How do I decode a BMW VIN number?

I’ve realized that, although I know my VIN is important, I don’t know what it means! I can’t figure out how to interpret it for the life of me. How do you decode a BMW VIN number?

Ben Guess · Updated on
Reviewed by Shannon Martin, Licensed Insurance Agent.
You’re right! Vehicle identification numbers, or
, are super important—and loaded with information about your car.
To decode a BMW VIN number, you can break it down like this:
  • First character: The first character of a VIN represents the country a car was manufactured in. Cars manufactured in Germany have VINs beginning with W or S, for example, while cars made in the U.S. have VINs that start with 4 and cars manufactured in South Africa begin with N.
  • Second character: The second character represents the manufacturer of a car. For all BMWs, the second character is B (naturally).
  • Third character: This character represents the type of vehicle. Utility vehicles are represented by an A or an X, while passenger vehicles are represented by A or S.
  • Fourth to ninth characters: This is the VIN’s vehicle descriptor section. Characters four to seven represent the vehicle type and body style. The eighth character represents the safety system restraint identifier. The ninth represents the vehicle check-digit calculation, which is used for vehicles sold in the U.S. and Canada.
  • 10th character: This character represents the car’s year of manufacture with either a number or a letter, depending on the year—1980-2000 and 2010-2030 are both represented by A-N and P-Y, while 2001-2009 and 2031-2039 will be represented by 1-9. (European-made BMWs do not have this indicator and instead have a 0 where a number or letter would be.)
  • 11th character: This character represents the assembly plant code. A-G, J, K, P, and V represent plants in Germany; 0, L, M represent a plant in the U.S.; W represents one in Austria; N represents one in South Africa; 4 represents one in Brazil; and M or S represent one in China.
  • 12th to 17th characters: The last five characters of a VIN are unique to your BMW and are used to help differentiate it from other cars of the same make, model, and year.
And that’s it!
Regardless of when or where your car was manufactured, it’s always a good idea to have your VIN on hand. If you’re
filing a claim
or shopping for car insurance, for example, most providers require it to get a better sense of your insurance rate.
To shop for the best deals on car insurance, check out the
app. We make it easy to save money: just fill out some information about you and your vehicle (including the VIN), and we’ll collect personalized quotes from top providers in seconds. And if you find a new plan you prefer, we’ll help you with every step of switching over.
Hope this helps!
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Jerry partners with more than 50 insurance companies, but our content is independently researched, written, and fact-checked by our team of editors and agents. We aren’t paid for reviews or other content.

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