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All passenger cars have a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) etched on the driver’s side of the dashboard. The VIN consists of a unique series of 17 numbers and capital letters. Each digit provides specific information about the vehicle, such as the year, manufacturer, make, model, and engine size. 

Running a VIN check is imperative when considering purchasing a used vehicle. Several online vendors, such as Carfax, will run a free search, providing you with a detailed history of prior accidents, title status, service records, and previous owner information on the vehicle. Armed with this data, you will be better informed and able to decide if the car is worth purchasing.

It is just one example of why a VIN is important. There is also a sequential series of letters and numbers called the World Manufacturer Identifier, which is an essential component of all VINs. 

What information is contained in a VIN?

Cars with VINs that will tell you your World Manufacturer Identifier.
Cars | Getty Images

Similar to a fingerprint, every vehicle has a VIN that is unique to the automobile, with no two cars having the same number. Automakers assign the VIN during manufacturing and record it with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

According to AutoZone, “VIN information contains three groups: World Manufacturer Identifier, Vehicle Description Section, and the Vehicle Identifier Section.”

You can find the VIN on your vehicle title or registration, insurance policy, or imprinted on the car’s dashboard. There is also a manufacturer’s identification sticker on the driver’s side door that contains the VIN.

When you bring your car in for service, a mechanic will check the VIN and record all work done on the vehicle, even if it’s just an oil change. The number also helps shops identify the correct parts needed for repair.

The VIN is an invaluable tool for tracking a vehicle’s history, monitoring recalls or warranty claims, and is used in the case of theft as authorities attempt to recover the stolen vehicle.

Since the use of VINs became standard in 1981, information on cars manufactured before then is limited.

What is the World Manufacturer Identifier?

NHTSA contracts SAE International to assign the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI) portion of the VIN. The WMI is always the first three digits of a VIN.

The first digit indicates the final point of vehicle assembly or the country of origin. The second digit identifies the manufacturer and location of production. The third digit is combined with the first two digits to identify the manufacturing division or vehicle type.

The WMI is an international standard that applies to all passenger cars, trucks, motorcycles, trailers, towed vehicles, and mopeds. SAE maintains a database of more than 33,000 international WMI codes.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) claims, “When used in conjunction with the remaining sections of the VIN, the WMI ensures the uniqueness of the VIN for all vehicles manufactured in the world for a period of 30 years.”

The VIN can be an identifier for other various aspects of the car


Do You Know Where Your Car Was Built?

The Vehicle Description Section (VDS) is the numbers or letters in positions four through nine. These digits contain pertinent data regarding the vehicle’s model, restraint system, body type, engine code, and transmission type. The ninth digit reflects a mathematical equation created by the U.S. Department of Transportation to uncover fraudulent VINs.

The Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS) are the digits in the 10 through 17 positions. The 10th digit is a capital letter that indicates the year the vehicle was built. The remaining digits in this section identify the manufacturing assembly plant and a production serial number assigned to each vehicle during manufacturing.