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How to decode your car's VIN

Every car has a VIN, which stands for Vehicle Identification Number, to make it unique. It’s that long, seemingly nonsensical collection of letters and numbers that makes sure your car can be identified.

It makes sure that if it is stolen, it can hopefully be found, and of course, by simply having one it makes your car legal. No VIN means you can’t put a registration on the car, so no MOT, no insurance, so on and so forth. It’s an important number. 

But what does it mean? That’s the big question. The short answer is to say it means everything. The VIN is your car’s DNA. The literal code that unlocks everything you need to know about your car. Build date, engine, trim, build location, build number, it’s all in there. 

Obviously given the width and breadth of automotive spectrum, it would be foolish to assume that every manufacturer does it the same way. They don’t. They all contain the same information, but in different ways specific to that brand.

As such, we can’t decode them all here. What we can do though, is decode a ubiquitous VIN arrangement. Step up, Ford.

How to decode your car's VIN
How to decode your car's VIN

First of all, we need a VIN, so allow us to pull this one from thin air:

WFOCXXGAECUT14577

What does all that mean then? Well, the first three (WFO) represent the market responsible for the creation of the car – so in this case, WFO means Ford Werke A.G. (or Ford Germany)

The fourth spot on the VIN denotes the body style of the car. So, in this case, C means two-door coupe.

XX means, well, in the case of Ford, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a placeholder to make sure the VIN has the magic 17 digits. 

The seventh position, which is G in this case, signifies whether or not the car was built by Ford or by an affiliate (cars built under licence). Happily for us, G means it was built by Ford in Germany.

The eighth position goes into a bit more detail and tells us the plant the car was built at. In our case, A means either Dagenham, Cologne (Germany) or Ipiranga (Brazil). However, knowing what we know so far from the other numbers, we can safely assume this car was built in Cologne. 

The ninth position signifies what model it is. For our car, it E, which means it’s a Capri. What a classic! 

The tenth position is a repeat of the fourth, and just confirms the body type. Again, C means two-door coupe.

The eleventh position signifies the year, which for us is U, so 1978. The twelfth position is the month. Ford liked to mix up the numbers so there was no obvious correlation between alphabet and month, as such, T means April for our Capri. 

And finally, there’s the 14577. That is simply the production sequence number. So, this was the 14577thCapri to be built. 

So there you have it, the inner workings of a VIN. As you can tell, it’s far more than just a collection of numbers and letters. It’s everything you need to know about your car.

A quick look online will soon lead you to sites on which you can input your VIN, so give it a go and see what’s what. Just cross your fingers and hope your VIN matches whatever your car says it is!