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Here's How a Quick Glance at Your VIN Reveals What Country Built Your Car

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author photo by Doug DeMuro October 2016

Say you're at your local Cars and Coffee. You see a car, and you want to know what country built it. So you have two options: You can pull out your phone and swipe your fingerprint, and then that won't work, so you enter your password, then you open your browser, and you type "Such-and-Such Car Country," and you look down, and it says "Dydg-eat-Aych Var Countries," and then you delete that and try again, and eventually you've forgotten what you wanted to look up, so you just go on Autotrader and look for used Land Cruisers.

Or you can just look at the VIN.

Although most people don't realize it, the very first character (or two) in a car's VIN tells what country built it. And today, I'm going to teach you those country codes so you no longer have to get into an argument when someone says they "only buy American," even though their car was built in a foreign land, by foreign robots, who are stealing the jobs of American robots.

So here are the codes. If your car was made after the advent of the 17-digit VIN in 1981, the very first character of your VIN will correspond to one of these numbers or letters -- and that's the country where your car was built.

1, 4, 5 = United States
2 = Canada
3 = Mexico
6 = Australia
9 = Brazil
J = Japan
K = South Korea
S = United Kingdom
V = France
W = Germany
Y = Sweden
Z = Italy

Not surprisingly, Wikipedia has a more complete list -- although those listed above are all the countries you're likely to encounter if you're looking at a car here in the U.S.

And naturally, as with everything, there are a few exceptions. For example: We all know the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen is built in Graz, Austria, but it includes a German VIN. Same with the Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg, long assembled in Slovakia but fitted with German VINs. These aren't the only examples in which a car manufacturer has clung to its original country code, even when a car was built elsewhere, but they illustrate a point: The first character of your VIN isn't completely infallible. But it's really close.

Then there are a few one-offs. The Audi TT is built in Hungary, and TT VINs start with "TRU." The Ford Transit Connect is built in Turkey, and Transit Connect VINs start with "NM0." And there are probably a few more cars, built in a few more weird places, with a few more weird VIN codes.

But in general, you can count on the above list to tell you where just about any car was built. For example: The VIN on my Aston Martin starts with SCF, because it was built in the UK. The VIN on my old Ferrari started with ZFF, because it was built in Italy. And the VIN on my Viper starts with 1B3, because it was built right here in the U.S. of A. No foreign robots involved.

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Saving this vehicle to yourMy Autotrader account
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Used 2016 Audi TT 2.0T Coupe
Used 2016 Audi TT
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Here's How a Quick Glance at Your VIN Reveals What Country Built Your Car - Autotrader