VIN decoder: Where to find a good one online for free

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A VIN decoder can help you make sense of the seemingly random string of numbers and letters that make up your vehicle’s identification number.

Learn how you can locate the VIN on your vehicle and get a free decode of it…

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What can a VIN decoder tell you?

A VIN decoder can help you decipher some very useful info about a vehicle, such as the country where your vehicle was built, the actual factory at which it was assembled and more.

But before you can use a VIN decoder, you’ve got to find your vehicle’s identification number!

Common places to locate a VIN

VINs come in two flavors, or lengths in this case — 17 characters or 11 characters. (Eleven character VINs usually indicate a vehicle that’s 1981 or older). Either way, a VIN uniquely identifies every motor vehicle that’s on the road today.

But what if you don’t know where your VIN is located?

A VIN decoder won’t do a whole lot of good if you can’t find the VIN to begin with! Fortunately, manufacturers tend to put them in four spots:

  1. Look through the windshield to the front of the dashboard on the driver’s side. This is the most common VIN placement.
  2. Open the driver’s side door and find it on the inside of the pillar.
  3. Most gas-engine cars will also have the VIN on the front of the engine block when you pop the hood.
  4. Older vehicles may have the VIN on the front end of the frame.

Fun fact: Did you know VINs never have an uppercase or lowercase I, O, or Q? Those characters look too similar to 0 and 1!

With your VIN in hand, you can learn your vehicle’s country of origin, manufacturer, brand, make and model year, body style, engine size and assembly plant.

Once you have your VIN, just pop it into any number of free VIN decoder websites, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, FAXVIN, VINDecoder.net and others.

Auto Zone’s version of a free VIN decoder is particularly helpful if you need to buy parts for your vehicles. By entering your VIN, it shows what’s compatible for your make and model.

Understanding your VIN

free VIN decoder

As you can see, the most intelligible characters in your VIN are the first and the 10th. Let’s take a closer look at both…

Country of origin

The first character of your VIN is a specific number or letter to indicate country of origin. Here’s an overview of some of the most common manufacturing nations and which letters or numbers are associated with them:

Country of origin First character in VIN
United States 1, 4 or 5
Canada 2
Mexico 3
Japan J
South Korea K
England SA-SM
Germany SN-ST or W
Italy Z

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

Model year

The 10th letter or number in a VIN tells you model year.

Beginning back in 1980, automakers gave each model year its own code. For example, “A” was 1980, “B” was for 1981 and so on. It went on and on through the years — skipping I, O, Q and Z, as well!

Then at the turn of the millennium, a new system using numbers one through nine was implemented. 2001 was “1,” 2002 was “2” and so on.

The numbers system worked until 2010, at which point auto manufacturers started the alphabet all over again to indicate model year.

So they used “A” for 2010, “B” for 2011 and so on.

Here’s a quick overview of the characters used for model year in VIN decoders so far this decade:

Code Year
A 2010
B 2011
C 2012
D 2013
E 2014
F 2015
G 2016
H 2017
J 2018
K 2019

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