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What is a VIN Decoder?

A VIN Decoder is a tool that breaks down and analyses (“decodes”) Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs). 

The VIN is a 17-character number, which is the key to useful facts about the vehicle. This includes manufacturing information, specifications, features, and more. To learn this information, you need to know the meaning behind the VIN characters and their combinations. This can be complicated: the characters don’t mean the same thing for different manufacturers, models, and countries. 

This is why our free VIN Decoder is useful: to learn some basic facts about any vehicle or VIN code, you only have to enter it into the field above and click Decode VIN.

How to use the VIN decoder to do a VIN number lookup?

Using our universal VIN checker is as simple as it can get:

  1. Enter your vehicle’s 17-character VIN into the Enter VIN number field.
  2. Click Check Car.

In most cases, the VIN Decoder will provide some basic information for free. This info should be enough to:

  • Check whether the VIN is real
  • Confirm the VIN corresponds to the vehicle you’re checking
  • Help you decode the number by breaking it down into parts

To access more details about the vehicle, such as mileage records, damages, old photos, and theft records, you can get a carVertical history report.

What is a VIN number (Vehicle Identification Number)?

A Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) number is a unique code identifying (almost) every vehicle in the world. Car manufacturers started using it in the middle of the 20th century, but without strict standards all manufacturers constructed their own VINs – different lengths, meanings, etc.

The current standard was issued in 1981. It requires VINs to be 17-characters long and without the letters O (o), I (i), and Q (q) to avoid confusion with similar-looking numbers – 0, 1, and 9.

An auto VIN number is divided into several sections. Each of these holds unique information about the vehicle’s year and country of manufacture, features, options list, etc. And while figuring out the meaning of the VIN number can be difficult, VIN decoders like ours are a good place to start.

More importantly, you can use the VIN to access records on global databases. These are very useful when buying a used vehicle – they’ll help you avoid scams like mileage rollbacks, hidden damages, and more.

Where is the VIN number on a car?

VIN number location on a car

As the VIN number is necessary to save various records and perform a VIN lookup, you have to know where to find it. The VIN code is always located in secure locations on the vehicle, so no one can accidentally damage or remove it. 

Here are the most common VIN number locations:

  • Under the hood – the Vehicle Identification Number is often located in front of the engine block
  • Dashboard on the driver’s side – step outside the car and look for it behind the windshield
  • Driver’s side door pillar – open the driver’s door and look for a VIN plate on the inner side of the pillar
  • The front end of the frame – on older vehicles, it’s often located on the inner front wheel arch
  • Firewall – some older cars have the VIN on the firewall, which is located between the cabin and engine bay.

These are the on-car locations, but you can also find it on the vehicle title documents (registration) and on the insurance certificate. Just remember that all VINs must match.

Free VIN number check vs full car history report

The carVertical VIN checker scans dealer, repair shop databases, car sales reports, rental companies worldwide and provides you with all kinds of information from regular mileage checks to photos of damages.

While a free VIN decoder provides only basic data, here’s what you may learn about from a full carVertical vehicle history report:

  • Mileage rollbacks
  • Theft records from law enforcement agencies
  • Damages (sometimes, even photos after accidents)
  • Registration and inspection dates
  • Vehicle’s title info (was it used as a taxi, rental, police vehicle, etc.; has it suffered water damage, and so on)
  • Original equipment
  • Specific model problems and recalls
  • Country of origin, model year

You can see what a full VIN check can tell about your car in our sample vehicle’s history report

Meanwhile, the free VIN Decoder may tell you the car’s:

  • Manufacturer
  • Model
  • Year
  • Basic equipment info
  • VIN number breakdown

Don’t risk your own safety when buying a used car – put its VIN code in our VIN decoder and unveil potential safety issues and problems right away.

Why do full car history reports cost money?

If you’re familiar with car history reports and free VIN decoders, you probably already know the difference in the amount of information they provide. The reason for this is simple – most information isn’t free.

A free VIN checker mostly provides data that’s accessible for free. We can always tell you the car’s make, model, and year of manufacture. In some cases, we can access even more data: e.g.: for some cars, we can give you the basic vehicle specifications. Technically, you could scavenge the internet for all of that information, but an actual VIN searcher does that in a matter of seconds, saving lots of your time.

The information our free VIN Decoder can find varies from one vehicle to another.

When it comes to the full vehicle history report, we delve into various paid databases around the world. carVertical has built strong business relations with auctions, insurance companies, manufacturers, and other institutions to obtain as much valuable and reliable data as possible. 

