How a VIN can tell you if a car is made in America

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How a VIN can tell you if a car is made in America
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When you’re buying a vehicle, do you think about the country of origin?

If you do, you’re likely to run into a lot of confusion. Even so-called ‘domestic’ cars and trucks can be assembled from parts sourced from all over the world.

In fact, the top 5 most ‘American-made’ vehicles are all Japanese nameplates! That’s according to the Cars.com annual list of the most ‘American-made’ models, which keeps tabs on vehicles assembled domestically using a high percentage of U.S.-sourced parts.

Read more: The #1 most important thing to do before buying a used car

Reading the window sticker to see if a car is American-made

So as you can see, ‘American-made’ is not as easy to determine as it seems at first glance…but there are a couple of ways you can make an informed buying decision if country of origin is important to you.

First, there’s the window sticker (aka as the Monroney label) that comes on all new vehicles. Here’s an example:

VIN made in America

There are three key pieces of info you can determine from this sticker, according to AutoTrader.com.

Parts content

In this particular example — a 2012 Chevrolet Volt — we see that 46% of the parts used in this vehicle are from the U.S. or Canada. Meanwhile, a majority (18%) of the other remaining parts were made in South Korea.

Final assembly point

This vehicle was built in Detroit.

Origin of major components

The engine and transmission (electric drive unit) are from the U.S.

Now, here’s another way to determine country of origin…

How to read the VIN to see if a vehicle is American-made

The VIN (vehicle identification number) may look like a complicated string of numbers and letters to most people, but it can reveal some surprisingly useful info about a vehicle.

If the first character of the VIN is…

1, 4 or 5

Then the vehicle was built in the United States

2

Indicates a vehicle built in Canada

3

built in Mexico

J

built in Japan

K

built in South Korea

S

made in England

W

built in Germany

Z

made in Italy
 

These codes reflect the car’s final assembly point, even if a majority of the car’s production is done in other countries.

What if you can’t see the VIN on the dashboard clearly enough to read it? Try checking the alternate VIN sticker located inside the doorjamb on the driver’s side.

Look for dead giveaways like ‘Manufactured by Ford in the USA,’ ‘Built in Japan by Honda,’ etc.

VIN made in America

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Theo Thimou About the author: Theo Thimou
Theo is director of content for clark.com. He has co-written 2 books with Clark Howard, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Clark Howard's Living Large in Lean Times.
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