San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Check the VIN

From the print edition

When buying a car, checking a vehicle’s 17-digit vehicle identification number can provide useful information.

 Subaru doesn’t want you to get duped into buying last year’s car at this year’s price. So the car manufacturer is rolling out a new campaign to alert potential car buyers to check the vehicle identification number (VIN) on potential purchases.

A VIN is a series of 17 numbers and letters that can tell a lot about a car.

“At Subaru, we want to alert people to ensure that they’re not getting swindled at the time they purchase a vehicle,” Kristian Federspiel, director of Subaru in Costa Rica, said. “Many people are fooled about the year of a car, manufacturing country and other details.”

It can be tough for a neophyte to determine between two models from recent years, Federspiel said. That means unscrupulous car dealers could sell buyers a 2011 model at 2012 prices, for example. Knowing what the VIN can tell buyers can help them keep their money and pride intact.

Where is the VIN?

The VIN is a small placard that is “die-cut and stamped in relief in a legible, inalterable and long-lasting way on a solid, metal piece of the vehicle,” a Subaru statement said. That might mean it is stamped on the chassis, but the VIN is also commonly found on a stamped plate attached to the inside of a vehicle’s door.

How is the VIN deciphered?

A VIN is composed of 17 numbers and letters composed in three parts. The first digit in the series describes the continent where a vehicle was built. Numbers 1-5 indicate a car was built in the United States. Numbers 6-7 show it was built in the Central or South Pacific. An 8, 9 or 0 indicates the vehicle was manufactured in South America.

The letters A and H indicate the car was built in Africa. J and R pertain to Asia, and S and Z refer to Europe.

The second digit in the series identifies a specific manufacturing country. For Korean-built vehicles, expect to see KL or KR. German-built cars will display W0-W9, WA-WZ, or SN, SP, SR, SS or ST.

Spanish vehicles will show VS or VW in the second digit’s spot, while French cars display VF or VR, and Italian cars ZA or ZR.

Digits three through nine reflect a vehicle’s specifications, and there is no standard here, as manufacturers determine the numbers. Unless a buyer knows the code used by a specific automaker, this section can tell him very little.

 The 10th digit may be a number or letter and can help verify important year and model information. Numbers 1-9 correspond to the years 2001-2009. Models from 2010 on are identified by A-K, with A representing 2010 and K representing 2020.

If you’re thinking about buying a car, don’t get bamboozled – check the VIN.

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