The vehicle identification number (VIN) is a unique code assigned to every car for identification purposes. While the VIN contains a wealth of information about the vehicle, like the make, model, year, and place of manufacture, it does not specify the color of the car.
What is a VIN?
The VIN is a 17-character alphanumeric code given to each vehicle manufactured for sale in the United States. Prior to 1981, VINs contained fewer characters but were expanded to 17 digits in order to accommodate more detailed specifications.
Here is what each of the 17 characters in a modern VIN represents:
|World manufacturer identifier
|Vehicle type or manufacturing division
|Vehicle line or series
|Body style code
|Restraint system type
|Vehicle build sequence or identification number
As you can see from the VIN breakdown, the color of the vehicle is not encoded anywhere in the 17-digit sequence. The VIN reveals detailed specifications about the vehicle like make, model, body type, engine size, and manufacturing plant, but nothing about exterior or interior colors.
Why doesn’t the VIN include color information?
There are a few reasons why vehicle color is not included in the VIN:
- The VIN is primarily used for identification and tracking purposes, not describing attributes like color.
- Cars come in too many potential color combinations to encode this in the VIN. An automaker may offer a model in 10, 15, or even more colors each model year.
- The color itself does not impact the mechanical functioning of the vehicle in the way the engine type or safety restraints do.
- Color information would lengthen the VIN even more to accommodate the extra data.
- Color is subjective and difficult to categorize. A precise color name like “Sunburst Orange Metallic” would be hard to encode in a short sequence.
So while the VIN is useful for tracking vehicles, verifying ownership records, and identifying specs, it simply was not designed to capture information as subjective and variable as color.
Where can you find the vehicle color information?
Since the VIN does not include the color, how do you find out what color a vehicle is? There are a few places to look:
- Vehicle registration paper – The DMV registration form will typically list the vehicle color.
- Insurance documentation – Insurance cards and policies will often include the vehicle color.
- Police reports – Any police reports like accident reports or traffic citations should list the car color.
- Title documentation – The official title to the vehicle contains a field for color description.
- Dealership records – The dealership that originally sold the car will have the color in their records.
- Vehicle history reports – Services like Carfax compile VIN records into reports that include color.
- Visual inspection – You can always verify the actual color by examining the vehicle yourself.
While it takes some digging through paperwork, the color information is out there through other sources. It just isn’t conveniently encoded into the VIN.
Can you decode the vehicle color from a partial VIN?
Since the full 17-digit VIN does not include the color information, even having a partial VIN will not help determine the vehicle color. A partial VIN might give you the make, model, and year, but nothing about the color options originally available or the paint color of that particular car.
Sometimes a vehicle’s paint color is referenced in the name of a limited edition model, like a “Mystic Teal Mica Toyota Prius” for example. But the model name is not actually part of the VIN sequence and still does not tell you definitively if that specific car was produced in that color.
The VIN also does not indicate whether a car has been repainted, which is common after collisions, rust repair, or just owners wanting to customize their vehicle. The original factory paint color encoded in the VIN may not match a repainted exterior.
So in summary, even if you have a portion of the VIN, it is not possible to decode the exterior color without checking other sources of information about that particular vehicle.
Are there any exceptions where the VIN indicates color?
While the standard 17-digit modern VIN contains no information about color, there are some rare exceptions:
- Older VIN formats – On older vehicles from the 1970s and prior, the VIN might specify exterior paint color. This was phased out by the 1980s as more standardized VINs were adopted.
- Special editions – In very limited special edition production runs, the VIN may encode unique details like color. But this is only done on very rare, low-volume models.
- Play on words – Some VINs contain what appear to be color names, like characters spelling out “red” or “blue” – but these are coincidental and do not indicate actual color.
For nearly all modern everyday vehicles on the road, you can be certain that the VIN does not reveal or encode the exterior color in any way. The handful of exceptions are on older or very limited-run specialty vehicles only.
Can you enter a VIN and generate the color?
There are many websites and tools that allow you to enter a VIN and return detailed specifications about a vehicle. However, these VIN decoders and databases do not return the vehicle color.
Entering a VIN into sites like VINCheck or National Insurance Crime Bureau can tell you:
- Make and model
- Engine size
- Country of origin
- Safety ratings
- Warranty details
…but no information about the color. The color simply is not embedded in the VIN itself. To find the color, you would need to get a vehicle history report or documentation from the dealer, DMV, or insurance provider.
So while VIN lookups are useful for many things, they cannot magically generate the paint color without additional data sources.
Can you tell interior color from the VIN?
Just like exterior paint colors, interior upholstery colors are also not encoded or available in the VIN. While you can identify features like airbags, seats, and seatbelts from the VIN, the specific colors of the seats, carpets, and other interior trim is not included.
This is again because the VIN is primarily for identification and safety-related specs. Interior aesthetics like colors are secondary attributes not necessary to convey in the VIN.
In summary, it is not possible to determine the exterior or interior color of a vehicle from the VIN alone. While the VIN provides many other detailed specifications, it simply does not contain any data about the paint colors, upholstery, carpets, and other color elements of a car.
To find the color information, you need to check documentation like the registration, title, dealer records, or insurance details. Or you may need to visually inspect the car itself. But the VIN will never encode or reveal the colors of a vehicle – with just a few very rare exceptions.
So while useful for many purposes, the VIN cannot substitute for a window sticker, bill of sale, or physical inspection if you need to know the actual colors of a vehicle.