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Cars have significantly evolved since their inception. However, every vehicle still has a VIN, which is a car’s official identity. An automobile’s VIN contains lots of information that can help determine the manufacturing country and year of your car while also allowing you detect fraud.

Removing or altering a VIN is illegal in most states, and understanding the VIN can help save you from costly purchases if it had been tampered with on the vehicle you’re interested in buying. To help protect cars from theft, some dealers offer VIN etching, in which the VIN of the car is etched in other places throughout the vehicle. Knowing where and what the VIN is can help you find out the year of your car and additional information is only a matter of minutes. 

What is a VIN on a car? 

A bunch of cars with VIN numbers to identify which year they are.
Various cars | Getty Images

VIN is short for Vehicle Identification Number and is a common word in the auto industry. Like a fingerprint, each VIN varies to identify a specific vehicle and its history uniquely. It consists of 17 digits, featuring both capital letters and numbers. To avoid confusion, certain characters are omitted from VINs. Understanding the specific sections can help you decode it and identify important information about your vehicle. 

While knowing what it means is great, you should also know where to find the VIN on your car. It can be found in multiple places. The first place you can look is typically on the driver’s side of the dashboard. You may also find the VIN on a sticker affixed to the driver’s side door pillar, the vehicle’s title, car registration, or your insurance card. 

How to find out the year of your car with the VIN

VINs were not standardized until 1981. Therefore, decoding the VIN of many modern cars is simple if you know what each digit means. For example, to find the year of your car using the VIN, look at the tenth digit of the number.

According to Auto Zone’s VIN to Year Table, cars with one of the 20 used letters in the tenth digit indicate the year 1980 to 2000 and 2010 to 2030. If you have a number of 1 to 9 as the tenth digit of your VIN, the year of your car will either be 2001 to 2009 or 2031 to 2039.

Since the patterns of letters and numbers repeat, it may be challenging to determine the exact year by just looking at a VIN. Since vehicle styling significantly changes throughout the years, it’s usually apparent to determine if your car is a 1983 or 2013 if the VIN’s tenth digit is a D. 

Other revealing information found in your car’s VIN

Besides showing your car’s production year, there is additional information found in the 17 digits that make up a VIN, such as the vehicle’s make, model, and serial number. Since many can identify this information by the car’s emblems or body style, checking the VIN can ensure everything checks out before purchasing a used car. 

If you are curious about a car’s manufacturing, the first, second, and third digits of a vehicle’s VIN make up the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI). The eleventh digit of the VIN also indicates the manufacturing plant that built your car. 

Another significant VIN digit to examine is the ninth one, as it is a security code used to detect fraudulent VINs. Since the number varies due to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s mathematical formula, it can be difficult for an average person to spot a fraudulent VIN by looking at the number. Luckily, many online VIN decoders can help you spot any issues with your car’s VIN. 


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