Decoding Honda's VINs

Decoding Honda’s VINs

The automaker’s engineering prowess isn’t necessarily on display in its VIN encoding.

From its humble beginnings as a piston-ring supplier to Toyota in the 1940s, Honda now is the world’s largest manufacturer of internal combustion engines. Aside from automobiles and motorcycles, Honda also makes engines for lawn and garden equipment, generators, ATVs, personal watercraft and outboard engines for boats. That may skew the numbers a little, but it still adds up to more than 23 million units annually.

Bigger than Harley-Davidson, Honda also is the largest global manufacturer of motorcycles, and the company remains the No. 2 Japanese automaker, right behind the company that gave founder Soichiro Honda his start!

In the automotive market, Honda has the distinction of introducing the first North American hybrid vehicle (the 2000-model-year Insight beat the OG Prius to market by about six months), as well as being the first Japanese manufacturer to offer a luxury brand. The Acura nameplate debuted with two models (the Legend and Integra) in 1986, four years ahead of the first Infiniti (Nissan) and Lexus (Toyota) models.

When it comes to decoding the past 20 years of Honda VINs, most of the standard rules apply. The first character of the VIN will identify the country of origin, with “J” identifying Japanese-built Hondas. North American-built vehicles will display “1, “5” or “7” for the U.S., “2” for Canada and “3” for Mexican-assembled units. The lead “7” is a relatively new addition to the list of U.S.-built WMI codes; in this case the WMI “7FA” is assigned to the Indiana SUV plant.

Other U.S. companies with “7” VINs include Tesla and Rivian. Honda maintained an assembly plant in the United Kingdom through 2021, so there are some Civics and CR-Vs with a VIN that begins with “S” – the identifier for the U.K., more commonly seen on Jaguar and Land Rover VINs.

VIN positions 4 through 6 are combined to identify the model line and engine type. For example, the 2017 Civic came in two-door, four-door and five-door configurations, with either a 1.5-liter engine (codes FC3, FC1 and FK7) or 2-liter engine (codes FC4, FC2 and FK8). There is no single digit to identify the engine, but oddly enough, the seventh digit repeats the body information (two-, four- or five-door) and states the type of transmission (manual, automatic or CVT). With a limited number of engine and transmission combinations, one would think that these could have been encoded into a single digit, rather than repeating body configurations!

Once we get to the eighth digit, where so many manufacturers encode the engine, Honda provides the trim level (EX, EX-L, LX, Sport, etc.). Once again, the relevant information is obscurely tied to the body configuration. If the eighth digit of our 2017 Civic is a “5,” that could decode as a two-door or four-door LX or Si, or a five-door EX. See? Clear as mud!

Things go back to normal for the remainder of the VIN, with a ninth-position check digit; model year decoded in the 10th position; and assembly plant and production number in places 11 through 17. The assembly plant has special significance when it comes to referencing Honda paint codes. Modern Honda paint codes are broken down into three parts: a letter prefix to identify the basic color family; a three-digit number; and either a “P” or “M” suffix if the color is a pearl or metallic.

Automotive refinish companies often will call out the assembly-plant code in addition to the basic paint code, in an effort to color-match the paint as accurately as possible. Alternate mixing formulas exist for many colors that are applied at more than one assembly plant, to account for any minor differences in color resulting from manufacturing or application variations. Touch-up pens generally don’t require this level of color-matching, but our body shop customers often are called upon to blend repairs seamlessly, and these details make all the difference!

By turning piston rings into a global engine-manufacturing dynasty, and making a successful transition from motorcycles to automobiles, Honda has shown just how powerful and influential a small company with forward-thinking engineers and global vision can become. Honda makes some of the most innovative products within its many categories, and seems to find success in each. You would think the company that engineered something as brilliant as V-TEC could figure out a way to encode some relevant information into a 17-digit VIN!

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