Reference Library

VIN & Other Codes

Page Revised: 10 May 2019


Article by
Eric Dess

There's always been an aura of mystery surrounding some of the codes and tags that you may find around your Cougar. Fear not—we'll help decode them for you so that you can better understand your vehicle and, in some cases, find out about the car's original equipment.

VIN Number Decoding
The vehicle identification number (VIN) is one of the first codes you'll experience, usually when you purchase the car and obtain license plates and insurance. Located on the lower corner of the driver's side dash and visible through the windshield, the VIN simply explains who manufactured the car and where, the original engine, government check codes, and approximate production sequence number. Beginning with the 1981 model year, all VIN numbers of autos sold in the U.S. and Canada have 17 characters; however, Cougar models imported into Mexico from the U.S. have their own Mexican-derived VIN code.

Here is how to decode the VIN on your car, using this fictitious example of a 1986 Cougar coupe:

EX: 1MEBP92FXGH600010
1ME World manufacturer code. Mercury USA = 1ME; Ford USA = 1FA; Ford Canada = 2FA.
B Passive restraint system. B = seat belts; P = active belts. Beginning in 1987 this character changed to M.
P Passenger car.
92 Car line, series and body type. 92 = 1983-86 Cougar 2-door (all models); 60 = 1987-88 Cougar LS 2-door; 62 = 1987-88 Cougar XR7 2-door.
F Engine code. F = 5.0L V8; 3 or 4 = 3.8L V6; A or T or W = 2.3L turbo 4.
X Internal Ford check digit. This simply assured that the VIN was properly recorded at the factory. Can be a letter or number.
G Model year. D = 1983; E = 1984; F = 1985; G = 1986; H = 1987; J = 1988.
H Assembly plant. H = Lorain, OH; A = Atlanta, GA; W = Wixom, MI.
6 Begin Mercury sequence. Ford begins with 1. If more than 100,000 in production sequence per model year, Mercury = 7, Ford = 2.
00010 Production sequence.

In the above example, you have a Mercury Cougar passenger car with seat belts, 5.0L engine, 1986 model, made in Lorain, OH, and is approximately Cougar number 10 for that model year at that plant.

One thing to remember is that during the 1985 model year, the Cougar and Thunderbird were made simultaneously at both the Lorain, OH and Atlanta, GA plants. Lorain-built cars were exported to Canada and Europe. In 1986, Cougar/Thunderbird production moved exclusively back to Lorain and remained that way until the rear-drive Cougar's demise in 1997.

Paul shares this information: "In the Ford system, the sequential VIN number for the last 5 digits is based on the vehicle order, not the order in which they go down the line. So it is possible that there are gaps, due to canceled orders. The factory uses a system called a 'rotation number', the order in which they are introduced to final assembly, which is independent of the VIN number." So it is possible that your VIN number can actually be higher than the total number of cars produced that model year.

Door Tag Codes

On the inside of the driver side door jamb there is a tag which contains the following information:

DATE: Date of manufacture (month/year)
GVWR: Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (lbs. and kgs.)
Front / Rear GAWR: Gross Axle Weight Rating (lbs. and kgs.)

VEH. IDENT. NO: VIN number
TYPE: Vehicle type (passenger)
EXTERIOR PAINT COLOR: Two character code. You will need this code when buying paint for the car. It is usually printed ABOVE the line on the door tag. If you have a two-tone car, both codes are listed, with the leftmost code being the main color and the rightmost code being the secondary color.

BODY: Body type code
VR: Vinyl roof
MLDG: Body side molding
INT. TRIM: Interior trim code (first letter = fabric and seat type, second letter = color)
TAPE: Tape stripe/pinstriping
R: Radio type
S: Sunroof/moonroof
AX: Axle code (click here for more information)
TR: Transmission type (click here for more information)

There are also 4 additional letters after the transmission code. These denote all 4 springs for the car (first = front L; second = front R; third = rear L; fourth = rear R).

From 1987-up, there is an additional calibration code sticker in the door jamb as well. This relates to the computer and engine management system for your particular car. You will need this number when buying emissions or electrical parts for your Cougar.

Unfortunately this tag was susceptible to water damage, fading and discoloration despite Ford's best efforts at the time of manufacture to prevent damage. You may find that your door tag is damaged or unreadable, an occurrence that's happening more and more as time goes on. Fortunately, most of the information might be found elsewhere on the vehicle (see below). It may also be possible to get a reproduction tag through Marti Auto Works.

Tire Information Tag

On the inside of the passenger side door jamb is a silver tag which contains important information about tire size and load ratings, and recommended air pressure. This tag changed every model year due to different tire and rim sizes available.

Radiator ("Buck") Tag

Bolted to the top of the radiator core support, toward the passenger side, is a metal tag which contains certain information about the vehicle. Among that information is a repeat of the last 6 digits of the VIN, and any major options such as MOONROOF, KEYLESS entry, and ANNIV for 20th Anniversary Cougar models.

Build Sheet

The build sheet is a piece of paper which contains codes about every single original equipment item or option at the time of manufacture. In essence, it was a set of instructions that accompanied the car down the assembly line to ensure that all items were correctly installed. It contains the information that is on the driver's door tag, and a whole lot more.

On most Cougars built between 1983-88, the build sheet is located on the underside of the passenger front seat, trapped between the seat cushion and the wire seat frame. It is very difficult to remove and keep intact; if you are retrieving yours you will find it easier to unbolt the seat from the car, unclip the fabric, and pull up the foam to get the build sheet out. Remember that they are very, very brittle and can easily rip or disintegrate.

If you cannot find the build sheet in that location, there are several other locations where you can look:

  • Underneath the rear seat cushion
  • Behind the rear trim panels (with the armrests, beneath the sail panels)
  • Underneath the trunk carpeting
  • On the top side of the fuel tank (requires dropping the tank; this seems to have occurred mostly with turbo models)

It is also possible that your car simply does not have a build sheet, or that a previous owner removed it.

It is possible to obtain reproduction door tags, build sheets, and original window stickers for the 1983-88 Cougars from Marti Auto Works. The owner, Kevin Marti, has purchased all of Ford's original production documents from the 1980s, including those concerning the Cougar and Thunderbird. Please check his website for more details.