What can VIN codes tell you?

What can VIN codes tell you?

Every car made anywhere in the world is given a unique identification number, known as a VIN. At first it looks like a jumble of letters and digits, but there is a logic to it and it conceals interesting information. Find out what your VIN can tell you about your Škoda.

13. 6. 2023 Škoda World

The standard governing the identification numbers assigned by manufacturers, known a VIN (short for Vehicle Identification Number), to every car produced was first used in 1954 in the USA, but it was not until 1981 that the VIN format was standardised by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The VIN is a 17-digit code that identifies a car in a truly unique way, as the code’s composition means it can only be repeated after 30 years. This means that technically it’s possible that a car made today may have a 30 year old “double”, but it’s highly unlikely. Škoda has been marking its cars with VINs since the 1984 model year.



World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI)

The VIN format is basically the same worldwide and can be used to discover a wide variety of information. The first three characters of the VIN identify the manufacturer, with the first two characters of this WMI World Code identifying the region and country of origin of the manufacturer and the third assigned to specific brands. “For the Czech Republic, the letters in the series TJ to TP are used, and Škoda specifically uses the manufacturer code TMB,” explains Jiří Vašina of Škoda, adding that, for example, India has codes starting with MA to ME, Japan starts with J, Chinese VIN codes have an L at the beginning, and the countries of North America identified by a number, so the USA has the number 1, Canada 2 etc. Europe has codes starting with the letters S-Z, and because Germany, for example, has the code W, the three letters WVW indicate the car manufacturer Volkswagen. The WMI code is assigned to the manufacturer by the authorised approval authority in the country where the manufacturer is based.

There’s a practical reason for having the VIN visible on the windscreen - the emergency services can read the details about a car from the code.

Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS)

Places 4 to 9 of the VIN contain the so-called vehicle descriptor code, which identifies the model of the car in question. Its format is up to the manufacturer. Škoda uses a format in which position 9 contains a “security code”, which makes it possible to verify that the VIN is real and not just a random invention. “In Škoda cars, this part of the VIN is used to determine the body type, engine, information about the car’s restraint systems and the type of car. In the case of Škoda Enyaq electric cars, the fifth position of the VIN can be used to find out the powertrain performance,” Vašina explains. The letter A stands for a car with a power output of 109 kW, the letter B for a vehicle with a power output of 132 kW, 150 kW is represented by the letter C, E is for cars with a power output of 195 kW and F is for the highest power output of 220 kW.

You can tell a lot from this descriptor: for example, a Škoda Octavia Combi with a 1.5 TSI engine has the VIN code TMBJR8NX*PYxxxx. The VDS starts with the letter J, which indicates an estate body, left-hand drive and single-axle drive. The letter R in the fifth position of the VIN code indicates the 1.5 TSI/110 kW engine. The following digit 8 symbolises 2 front airbags, 4 side airbags and 2 head airbags. The seventh and eighth positions of the VIN code with the letters NX denote the Octavia model series, and in place of the asterisk in the next position there will be the security code that is derived from the complete VIN code. The letter P means the model year 2023 and the letter Y the production plant in Mladá Boleslav. Electric cars do not have a special character: the fact that a car is a pure electric drive can be deduced from the combination of letters in the fifth, seventh and eighth position of the VIN code.

The Mladá Boleslav factory is represented by a Y in the eleventh position of the VIN.

Every code is an original

Positions 10 to 17 then form a unique code (VIS, Vehicle Identifier Section), which can again be created at will. In this case, Škoda again uses the more detailed “American” format (the idea of introducing VIN codes originated in the USA), where the character in position 10 indicates the car’s model year (but not the year of manufacture, which can be different). 2010 was assigned the letter A, 2011 the letter B and so on. It should be noted here that the VIN generally omits the letters O, I and Q to avoid confusion with the digits 0, 1 and 9. It is the character in this position that cannot be repeated for 30 years and is governed by a more detailed regulation. Position 11 in the VIN of Škoda cars then indicates the factory where the car was manufactured. “The characters 0 to 4 represent the various plants in Mladá Boleslav, while cars from Kvasiny have the digits 5 to 9 in this position. However, this is not a strict rule: manufacturers can also use letters in these positions, and Škoda also does this in some cases,” says Vašina.

The VIN tends to be stamped on the bodywork inside the engine compartment (usually on the right front, on a fixed part that is not easily replaceable), but it can also be found on other parts of the car, and today it is usually also displayed prominently on a plate on the left front under the windscreen. This is where the emergency services can find out the details of the car from the VIN.

Before VIN

Before the advent of the VIN, how were cars identified? Mostly by their engine serial number. In addition, from the beginning the chassis number was the same as the engine number. However, tracking down the chassis number on the frame of the oldest L&K/Škoda vehicles today tends to be difficult. It has only been stamped there since the 1930s, and in a location specified by the manufacturer – the location was not left to the discretion of the production employees. In the case of Škoda models with a frame chassis, this practice was followed until 1973. We should add that the significance of the chassis serial number is logically greater than the serial number of the engine, which may have been replaced several times during the life of the vehicle.

One milestone was the introduction of self-supporting bodies that did not need to be supported by a frame. As a result, the body number took over as the main bearer of a car’s identity.

In the early days of production, the chassis number was stamped on any part of the bodywork.

Verification aid

The VIN can also be used to check a car’s history using a number of services. For example, you can find out if it was involved in an accident, had its engine replaced, mileage adjusted etc. And this is why VIN tampering to disguise the true provenance of a car still goes on. However, the detailed description of a car contained in the VIN now makes it extremely difficult to actually counterfeit a VIN. “There are cases, though, where entire body parts have been replaced or even a vehicle has been cut in half and joined to another. Then any discrepancy between the configuration of the car and what the VIN claims should be a clear warning sign,” says Vašina, adding, “A VIN check on a used car is definitely recommended. It is advisable to use the services of specialist companies that have access to manufacturer databases, garages, test stations and stolen vehicle databases.”