What Is An Example VIN Number and What The 17 Digits Mean?




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You have no doubt heard of a vehicle identification number or VIN number for your vehicle. From your insurance company to the DMV everyone wants to know the VIN number. But what does it look like, where can I find it, and what do all the characters mean?

Here is an example VIN number: 1G1AF1F57A7192174. There it is, now where can you find it on your vehicle and what does it mean. The above VIN number is a sample number for a 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt, now how do I know that. Let’s take a deep dive and see how we decode this VIN number.

What Do The VIN Number Digits Mean?

First, let’s look at the VIN number in a little more detail, so you can see all the different characters. The above example has 17 unique digits and letters.

For all modern cars, the VIN Number contains 17 digits. When I say modern, I am talking from 1981 on. So what happened before 1981?

How many digits were in a VIN before 1981? 

Pre 1981?

Before 1981 there was no uniformity, no standard, when it came to VIN numbers it was basically up to the manufacturer. So a VIN number could have anywhere from 9 to 13 digits.

But it gets worse… between 1955 and 1967 VIN numbers didn’t even exist! Shocking, I know. The number used to identify vehicles was called a serial number and typically it was 11 digits. However, a nine-digit serial number was not out of the question.

What about before 1955? It was basically a free-for-all. A vehicle was identified by its engine number. So, however, the manufacturer saw fit to identify a vehicle’s engine; this became it’s number.

All is not lost, however, there are methods to finding the VIN to a vintage car. Check out my article about how to do a VIN search on a classic car.

How Do You Decode a VIN Number?

Decoding a VIN number is not as complicated as you might think. Each character identifies a feature of the vehicle. So let’s take a look at our example VIN number from above.

If you need to find your VIN number check out this article that lists six places you can find the VIN on your vehicle.


Now, I already stated that this is for a 2010 Chevy Cobalt, so let’s see how we come to that conclusion.

The first digit in a VIN number stands for the country of manufacture. so, if the first digit is a 1, that means the vehicle was manufactured in the United States. The numbers 4 and 5 also denote the vehicle was built in the US. Canada is number 2 and Mexico is number 3.

Fun Fact: The first three digits combined are called the World Manufacturer Identifier or WMI for short. Here is a list of all the WMI’s.

The second digit stands for the manufacturer. so, if the second digit is a G, that means the vehicle was made by general motors.

To summarize to this point the first three digits 1G1. We know that this vehicle was manufactured in the US and according to our chart is a Chevrolet. The third digit could possibly identify the type of vehicle, but this is not always the case.

Are you still looking for a way to check a VIN number?

Check out four VIN check services that you can use over here. Hit the Button

Digits 4-8 of the VIN…

So now that we have established the manufacturer and the country of origin, we have the nuts and bolts of the vehicle (pun intended). Digits 4 through 8 are called the Vehicle Descriptor Section or VDS. This section is used to identify the vehicle make, model, style, engine type, and platform used.

Now while these digits are used for identifying these aspects of the vehicle, how they are used is up to the manufacturer. The information is the same, but how it is arranged is different. That is why you need a service such as VinCheckPro to decode your VIN number.

There is an exception to this, however. According to Wikipedia, most manufacturers use the eighth digit to identify the type of engine in a car, if there is more than one engine option. For instance, also from Wikipedia, the 2007 Chevy Corvette has a 6.0 liter or 7.0 liter V8 option. The letter ‘U’ denotes the 6.0 liter version and the letter ‘E’ denotes the 7.0 liter.

The Check Digit, Digit Number 9

The ninth digit is called the Check Digit and is used to verify the accuracy of the VIN number.

It is a calculated number that is used to ensure the VIN number has not been tampered with or changed. If you want to see how this number is calculated visit this page.

The Vehicle Identification Section Digits 10-17

Now on to digits 10 through 17. These also have their own acronym, the VIS, or the Vehicle Identification Section. So let’s find out what these mean.

10th Digit

The 10th digit identifies the model year of the vehicle. Simple enough. Since VIN numbers have been standardized since 1980; the letter ‘A’ represents a car built in 1980. The letter ‘B’ a car built in 1981 and so on and so forth.

See the table below for complete information.

VIN Chart

11th Digit

The 11th digit, in North America and in China, is used to identify the plant location in which the vehicle was built.

Digits 12-17

These digits would be considered the serial number for the vehicle and vary by manufacturer. These are proprietary numbers, so each one is different by the manufacturer.

How Do You Decode a VIN Number?

Decoding a VIN number is a rather laborious and futile task. Especially since some of the numbers are proprietary and the decoding can only be obtained by paying for a service.

However, if you REALLY want to read about it. You can check out this article over here.

Final Thoughts…

The VIN number is like the social security number for your car. You will always need it for something and it is especially important when you are buying or selling your car.

It will tell you the type of engine and if your vehicle has been in an accident. However, you can’t get this information on your own. You will need to fork out a few bucks in order to run a complete vehicle report.

I recommend VinCheck Pro to get a complete report for your car. It’s inexpensive compared to the price you are going to pay for your car.

Safe travels…

P.S. I would like to thank vingenerator.org for the VIN number used.

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