How To Use A Universal Classic Car VIN Decoder

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Probably the most critical piece of information that a classic car has is the vehicle identification number. How do you use a universal classic car VIN decoder?

If information is power, then knowing the VIN on your classic car is the key to that power. By checking the VIN, you can gain significant knowledge about the beauty sitting in your garage. A VIN can help you ascertain the year, make and model of the car, and identify the original parts used. Are you buying the real deal, or is the car you want just a carbon copy of the real thing? What modifications have been made? If you are interested in the history of your car, then the place to start is with a universal VIN check.

There are multiple websites available to assist in decoding a VIN on a classic car. Simply input the VIN, and the information flashes across the screen within seconds. Many classic car VINS differ from the standard 17-digit VIN, so the decoder can help determine the car's valuation.

The last thing you want to do is restore a car without the correct information. Knowing a VIN can help you identify if the car has been in an accident or if there are other factors affecting its value. Knowing a VIN can help you maintain original parts or pinpoint modifications. It can save money and keep you from paying too much for a car. There are a ton of reasons why you should consider a VIN as your friend.

This article will examine the world of classic VIN decoders and help to answer some questions to get you started. Read on to discover why nothing should happen on a car until the VIN is decoded and checked.

Table of Contents


Where Can I Find the VIN on a Classic Car?

If you don’t have access to the original paperwork or a valid registration, there are usually three spots to look for a VIN on a classic car; the motor, the side door panel, and possibly the dashboard on the driver's side.


Every car’s VIN is metal stamped on the engine block (Manufacturers have been stamping car engines with the VIN since 1954). While early versions were only 11 characters long, in 1981, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) decreed that all VINs would be standardized into the 17 digits we know today.  

To locate the VIN on the engine block, raise the car's hood and look down at the front of the engine block. If it is an older classic that hasn’t been driven much, you may have to wipe away some dirt or debris built up over the years. Once it is clean and you have located it, you should be able to snap a quick photo with your phone’s camera. (The advantage to this is you swipe your fingers and blow up the image of the numbers, which is an excellent aid to helping you put them into the decoder on your computer correctly).

Door Panel

Inside the driver's side door is a metal plate stamped with the car's VIN. On newer models, the VIN is a part of a black and white plate, but with older models, it might be a single metal strip stamped with numbers installed on the side of the driver door.

To find it, open the driver's door. Locate the VIN and snap a picture of it with your camera.

Dashboard - Driver’s Side

Suppose you stand outside the car next to the driver’s front tire and glance down at the top of the dashboard (through the windshield). Many classic cars have this as a VIN location, but not every car’s VIN is readable. Sometimes the VIN is covered up intentionally to prevent someone from copying it down, duplicating a key and stealing it, or the label slips so that only a few characters are visible. Either way, this is one of the fastest ways of checking a VIN, but it may not be the most accurate. Always double-check the windshield VIN to ensure that it corresponds to the one on the engine or door panel.

How Do You Decode a VIN on a Classic Car?

Since not all VINs have the same format, the easiest thing to do is to use one of the classic VIN decoders on the Internet. Many sites are available, and some charge a small fee for a vehicle history report. The expense is worth the money because a report can identify things like

  • Make and Model
  • Recalls
  • Accident History
  • Previous Owner Info
  • Theft
  • Odometer readings

Various VIN decoders can be used, but the information they provide can sometimes vary. Below are three that are excellent.


Since 1954, VINs have usually contained similar information with a few exceptions. The VIN is made up of numbers and letters. Each character in a VIN represents something, like manufacturer, year, make, and the plant where the car was assembled.

Since a full 17-character, VIN didn’t become standardized until 1981, the section below illustrates the information that a standard VIN would encapsulate.

The First Characters - Country Manufacturer

The first characters will indicate where the manufacturer made the car in the world - for example, the numbers 1, 4,  and 5 represent the United States, 2 for Canada, and 3 for Mexico. If the first character is a letter, you can figure that J is for Japan, K or South Korea, E is for England, Germany is W and Finland is Y.

The Second and Third Characters

The second and third characters indicate the manufacturer. Again, F stands for Ford, C for Chevrolet, B is for BMW, L is for Lincoln, and N is for Nissan.

The third character can indicate if the vehicle is a truck or not. For example, 1GC would mean that one would indicate the US, G would stand for General Motors, and C for a truck.

For a complete look at WMI numbers used on a VIN, see this web page n Wikipedia.

The Next Six Characters (4 - 9) Describe the Vehicle

The following six characters are instrumental in discovering information. They describe the model, body type, engine code, and restraint systems. This is an excellent resource to check to ensure that the motor in your vehicle is one of the motors offered when the car first came off the line.

The Ninth character is a check character used to detect invalid VINs based on a formula developed by the Department of Transportation.

The Next Eight Characters (10 - 17) are Vehicle identifiers

The following symbols indicate things like the model year (10th character). For a chart detailing the various model year codes, refer to this webpage @ Wikipedia.

The eleventh position on a VIN will indicate the location of the assembly plant, and each manufacturer has its own set of codes. For example, an F150 might indicate a K, indicating the plant in Claycomo, Mo., is where the truck was assembled.

The characters 12 - 17 indicate the number assigned to the car or truck on the assembly line. For example, a number of 002069 would indicate that this particular vehicle was the 2,069th vehicle to come off the assembly line.