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Decoding Mustang Vehicle Identification Numbers (Mustang VIN Decoder Guide)

Written By: Andrew Cilio

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Every car is assigned a unique Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) before it leaves the factory. The VIN is stamped onto a small metal plate and attached to the driver’s side dash where it meets the window. This number allows the DMV (or RMV if you’re in Massachusetts) and the Department of Transportation to keep track of the car’s registered owner. In the event that a car is stolen, the VIN aids the police in locating the owner when the car is found. (Of course, it’s not foolproof – an experienced thief can swap the VIN plate in a matter of seconds, replacing it with one from a legally purchased junk car of the same make, model and color.)

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In the 1950s, mass production of cars increased dramatically, making it difficult to keep track of what vehicles were being made. Detroit manufacturers started using VINs as a way of giving accurate descriptions of any car rolling off the assembly line. These early VINs varied in composition from one manufacturer to another. In the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Transportation stepped in and required all vehicles to contain a 17-digit VIN, establishing the standard system that we still use today.

Okay, but, what is the VIN? In the simplest of terms, a car’s VIN is similar to human DNA – it is unique to your Mustang and everyone's Mustang, and can be used to track recalls, registrations, warranty claims, thefts, and insurance claims.

But, what do all those numbers making up my Mustang's VIN mean? 

VINs are made up of 17 numbers and letters (except I, O, and Q). They can be broken down the following way: 

1st Character: Identifies the country in which the Mustang was manufactured, and can be a letter or a number.
For example:

  • 1, 4 or 5 – United States 
  • 2 – Canada 
  • 3 – Mexico 
  • J – Japan 
  • S – England 

2nd Character: Identifies the manufacturer, and can be a letter or a number.  
For example: 

  • A – Audi 
  • B – BMW 
  • 4 – Buick 
  • 1 – Chevrolet 
  • V – Volkswagen or Volvo

3rd Character: Identifies vehicle type or manufacturing division  

4th to 8th Character: This is the Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS). These 5 characters are used by manufacturers to identify your car’s attributes – body style, engine type, model, series, etc.  

9th Character: The check digit. It is used to verify VIN accuracy, and ensures that the VINs of any two vehicles produced within a 30 year period will not be identical.  

10th Character: Identifies the model year.
For example: 

  • 1988 – J 
  • 1989 – K
  • 2000 – Y 
  • 2001 – 1 
  • 2002 – 2 

11th Character: Identifies the assembly plant that your Mustang was built at 

12th to 17th Character: This is the Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS). This identifies the sequence of the vehicle for production as it rolled off the assembly line.