What is a vehicle identification number (VIN)?

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What is a vehicle identification number?

A vehicle identification number (VIN) also known in Ireland as a chassis number, is a unique code, including a serial number, used by the automotive industry to identify individual vehicles as defined in ISO 3833. (International Organization for Standardization: the organization that promotes worldwide proprietary, industrial and commercial standards.)

The VIN number serves as the car's unique fingerprint and no two vehicles have the same VIN. VINs were first introduced in 1954 but from 1954 up until 1981, there was no accepted standard for the VIN and so different manufacturers used different formats.

Then in 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the United States standardized the format so that all codes were 17-characters (digits and capital letters) in length that act as a unique identifier for the vehicle.The VIN number specifically omits the  letters I (i), O (o), and Q (q) so as to avoid confusion with the numerals 1 and 0. All vehicles and light truck model since  1981 or later has a unique 17-digit VIN in a fixed format.

The VIN number on a vehicle identifies the vehicle's unique features and specifications from the manufacturer.The VIN code will identify specific information about the vehicle's year, make, model, country of origin, assembly plant, and more. It can also be used to track registrations, warranty claims, recalls, thefts and insurance coverage. If the vehicle's VIN is less than 17 characters long, the VIN is most likely from a pre-1981 vehicle. A service such as MyVehicle.ie helps potential car owners use VINs to find vehicles that are defective or have been written off.

VIN Code Explained

What do the numbers and letters in a VIN mean?


  • The first digit in the VIN code indicates the country of origin or where the car was made. In some countries in Europe though, it may be the country where the manufacturer has its headquarters.

  • The second digit identifies the manufacturer

  • The third digit represents the vehicle’s type or manufacturing division.

  • The first three digits, which includes the country identifier digit is part of the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI). However, if the manufacturer builds less than 500 vehicles per year 9 will be the third digit and 12, 13, 14th position (part of the production number) will make up the second part of the manufacturer's WMI.

  • Digits 4 through 9 make up what's called the Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS). To break this section down further, digits 4-8 identify the vehicle’s model, body style, engine type, transmission etc. This section is often used by service mechanics to identify certain systems installed by the manufacturer so that the car can be properly serviced.

  • The ninth digit is a check digit. This is used to detect invalid VIN’s based on a mathematical formula which was developed by the Department of Transportation in the United States.

  • The final section and last part of the VIN coding system are digits 10 through to 17 which is referred to as the Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS)

  • Digit 11 identifies the specific manufacturing plant in which the vehicle was built and each manufacturer will have their own numerical designation for this.

  • Finally digits 12 through to 17 is designated as the vehicle serial number. This may indicate the sequence in which the vehicle came off the assembly line. Again, each manufacturer will have their own numerical designations.

Digits 10 through 17 make up the Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS).

Vehicle Year - 10th digit

A 1980 L 1990 Y 2000 A 2010
B 1981 M 1991 1 2001 B 2011
C 1982 N 1992 2 2002 C 2012
D 1983 P 1993 3 2003 D 2013
E 1984 R 1994 4 2004 E 2014
F 1985 S 1995 5 2005 F 2015
G 1986 T 1996 6 2006 G 2016
H 1987 V 1997 7 2007 H 2017
J 1988 W 1998 8 2008 J 2018
K 1989 X 1999 9 2009 K 2019

Where Can I Find the VIN?

See the image below:


Look for the VIN in these locations:

  • At the dashboard on the driver's side of the vehicle

  • driver's side door at the door post

  • Insurance card/Insurance policy

  • Vehicle title and registration


Before buying a car

Before buying a used car, it is quite important to check the VIN as thieves will often replace the VIN of a stolen car with the VIN of a similar vehicle that is already legally registered. Always purchase a full vehicle history check from MyVehicle.ie to give you peace of mind. 


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