You may have heard people refer to their VIN number when they are talking about their RVs or any vehicle that they may own. VIN is an acronym for the term “Vehicle Identification Number”, which is a unique series of numbers and capital letters that is assigned to RVs by the final manufacturer of your motorhome or pull-behind camper.
VIN numbers are also assigned to off-road recreational vehicles such as side-by-sides, or four-wheel all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, and even motorized bicycles and golf carts. Basically, for any motorized conveyance to be used as a means of transportation on public lands or roadways, it needs to be properly registered, licensed and its proof of ownership should be easily recognized through its title and registrations based upon its VIN number.
These numbers, while they seem random and arbitrary at first glance hold more information than what most people expect. For example, three years ago, while staying in my 5th wheel at a campground in the northern part of Michigan in a very wintry January, I took my pooch Lizzie out for a walk after a period of heavy snowfall.
The campground roads and walkways were unplowed, and Lizzie was having the time of her life. The snow was over her height, but she plowed through it all while playing and leading a path for yours truly. I laughed and laughed at her and on several occasions even joined her while she rolled around in the fresh snow.
Unfortunately, somewhere between rolling around in the snow with my buddy Lizzie and walking around our snowed in January campsite, the keys to my truck and fifth-wheel home fell out of my jacket pocket. I didn’t even notice at the time because I never locked my 5th wheel at this place as I didn’t need to. After all, there was only 21 sites in this campground and out of 21 sites, only three were rented out for winter use, and I had met all those folks and I trusted them as my short-term winter neighbors. If they would have found my keys, I would have gotten them back.
While I had spare keys to my 5th wheel that I never used that winter, I didn’t have spare keys to my tow vehicle. I didn’t know what to do. I looked up and down those roads and trails for the next two days, but since they had been plowed recently…well…my keys were gone. In fact, I even looked for my keys after the snow melted a couple of months later and never found them.
In the meantime, a day or two after I realized that my truck keys were lost, I called the nearest vehicle dealership that specialized in servicing my model of vehicle and I explained my problem. The service department manager at that dealership was very nice but he was a bit reluctant to absolutely guarantee me a fix for my problem.
“Your truck is almost 20 years old”, he said. “There’s a good chance we can’t help you…especially if the ignition has been replaced before. Bring in some proof of ownership and we’ll see what we can do.”
After agreeing to buy a McDonald’s lunch for one of my neighbors that drove me the 20 miles to that dealership (he didn’t want any money for gas, he just wanted a reason to visit the nearest McDonald’s away from his wife’s disapproval), I showed up with my proper identification and proof of vehicle ownership and presented it to their parts department. They looked over the information, charged me $6.00 and presented me with a key that they said “may or may not” work but it was based upon my VIN number.
When I got home, I opened the door to my unlocked truck, sat down in the driver’s seat and inserted my new key into the driver’s column. It turned and my truck started right up. I then checked that key in the door locks, and it matched in those as well. That’s the magic of VIN numbers, they hold an incredible amount of obvious information such as the year, model number, weight of the vehicle, manufacturer and even things such as tire size or the original paint scheme, but that number holds also holds information such as what key will fit your ignition and what repairs may have been done to your rig prior to your ownership if you purchased it used. For me, I find that amazing.
Breaking down your RVs vehicle identification number
Most VIN numbers are 17 characters in length, although some VIN numbers assigned to RVs manufactured prior to 1981 will be shorter in length. Over the years, manufacturers have added additional numbers known as “check codes” or “check digits”, and while these codes have specific designations, most of them are so additionally coded that they would be hard to decipher in this article. In other words, these codes usually contain information related to certain manufacturers parts specifications which explains how they were able to replace my ignition key that I mentioned earlier. Within these parts of your VIN, they will also embed information related to prior repairs or even recall information that may pertain to your RV or vehicle.
The first character of any VIN will identify your RVs country of origin as shown in this table. All these codes are straightforward except for the character “4”. Quite often, foreign manufacturers will assemble their products in the United States to avoid import tariffs placed on finished goods, so this designation was created to avoid any confusion between foreign and domestic vehicles. This mainly applies to vehicles as very few RVs are imported from any country other than Canada or sometimes Germany if your class B is a conversion van.
