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How To Decode Any Car’s VIN

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If you are reading this, you are probably aware that all street-legal cars have a VIN, Vehicle Identification Number. The Vehicle Identification Number is unique to each car, much like DNA or a fingerprint. After being in the industry for years, many of us can look at a VIN and instantly react with humor or sadness. This might make your significant other question your mental health, so let break down a VIN so everyone can understand.

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Instead of 23 chromosomes, all modern cars have a VIN consisting of 17 characters, and it is located at the base of the windshield on the driver’s side. They are also located in other locations of the car to prevent chop shops from selling stolen parts. The first character is the country of origin. The US is, of course, #1, but we’ve built so many cars that 4 and 5 are also USA VINs. Canada is 2, Germany is W, and England is S. The most shocking is that Japanese cars all begin with J… just kidding.

First Number/Letter Examples:

  • A-H = Africa
  • J-R = Asia
  • S-Z = Europe
  • 1,4,5 = United States
  • 2 = Canada
  • 3A-37 = Mexico
  • 6/7 = New Zealand or Australia
  • 8/9 = South America

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Here is where it gets intense. The next two spots are the manufacturer. I’ve owned a dozen Camaros over the past 2 decades and I have 1G1FP87 burned into my mind. This is the beginning of any Camaro hard top performance model. V6 cars and the Camaro Berlinetta were 1G1FS87. Let’s break that down. 1 is USA. G1 is GM. F is for GM’s F-body (either Camaro or Firebird), and P87 was a V8 powered hardtop. The next digit would either be N or L, designating Norwood, Ohio or Los Angeles assembly plant. After that is a digit assigned by GM’s Fisher Body division, a story for another day. Next comes information on the interior color, body color, and finally the car’s year and its build number among all Camaros of that model year.

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If you are looking for a Range Rover, every VIN in recent history begins with SALME1548. No, it’s not a reference to salami. just unfortunate luck on the part of Land Rover. SAL is the United Kingdom, Austin Leyland (which were the owners of Land Rover in the old days). ME154 denotes a 4 door, full-size Range Rover HSE, and 8 is the number of cylinders. If the next digit is a 6, it was built in 2006, and the remaining digits are color codes and the build number. If you really want to have fun with learning the language of the VIN, our friends at VINwiki have a database that will blow your mind. Don’t say we didn’t warn you because you will fall down a rabbit hole of automotive intrigue.

Model Year Vin References:

  • A: 1980 or 2010
  • B: 1981 or 2011
  • C: 1982 or 2012
  • D: 1983 or 2013
  • E: 1984 or 2014
  • F: 1985 or 2015
  • G: 1986 or 2016
  • H: 1987 or 2017
  • J: 1988
  • K: 1989
  • L: 1990
  • M: 1991
  • N: 1992
  • P: 1993
  • R: 1994
  • S: 1995
  • T: 1996
  • V: 1997
  • W: 1998
  • X: 1999
  • Y: 2000
  • 1: 2001
  • 2: 2002
  • 3: 2003
  • 4: 2004
  • 5: 2005
  • 6: 2006
  • 7: 2007
  • 8: 2008
  • 9: 2009

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