How Do You Decode a VIN?
If you want to get a free, quick, personalized lookup, enter your VIN at the VinDecoder.net website. It is a free VIN decoder that does a lookup of your car's data in a matter of seconds. You may have to deal with a few ads that surround the information you get from the VIN decoder, but what you get is accurate and worth a look.
We did a VIN check for vehicles that were once in the Edmunds long-term test fleet, and the search came up with some interesting information.
The first car VIN was the 2013 Scion FR-S. There was one item that stood out: The VIN decoder shows the manufacturer is Subaru, not Scion (now reabsorbed back into Toyota). This is not an error. The Scion FR-S and its twin, the Subaru BRZ, are the products of a joint venture between Subaru and Toyota. Both are manufactured at Subaru's plant in Japan.
When we did a search for the VIN of another former test vehicle, a 2011 Chevrolet Volt, there was a hidden bit of trivia in the fuel type. It erroneously says that the Volt can run on E85 ethanol in addition to gasoline. It can't and it won't anytime soon.
General Motors originally intended to launch the Volt with a flex-fuel variant, but the emissions package was not ready for the car's introduction, according to the automaker. The E85 compatibility apparently was incorporated into the VIN data before GM decided a flex-fuel version wouldn't be ready in time for 2011. Since then, no flex-fuel version of the Volt has surfaced.
We were curious what the VIN looked like on an electric vehicle, so we did a lookup to decode the information for our former 2013 Tesla Model S. The search information we got was pretty thin. It goes to show that your results may vary, depending on what the carmaker supplies. We actually might have stumped the VIN decoder tool: It wasn't able to identify Tesla Motors as the manufacturer. It also doesn't show anything about it being an electric car.
The 2012 Fiat 500 is a reminder of just how globalized automakers have become. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is an Italian-American multinational that manufactured the 500 at Chrysler's plant in Toluca, Mexico.
Notice that the 10th element in the VIN is "C." The letter represents the 2012 model year, but it could also mean 1982. Because the year is represented by one character (letter or number) and the VIN can only contain 17 characters, the code for a car's year has to be recycled every 30 years. So while one letter can represent more than one year, it should be pretty obvious whether you've got a 1982 or a 2012 — or 2042, for that matter.
Finally, here's a bit of vehicle history on a 2011 Ford Mustang GT. Notice that the manufacturer isn't listed as Ford Motor Co. Ford didn't get bought out like Chrysler. The AutoAlliance International Inc. was a joint venture between Ford and Mazda that produced the Mustang and the Mazda 6 for a while at a plant in Flat Rock, Michigan. Newer Mustangs list Ford as the automaker.