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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, but what do these numbers mean for you and your Mustang?

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History of VIN Numbers

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.

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). The first three characters are called the WMI or the World Manufacturer Identifier. These characters tell you which country the vehicle was manufactured in, and the second two tell you who the manufactuer is (such as Ford). For example some country identifiers are listed below:

  • 1, 4, or 5 – means the vehicle was made in the United States 
  • 2 – means the vehicle was made in the Canada 
  • 3 – means the vehicle was made in the Mexico 
  • J – means the vehicle was made in the Japan 
  • S – means the vehicle was made in the England

The second character identifies the manufacturer (Ford, Chevy, etc). It can be either a letter (F in the chase of Ford) or a number.

The third character identifies the vehicle type (passenger car, truck) or the manufacturing division.

VIN Example

The fourth to eigth characters belong to the Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS). These five characters are used by manufacturers to identify your car’s attributes. They'll tell you what size engine you have, what platform, transmission type, and body type.

The ninth character is the check digit (something unique to North America). It's used to verify VIN accuracy, and ensures that the VINs of any two vehicles produced within a 30 year period won't be identical. There's a lot of math that go into calculating how to use the check digit with your VIN, and as long as your Mustang doesn't have a suspicious history, you shouldn't have to worry about this digit.

The tenth character identifies the model year. For example: 

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

The model year identifer starts at 1980 (when VINs were standarized) and started at the letter "A". After "Y" in 2000, the model year identifiers went to numbers starting with "1" in 2001. The number identifiers stopped at "9" and restarted at "A" in 2010.

The eleventh character identifies the assembly plant where your Mustang was built.

The twelfth to seventeenth characters belong to the Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS). This number is usually a sequential number. If your Mustang's VIS is 123456, the next Mustang off the assembly line would be 123457. Sometimes the first digit will designate a specific, optional trim line. The last five have to be numeric however.

If you want a simple way to decode your VIN quicky, check out this useful tool.