How to Tell If a Vehicle Is AWD by VIN

Tim Jumah

Are you considering buying a used vehicle and want to know if it has all-wheel drive (AWD)? The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) can provide valuable information about a vehicle’s specifications, including whether it has AWD. Understanding how to decode the VIN and interpret its information can save you from making an uninformed purchase and ensure that your vehicle aligns with your specific requirements. In this article, we will discuss how to tell if a vehicle is AWD by VIN, so you can make an informed decision when buying a used car.

Understanding the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

Before we dive into deciphering the VIN to determine if a vehicle is equipped with all-wheel drive, let’s understand what the VIN is and what it represents. The VIN is a unique identification code assigned to each vehicle, acting as its fingerprint. This code is specific to each car and can provide valuable information about its make, model year, manufacturer, and other important details.

The VIN consists of 17 characters that include both letters and numbers. Each character in the VIN represents a different aspect of the vehicle’s specifications. By understanding the structure of the VIN, you can unlock important information about a used car’s history and features.

The main sections of a typical VIN are as follows:

1. World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI)

The first three characters of the VIN are known as the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI). These characters identify the country or region where the vehicle was manufactured. Different countries have their own unique codes in this section. For example, vehicles manufactured in the United States typically have a WMI starting with "1", while vehicles manufactured in Germany may have one starting with "W".

2. Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS)

Following the WMI, there is usually a section comprising six characters known as the Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS). These characters provide information about the vehicle’s specifications, such as its body style, engine type, and model. The VDS can vary in length depending on the manufacturer.

3. Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS)

The final section of the VIN is called the Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS). This section consists of eight characters and includes information about the vehicle’s unique serial number, manufacturing plant, and other details specific to that particular car.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the VIN structure, let’s move on to how you can determine if a vehicle has all-wheel drive by decoding its VIN.

Deciphering AWD Information from VIN

To determine if a vehicle has all-wheel drive using its VIN, you need to focus on specific characters or codes within the VIN. While not all manufacturers follow the same pattern when indicating AWD in the VIN, there are some common codes and patterns used in different makes and models.

It’s important to note that deciphering the AWD status of a vehicle using its VIN alone may not always provide a definitive answer. It’s recommended to cross-check this information with other sources, such as official manufacturer documentation or independent vehicle history reports.

Let’s explore some manufacturers’ patterns for indicating AWD in their VIN:

1. Audi

Audi typically uses different codes within the Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS) of their VINs to indicate whether a vehicle is equipped with all-wheel drive. Some common codes include "4" for Quattro AWD and "F" for front-wheel drive (FWD). However, it’s important to note that Audi has changed their coding patterns over time, so it’s best to verify with reliable sources or consult an Audi dealership for accurate information regarding specific models.

2. Subaru

Subaru has consistently used a specific code within their VINs to indicate all-wheel-drive vehicles. Look for the letter "J" in the eighth position of the VIN, as it signifies that the vehicle is equipped with AWD.

3. BMW

BMW’s VIN pattern includes a specific code to indicate the drivetrain configuration of their vehicles. Look for the presence of the letter "X" in either the fifth or eleventh position of the VIN. The letter "X" represents all-wheel drive and indicates that the vehicle is equipped with BMW’s xDrive system.

It’s important to note that while these brands may consistently use these codes, there are exceptions and variations across different models and years. Always verify this information before making a final conclusion about a vehicle’s AWD status.

Verifying AWD Information through Manufacturer Documentation

While decoding the VIN can provide valuable insights into a vehicle’s specifications, it is always recommended to cross-reference this information with official manufacturer documentation or consult dealerships specializing in that particular brand.

Manufacturer documents like owner’s manuals or vehicle brochures provide detailed information on different trim levels and available options, including whether they come with AWD. These documents often explain various features and specifications specific to each model year.

Dealerships specializing in a certain brand have direct access to manufacturer databases and can provide accurate information regarding a vehicle’s AWD status based on its VIN. They can also clarify any inconsistencies or variations across different models and years.

By consulting manufacturer documentation or reliable dealerships, you can ensure that the information obtained from decoding the VIN aligns with official records, giving you confidence in your decision when buying a used vehicle.

Using Independent Vehicle History Reports

Vehicle history reports from reputable providers like Carfax or AutoCheck can be another valuable resource when determining if a vehicle has all-wheel drive. These reports provide comprehensive information on a car’s history, including its ownership history, accident reports, service records, and sometimes even details regarding any modifications made to the vehicle.

Vehicle history reports often include information about a car’s drivetrain configuration, which can indicate whether it has all-wheel drive. While these reports may not explicitly mention "AWD," they may provide details about the specific trim level or package that includes AWD as an option.

It’s worth noting that not all vehicle history reports will include comprehensive details about a car’s drivetrain configuration. However, if available, these reports can serve as an additional source of information to verify the AWD status of a used vehicle.

Consulting Dealerships and Professionals

If you’re still unsure about a vehicle’s AWD status after decoding its VIN and reviewing documentation or vehicle history reports, consulting with reputable dealerships or qualified automotive professionals can help clarify any doubts or questions.

Dealerships specializing in pre-owned vehicles should have expertise in decoding VINs and understanding the different specifications related to AWD. They can provide accurate information based on their manufacturer databases and assist in verifying the AWD status of a specific vehicle.

Qualified automotive professionals, such as mechanics or technicians, can also inspect the vehicle to determine if it has all-wheel drive. They are trained to identify mechanical components and features that differentiate AWD systems from front-wheel or rear-wheel drive configurations.


Decoding the VIN of a used vehicle can provide valuable insights into its specifications, including whether it is equipped with all-wheel drive. By understanding how different manufacturers indicate AWD in their VINs and cross-referencing this information with manufacturer documentation or independent vehicle history reports, you can confidently determine if a specific vehicle is an all-wheel-drive model.

It is important to note that relying solely on the VIN to determine AWD status may not always yield definitive results due to variations across makes and models. Consulting reliable sources like official manufacturer documentation or specialized dealerships, as well as seeking expert opinions from qualified automotive professionals, will further enhance your understanding and ensure the accuracy of your findings.

Remember, when buying a used vehicle, thorough research and verification are essential to make an informed purchase that aligns with your preferences and requirements.

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Jumah has been a content writer for business and technology topics since early 2019. He has experience in writing and marketing and is dedicated to creating informative and engaging content.
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