A VIN number, or Vehicle Identification Number, is a specific identifier used for classifying vehicles as they exit the assembly line. Car manufacturers and dealers use them for keeping track of sales and inventory, but states use them for keeping track of ownership and taxes. However, it is also a very important sequence of numbers for the insurance industry. Insurance companies use it to identify the make and model of a particular vehicle as well as the year and other pertinent information. Once they have this information, an insurance agent can provide car insurance at a fair price.
Prior to 1981, a standard format for the VIN did not exist. Each manufacturer simply assigned a random sequence of numbers and letters. However, after that year all of the vehicle identifiers began to follow a specific pattern which requires deciphering to understand.
The deciphering process is not complex, but it is rather detailed. Two major standards are in use around the world to calculate a vehicle identification number. The first one is the FMVSS standard which is widely accepted in the United States and Canada. The standard outlines the specific format and sequence to use when calculating the VIN. This format is necessary to simplify information retrieval for everything from recalls to car insurance.
The second standard is widely is used in Europe and elsewhere. The ISO standard applies to all motorized vehicles requiring a uniform numbering system in Europe. Like the FMVSS standard above, the ISO standard is used to retrieve information about a specific vehicle. Once the standard is identified, the numerical data can be deciphered.
Using the FMVSS standard, the vehicle identification number is translated into something meaningful. It will be composed of 17 separate sections. Each character or characters within the sections represents a specific bit of information about the vehicle.
For instance, all of the characters in the first three sections identify the World Manufacturer. An example is MF-MK. The letters MF are in section one while the letters MK are in section three. Together, they identify a vehicle from Indonesia. The next five sections will list the vehicles attributes. If the letter U is in the fourth section that may indicate the size of the motor, but if the letter G in the fifth position that may indicate the body style.
The particular attribute and letter will depend on which country is identified in the first three sections. The 10th through 17th sections are specific to the particular vehicle. If the car has an airbag, this is where that attribute is listed. The combination of all 17 sections equals the full Vehicle Identification Number, which is used when buying car insurance or registering ownership.