VIN numbering: what lies behind this alphanumeric series

12th January 2022

What is it and why is it always good to know more?


Vehicles have had identification numbers since the early days of the automotive industry; however, there was no standard model until VIN numbering was certified in the early 1980s.


So what is the VIN?

Simply put, the VIN stands for Vehicle Identification Number and is a unique alphanumeric record of your car’s authenticity. It consists of a 17-digit series of numbers and letters stamped on the body of every vehicle in the world. This is why it is also often referred to as a chassis number, which reveals the specifications, features and manufacturer’s specifics of the unit.


It should be noted that the numbers and letters that make up the VIN are unique to each car and cannot be altered or modified. These are issued at the manufacturing line and are engraved on the vehicle forever, thus ensuring that there are no cars with the same numbering, and at the same time it becomes a solid tool and means to corroborate the identity of the vehicle and to certify the ownership of the vehicle.


Among the benefits of this type of vehicle documentation, a VIN decoder from carVertical can be used to track the date of manufacture, registrations, coverage requests, insurance warranty, theft, violations and even if it still has its original colour, in the case of classic vehicles.


Main differences between engine number, chassis number and VIN number

As far as the last mentioned are concerned, i.e. VIN number and chassis number, both are the same, represent the same thing and cannot be changed.


However, the engine number is a different matter. These are not stamped on the vehicle and, in the same way as with other components, they can be replaced. However, as the engine is an essential part of the car, it is also given a series of numbers in order to be able to detail and differentiate both size and thrust.


In essence, the engine number is beneficial when it is necessary to replace the entire mechanism with a new one. Subsequently, the car will be given a new engine number, while the VIN number remains unchanged.


What does the VIN alphanumeric series mean?

Every car in circulation from 1981 to the present must have 17 characters. In the case of older vehicles, prior to 1981, the number of digits used for their identification could be shorter.


It is important to mention that, although the digits that make up the VIN include the numbers from 0 to 9 and any letter of the alphabet, the “I”, “O” and “Q” are excluded as they could lead to confusion between the numeric characters.


On the other hand, we know that the interpretation of all the elements of VIN numbering could be complex due to the extent of its extension; however, after breaking down the basic concepts, it will be much easier to understand. In summary, they fall into 3 groups;


Characters 1 to 3: Worldwide Manufacturer Identification – WMI.

The first group of the VIN code consists of the first 3 digits and is responsible for identifying the manufacturer. The first digit is for the country or region where the manufacturing plant is located, while the second and third digits are attributed to the companies. For example; in the UK the VIN number series starts with the letter “S”, so SBM stands for McLaren, SAL for Land Rover and SAJ Jaguar.


Characters 4 to 9: Vehicle Description Section – VDS.

This section is responsible for describing the general concepts and particularities of the car, such as car class, support, body type, and engine choice, among others.


Characters 10 to 17: Vehicle Identification Section – VIS.

The last group of the VIN consists of 8 digits, and always the last four must be numbers. These are responsible for identifying the car more accurately and are usually the vehicle reference number.


In addition to containing information about powertrain options and variants, for more information about the specifications of your vehicle or if you are looking to buy a used car, the Free VIN portal offers a free search engine and decoder that will allow you to find out all about it and make a better decision based on the accuracy of the information.