What is a Car Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)?

sedan vin article background

Ever wondered why when you want to get an insurance premium quote on your vehicle after divulging your driving record, age, address, who will be driving the vehicle, how you will be using the vehicle, and condition of vehicle, the source from which you are getting the quote follows up with “will you give me the VIN number”? (VIN being an acronym for vehicle identification number, it is not necessary to add “number” at end of request).

What is so important about the “VIN” in order to just receive an insurance quote? Let’s explore this bearer of so much automobile information.

Evolution of VIN

Prior to the introduction of the VIN for storage of vehicle information, a cumbersome engine number system was used in the United States. This number was engraved on the engine and some major components of the vehicle, i.e. chassis, hood, doors, and transmission. It was not a standardized system and was cumbersome at best when trying to determine replacement parts to use after a vehicle had been in a wreck or stolen.

Even though the United States automobile industry began using a modified VIN in 1954, it is interesting to note there was no way of internationally tracking vital information on any specific vehicle until 1981.This meant if a vehicle were stolen there would be no way of identifying it, or if the vehicle was being used in multiple fraudulent accidents by con artists this could not be traced. It also meant that if replacement parts were needed, getting the right part was rather cumbersome. Moreover, the proliferation of international trade required that some standardized method needed to be invented to be able to identify specific vehicles for various reasons.

Enter the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)

With an ever increasing demand for standardization of similar products being manufactured across the globe, this international organization was established in 1947 to monitor and create systems which would allow for this to happen. In the ‘80’s, with the assistance of ISO, the  automobile industry created a 17 character code system which identified vital information unique to every vehicle manufactured throughout the world.

This 17 character index acts something like a Rosetta Stone–for prior to the discovery of the rosetta stone, hieroglyphic pictures on Egyptian monuments could not be deciphered. However, due to the three languages found on the stone, sense could be made of those ancient hieroglyphics. Each picture was identified by each of the three languages, and by cross referencing them the hieroglyphic could be interpreted. 

Because each position in the 17 character index stands for the same thing no matter who or where the vehicle is manufactured, a vehicle can also always be identified. Since each manufacturing entity has its own brand which is included in the VIN, no two vehicle identification numbers will ever be the same.

How it Works

Here is a functioning example of that code. It is for a 2020 Buick Encore with VIN of KL4CJ3SBXLB123456

K: Region of Build–South Korea

L: Manufacturer–GM Korea

4: Vehicle Brand/Type–Buick MPV

C: GVWR/Brake System/Body Style–Class C: 4001-5000 Body Style–Four door Utility

J: Chassis/Series–Buick Encore

3: Series–FWD

S: Restraint System–AYF-Active Manual Belts, Airbags–Driver & Passenger Front (1st row)      Front Seat side (1sr row) & Rear Seat side (2nd row). Roof side (all seating rows), Knee(s) (1st row)

B: Engine type–LUV-Engine Gas, 4 CYL,1.4L,MFI,DOHC, TURBO,VVT, ALUM, GME E85 MAX

X: Calculated by POMS

L: Model year–2020

B: Plant Location– Korea

1,2,3,4,5,6: Positions 12-17 represents the number sequentially assigned by the manufacturer in the production process.

(Information courtesy www.alpinemotors.net)

Regular Production Option 

General Motors also has a regular production option (RPO) coding for vehicle configuration options. Codes are a combination of 3 alphanumeric characters and refer to a specific option or modification to the vehicle including paint color. This RPO starts with the 8th digit in the VIN.

As a point of interest the VIN does not have a code for the required starting key but it can be used by a locksmith to refer him to the appropriate blank key. Once this has been used, another key cannot be duplicated without the owner being able to show proof of ownership of vehicle thus preventing someone being able to steal the vehicle.

This system really doesn’t affect one’s everyday driving habits, but it sure comes in handy when one needs help in replacing parts, recovering a stolen vehicle, or replacing a lost key. There are even sites offering VIN lemon checks, which can be handy when working with a lemon law attorney on a lemon case. It’s nice to know such an identification system is in place and available.