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How To Decipher Vehicle Identification Numbers

Understand How to Determine Vehicle Model Year From VIN 10th Character Code.

SUBJECT:  Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

TOPIC:  Determining Vehicle Model Year and Manufacture

OBJECTIVE:  Understand How to Determine Vehicle Model Year From VIN 10th Character Code

TASK:  Determine Vehicle Model Year of Manufacture Based Upon Vehicle Identification Number Information.

In most countries every road vehicle (bus, van, truck, car, motorcycle, moped and trailer) is required to have a Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, which consists of 17 characters, as originally defined by the International Organization for Standardization, Standard 3779. VINs have been required in the U.S. by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 115 since Sept. 1, 1980, covering model year 1981 and newer vehicles.

Fortunately for emergency responders, each VIN contains a secret code that indicates the model year in which the vehicle was manufactured. Although emergency responders know about VINs, few responders are aware of the model year coding. All we have to do is count to 10 and read the basic chart.

Knowing the model year in which the vehicle was built can be beneficial to fire officers or fire investigators compiling reports about a vehicle fire or extrication. Of special interest to rescue and extrication personnel, the dashboard VIN plates on some vehicles may also contain additional wording or line-art drawings informing of the presence of frontal or side-impact airbag systems.

The Vehicle Identification Number is a 17-character sequence of letters and numbers assigned by the manufacturer when the vehicle is built. In the VIN-code, capital letters I, O and Q are not used for obvious reasons. No signs or spaces are allowed in the VIN.

In North America, the 17-character VIN is divided into four sections:

  • The first three characters uniquely identify the manufacturer, make and type of vehicle (with the exception of manufacturers that produce fewer than 500 vehicles per year).

  • The second section consists of five characters (VIN positions four to eight) and identify the attributes of the vehicle. For each type of vehicle (passenger cars, MPVs, trucks, buses, trailers, motorcycles or incomplete vehicles other than trailers), different information is reported.

  • The third section of the VIN consists of one character which is the "check" digit, a security feature of this numbering system. This character can be numeric or the letter X.

  • The fourth section consists of eight characters, positions 10-17 of the VIN. The first character, position number 10, represents the vehicle model year. Position 11 represents the plant of manufacture. Positions 12 through 17 form a sequential production number.

    VIN Year Code

    The year code in the Vehicle Identification Number is the 10th position. The recommended key for this 10th digit is given in the chart below. Note that starting with model year 2001 vehicles, the 10th position

Validating Model Year

To validate the model year for a vehicle check the letter in the 10th position of the VIN. The example below shows the letter and the corresponding year for the one specific vehicle, a 1990 Audi sedan. Note that the letter in the 10th position of the VIN is an L-indicating the 1990 model year automobile.


The VIN for a large 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier shown below contains the letter H in the 10th position, indicating a 1987 model year automobile.


Task: Using the VIN "Model Year" Code Chart, determine the correct model year for the vehicles with the following VINs:

Vehicle Identification Number "Model Year" Code 10th Position Chart

1980=A 1981=B 1982=C 1983=D 1984=E 1985=F 1986=G 1987=H 1988=J

1989=K 1990=L 1991=M 1992=N 1993=P 1994=R 1995=S 1996=T

1997=V 1998=W 1999=X 2000=Y 2001=1 2002=2 2003=3 2004=4 2005=5

2006=6 2007=7 2008=8 2009=9 2010=A 2011=B 2012=C 2013=D