What do VIN Numbers mean?

Vehicle identification numbers (also called VINs) are critical pieces of information for identifying the exact BMW you have and the engine that was put into it when it was built. A car‘s vehicle identification number (VIN) is the automotive equivalent of human DNA.

History of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

In the mid 1950s, American automobile manufacturers began stamping and casting identifying numbers on cars and their parts. The obvious purpose was to give an accurate description of the vehicle as mass production numbers were starting to climb to very significant numbers. Research has shown that early VINs came in all sorts of variations, depending on the car manufacturer.

In the early 1980s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began requiring that all road vehicles contain a 17-character VIN. This established the fixed VIN system for major vehicle manufacturers as it is known today and thus, created a unique "DNA" style number for each unique vehicle that rolled off the assembly line.

The Vehicle Identification Number was "officially" described in ISO Standard 3779 in February 1977 and last revised in 1983.

Explanation of Unique Identifiers Within Your BMW's VIN

Vehicle identification numbers are standardized - all contain 17 characters. VIN characters may be capital letters A through Z and numbers 1 through 0; however, the letters I, O and Q are never used in order to avoid mistakes of misreading. No signs or spaces are allowed in the VIN.

The position of each letter or number in the VIN code reveals important information about where and when your BMW was made, the type of engine it has, the model or series of the car, various equipment/attributes and its production sequence. Each character or digit has a particular purpose as follows:

1st Character: The 1st character of your BMW's vehicle identification number identifies the country where it was manufactured.

VIN Character 1 - Manufacturing Country Codes

1 or 4

2

3

J

K

S

W

Z

USA

Canada

Mexico

Japan

Korea

England

Germany

Italy

2nd Character: The 2nd character in your BMW's VIN specifies the manufacturer, for example:

VIN Character 2 - Car Manufacturer Codes

A

B

H

A

D

N

T

V

V

Audi

BMW

Honda

Jaguar

Mercedes

Nissan

Toyota

Volvo

VW

3rd Character: The 3rd character in your BMW's vehicle identification number indicates the vehicle type or manufacturing division. This varies among car makes and models.

4th - 8th Character: The 4th through 8th characters in your BMW's VIN reveals its features/attributes, such as body style, engine type, model, series, etc. Again, this varies widely among car makes, models and equipment.

9th Character: The 9th character in your BMW's vehicle identification number is a VIN accuracy check digit, verifying the previous numbers within the VIN. This check digit is a single number or letter "X" used to verify the accuracy of the transcription of the vehicle identification number.

There is a precise method for obtaining the check digit; however, it is not relevant to our discussion here. Suffice to say that after all other characters in the VIN have been determined by the manufacturer, the check digit is calculated by carrying out a mathematical computation. The correct numeric remainder - zero through nine (0-9) will appear. However, if the remainder is 10 the letter "X" is used to designate the check digit value.

10th Character: The 10th character in your BMW's VIN tells you the model year. (This varies somewhat among car manufacturers - see the chart in the "Here's How to Find Your Car's VIN" section below for specific locations by car make.)

VIN Character - Model Year Codes

1971

1972

1973

1974

1975

1976

1977

1978

1979

1980

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

A

1981

1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

1988

1989

1990

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

J

K

L

1991

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

M

N

P

R

S

T

V

W

X

Y

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

A

11th Character: The 11th character in your BMW's vehicle identification number reveals the assembly plant for the vehicle.

12th - 17th Character: The 12th through the 17th character in your BMW's VIN indicate the sequence of the vehicle for production as it rolled off the manufacturer's assembly line. The last four characters are always numeric.

These last six characters are perhaps the most critical portion of the VIN for most European cars. Because of mid-year production changes by car makers, these can be extremely important in identifying the proper part numbers for ignition, fuel, emission and engine components. These types of parts are often listed with the caveat that they fit vehicles up to a particular VIN or before/after a particular VIN sequence.

Bavarian Auto Recycling (B.A.R), its directors, management and staff are in no way affiliated to BMW SA or any of its Dealer Networks.  All Products sold by B.A.R are USED PARTS suitable for BMW. Manufactured names, numbers, symbols, models and descriptions are used solely for reference purposes and do not imply that any parts used are the products of the OEM. Brand names are solely for the use of manufacturers and their distributing agents in RSA.