VINWith the Model X just around the corner and the announcement of the Model 3 and a D model or option coming we need to keep everything straight with all these models. A Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is like a fingerprint for your car and uniquely identifies the car and some of the some key features. Let’s break down the Model S VIN and look at what kinds of VINs we may see in the near future.

Finding your VIN

A modern VIN is 17 characters of mixed letters and numbers. Law requires prominent placement of the VIN and you can often find it on any car on the lower-left corner of the dashboard, in front of the steering wheel. It can be easily read from outside the car by looking through the windshield. Because of the accessibility, your VIN is not a secret. Many people treat the VIN as confidential information but anyone in a parking lot can find your VIN and copy it so it is clearly not a secret.

Your VIN is not a secret.

Other than the physical locations where your VIN is shown, on the Model S your VIN is readily accessible from inside the Model S by pressing the Tesla logo at the top of the 17″ display. My VIN is 5YJSA1H16EFP36801.

You need your VIN when getting a loan to buy the car and for your insurance company before you take delivery. But the VIN can also reveal details about your car.

Decoding your VIN

VIN’s have a standard format and can be decoded as follows using NHTSA information:

VIN DecodeSince they use codes in the VIN to keep things short you’ll need to look up a few values to decipher them. CarFax is a good reference for these. The first digit in the VIN indicates the vehicle’s country of origin, or final point of assembly. 5 is one of the codes for USA. The second character, Y, is for Tesla Motors as the Manufacturer. The third character, type, is J and is meant to distinguish the vehicle type but there are few additional details on this code available.

In the details section, things get more interesting and we need to break it down further:

VIN DetailsTesla-Model-S-P85DThe S is for the Model S. Tesla has used R for the Roadster and we should expect to see codes of X, 3, and possibly D there in the future. We’ll have to wait a bit until we see if Elon’s hint is about a new Model D or a new D option for the Model S (2 drive units). The picture floating on the internet implies its an option on the Model S.

The next character, A, is the body type and represents a 5 door hatchback with left hand drive. On right hand drive Model S’s this is a B. While there are aftermarket Model S convertibles, those are not manufactured that way so they’ll have a body type of A or B. Tesla used E for the 2 door, right hand drive Roadster.

The restraint system has had a few different variations but a 1 represents Manual Type 2 USA Seat Belts, Dual Front Airbags, Front/Rear Side Airbags, Knee Airbags etc.

The battery type, H, is for the 85kWh battery, and S is for the 60kWh battery. The final digit indicates the number of drive units (motors). This will be 2 for the Model X and if current guesses are right probably 2 for the Model D or D option. Both of these digits will indicate significant and interesting changes in the models to come.

The check digit is just a way for agencies to verify the VIN is valid by a simple mathematical algorithm. The year is a code with E representing 2014, F for 2015 etc.

The assembly plant is F which stands for Fremont, CA and there appear to be other plant codes they’ve used in the past. As Tesla starts assembly in other countries we’ll expect to see new codes here.

The first character of the production number indicates the stage of production with a few interesting codes:

VIN Release CodesMine is a P for production level. The final 5 digits are a unique serial number. People often abbreviate their VIN with just the production number, so P36801 for this example.

VIN information for Tesla is incomplete and evolving as they expand their products and markets. While just simple digits in a code, each one represents exciting changes for Tesla.

Do you have a VIN that doesn’t match the patterns/description above? If so, let me know in the comments with the details of your car.