Not only is this data not free – a regular individual won’t always be able to simply buy it.

How to decode the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)?

VIN number meaning

The VIN number consists of 17 characters, which are divided into multiple sections. And you can technically decode a VIN without using a decoder. Every character has a fixed meaning.

World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI)

The first section, known as the WMI code, has three characters. 

  • The first one shows the country of origin, and it can vary from the number “1” (US) to the letter “Z” (Italy)
  • The second character shows the brand’s name. For example, “A” is for “Audi”, “B” is for “BMW”, "N" is for "Nissan". However, sometimes "A" represent British manufacturers or "R" can represent "Audi". That’s why another (third) character is needed in the WMI section.
  • The last one reveals the manufacturer’s division or whether it’s a sedan, convertible, SUV, or any other body type

The structure of the World Manufacturer Identifier section is a bit different when the vehicle isn’t mass-produced.

Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS)

The second section is the Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS), and it consists of five characters. They hold information about the engine size and type, braking system, car series, model and body style. Each character represents different features and their meaning depends on the manufacturer.

Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS)

The last 9 characters are the Vehicle Identifier Section or VIS. The information in this section is different, depending on whether the maker is American, European, or Asian.

  • For US vehicles, the first 2 digits designate the model year and manufacturing plant, whereas the remaining characters are a serial code.
  • With EU vehicles, the VIS only has to provide a "clear identification of a particular vehicle." 

There’s no doubt that many vehicles will have the same configuration and will be assembled in the same location, so the only difference in their VIN is going to be the serial number.

Figuring out the model year without a chart is complicated. For example, while “1” is 2001 and “2” is 2002, “A” is 2010, and “B” is 2011.

Each assembly plant also has its own coding, so it’s best to find the character first and then look it up.

Check digit

This is the shortest section, and it has only one character – a “check digit.” This digit is the result of a mathematical operation, using all the other VIN characters into a formula.

If at least one character is fake or incorrect, the result won’t match the check digit. It’s possible to calculate the check digit yourself without performing a VIN search.

In US and Chinese cars, the check digit is always the 9th character in the VIN. EU vehicles don’t specify the exact position. Meanwhile, UK and Australian VIN codes have no check digit.

International VIN Decoder

The VIN number is just one of multiple ways to identify a vehicle. 

Multiple identification ways are necessary for various reasons, including to detect various types of fraud. With that said, the standard ISO VIN is the most reliable vehicle identification method.

Old VIN numbers

Our universal VIN Decoder doesn’t work with old VIN formats due to different formatting. Vehicles manufactured between 1954 and 1981 use various VIN formats, so you’ll have to find a specific VIN lookup tool to decode them.

With that said, pre-1981 models can also be stolen, damaged, or written off just like any vehicle. As such, old VIN numbers are still necessary.

Frame or chassis number (especially in Japan)

VIN numbers aren’t as common in Japan. Instead, the country often uses chassis or frame numbers, whose format is completely different from the standard 17-character code.

Ordinary decoders can’t recognise these "chassis numbers" and "frame numbers" found in Japanese vehicles, so you’ll have to look for a decoder designed specifically for them.

License plate numbers

Most countries require you to register a vehicle to use it on public roads. This means there are databases holding data about each vehicle based on license plate numbers. Often license plate checks are free, but this depends solely on the country.

This check should provide no more than basic information like vehicle make and model, title and insurance status. Additionally, it’s not nearly as useful in cross-border situations.

Why is it important to do a VIN number lookup?

There are many reasons why it is important to do a VIN lookup. They depend on the situation of the user.

You may want to get a free VIN Decoder check to:

  • Confirm the VIN code matches a specific vehicle
  • Check basic specifications information
  • Help decode the VIN manually

Getting a VIN lookup for a full vehicle history is important if you’re:

  • Buying a used car – learn about damages, mileage rollbacks, and other important details. This can help you avoid bad deals or help to negotiate the price.
  • Selling a used car – buyers value transparency, so providing a history report is a great first step to build trust.
  • A car owner – learn about potential weak points or simply satisfy your curiosity.


What does a VIN decoder do?

A VIN decoder processes Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs), analyzes them, and helps users learn the meaning behind the 17-digit VIN code.

What is a free VIN decoder?

A free VIN decoder provides only information that is freely available. This includes details about the model and (sometimes) basic specifications, but typically does not include vehicle history data.

What does a VIN check show?

A paid VIN check shows important historical information about a vehicle. This includes past damages, suspected mileage rollbacks, and more.

Car history report

Avoid costly problems by checking a car's history. Just enter the VIN and get a full report.

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