Country of origin codes
|4||Foreign Vehicle Made in the USA|
The second character will indicate the manufacturer. In this graph you’ll notice that most of these codes are for motor vehicles such as cars or trucks. However, most drivable RVs such as class A, B or C motorhomes made in the United States will have an engine, drive train and chassis manufactured by a common company such as Ford or GMC. While the body and interior will be designed and built by a company that specializes in motorhomes such as Winnebago or Southwind, your motorhome may contain the original vehicle code when first assembled prior to shipping it to the final manufacturer.
For towable campers or trailers, there are separate codes that would be listed in this spot as well. However, because of the large amount of manufacturers of towable RVs, I won’t list them all here though you can easily find your code by doing an online search.
|General Motors (GM)||G|
|Audi or Jaguar||A|
|Volkswagen or Volvo||V|
|Pontiac||2 or 5|
The 3rd character in your VIN will identify the vehicle type or manufacturing division. For example, whether your RV is a towable or a drivable or what division of the company manufactured your rig.
The 4th to 8th characters in the VIN will contain information regarding vehicle features such as body style, engine type, model, series, transmission type and any other essential information regarding your RV or vehicle. On towable rigs, one or more of these numbers will define how many axles you have and what type of towable it is such a 5th wheel, bumper towable, hitch etc. It will also define its weight class.
The 9th character of your vehicle identification number is commonly referred to as a “check digit”. This is a number based upon the value of each character of the VIN assigned to Your RV. It is a complicated algebraic equation and it’s a safeguard to prevent fraudulent VIN numbers.
The 10th alpha or numeric character will indicate the year your rig was manufactured. This is based on a 30-year differential, so some characters will match. However, it should be very easy to determine the age of your RV just by looking at it.
Model year character codes
|A||1980 or 2010|
|B||1981 or 2011|
|C||1982 or 2012|
|D||1983 or 2013|
|E||1984 or 2014|
|F||1985 or 2015|
|G||1986 or 2016|
|H||1987 or 2017|
|J||1988 or 2018|
|K||1989 or 2019|
|L||1990 or 2020|
|M||1991 or 2021|
|N||1992 or 2022|
|P||1993 or 2023|
|R||1994 or 2024|
|S||1995 or 2025|
|T||1996 or 2026|
|V||1997 or 2027|
|W||1998 or 2028|
|X||1999 or 2029|
|Y||2000 or 2030|
|1||2001 or 2031|
|2||2002 or 2032|
|3||2003 or 2033|
|4||2004 or 2034|
|5||2005 or 2035|
|6||2006 or 2036|
|7||2007 or 2037|
|8||2008 or 2038|
|9||2009 or 2039|
The 11th character of your VIN identifies the plant where your RV was ultimately built and its shipping orientation. This character varies extensively because of the many locations that it represents so I recommend doing some independent research on this character. However, the next few characters of your VIN will answer most of your further questions.
The 12th through 17th characters of your VIN represent a lot more information. This six-digit numerical combination represents the sequential numerical order of the vehicle during its production as it rolled off the manufacturer’s assembly line. In other words, if your RVs six-digit number is 000500 then you know that it was the 500th RV of that model to be made in that year.
Where are my vehicle identification numbers located?
There are numerous places on a motorized RV that a VIN can be located, and these are the most common places you will find them.
- Left instrumentation panel
- Dash plate by window
- Driver’s door or post on passenger side
- Component parts; such as engine, frame, etc.
- Firewall of the vehicle
- Maintenance book or owners-manual
- Steering column
- Machined pad on front of engine
- Radiator support bracket
For towable RVs look for your VIN on the frame, the tongue, or body of your RV. The VIN can also be usually found inside one of your compartments too. Your VIN can also be found on the title of your RV as well.
I hope this article gives you a bit more knowledge of how to decipher your VIN and what some of those characters mean. As always folks, thanks for reading and I hope to see you out on the road sometime.