturer will provide the information for you upon request. Carfax and other research services require the VIN to track the car, and your insurance company also requires the VIN to identify your vehicle as yours. As the number is stamped into metal and difficult (but not impossible) to remove, it can be used to identify formerly stolen cars.

Many thanks to Albert Herring for letting me know about the numbers as used abroad. Tortoise pointed out that until the 1980s Italian car makers considered themselves above such dispassionate matters as accurate records, so the VIN numbers are the moral equivalent of pulling numbers out of a hat. They preferred to spend their time worrying about the camshafts, a sentiment I understand.

The VIN number is a number invented by Vin Diesel, who actually owns all the cars in the world, and needed some way to keep track of them. You think you own your car? Nope, Vin Diesel owns it, and his freaking name is right there on the door, stamped on a metal plate just so you can't steal his car. The insurance company requires your VIN number when you get a policy so they can let Vin Diesel know if you've fuxxored up one of his cars. Usually he doesn't care, because he's got so damn many of them.

You might have noticed in the movies even, Vin Diesel will be chasing some dude (probably because that dude has stolen one of Vin's cars) and Vin will just pick a random car going down the street and order the driver out so he can take the car to chase down the bad guy. That's because that's Vin's car too. If you've seen Arnold Schwarzenegger or Mel Gibson or George Clooney or Bruce Willis do that, it's because they're friends of Vin, so he's letting them borrow one of his cars. So if you're ever driving a car down the street, and Vin Diesel runs up and demands the car, you'd better give Vin his damn car!!

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