Reading a fendertag

One of the best understood difficulties in rebuilding or restoring older cars is the question of originality. In other words, how was the car assembled by the factory? Is all the original equipment still in place? Has someone perhaps added things which weren't there in the first place? These can be tough questions to answer.

Fortunately, there is help. Chrysler used two main pieces of identification for the cars built from back in the heyday of the musclecars to the mid '90s--build sheets and fendertags. A build sheets is a printout of every last item the car carried; if you were knowledgable you could be handed a build sheet and then proceed to build an exact copy of the car in question. Build sheets, however, are hard to find for many cars (even though all were supposed to have one tucked away somewhere). An easier item to find is the fendertag. This is a small metal plate usually attached to the core support (or someplace close by) that lists some of the basic equipment installed on that particular car. This equipment is listed mainly by RPO codes, so some knowledge of these codes is necessary in order to ascertain how your car was originally assembled.

The general style of the fendertag evolved slightly throughout time. From 1984 onward, though, the tags were mostly unchaged. To know what one looks like, check out the following picture.

You'll note, of course, that I have numbered the tag's lines. Fendertags are read from the bottom to the top, then left to right; this is why the bottom line is designated #1. So now you know how to read a tag. What good is this? Let's take a tour of our sample tag in order to understand what it teaches us. First stop: line #1.

Line #1 usually tells us about the basic body style of the car. In our case the code LZS24 breaks down as follows: L = L-body, Z = Dodge model, S24 = Special class 2-door (which equates to a Shelby Charger). After the body code, the entire VIN is printed. Checking this VIN against the one on the dash is a good idea; I have seen cars which were wrecked and later rebuilt by attaching the front clip from another car! Once you know the VIN is correct, check the 10th digit to learn the car's model year. This car's letter E signifies 1984. (NOTE: fendertags made prior to 1984 will differ slightly in their exact layout. If your car is older than 1984 use this example as a general guide rather than scripture.)

Line #2 begins with paint code information. The first code is either APA or APB and signifies either monochrome or two-tone paint. The two following three-letter codes list the primary exterior color (which always begins with P) and then the secondary exterior color (which begins with Q). Thus our tag shows a two-tone Garnet Red car with Silver secondary paint (which is one of the Shelby Charger combinations, of course). Now is a good time to illustrate that each color could be called by its proper name or its RPO code name--for example, we can refer to this car's primary color as either Garnet Red or else R6 Red (or even just R6 if you want to be brief).

Next on this line is the interior trim code; it consists of four characters. The first two describe which type of trim level was featured while the last two characters tell what color was used. In our example S5 refers to the special cloth & vinyl seats with the embroidered Shelby logo; AS is the color code for silver and charcoal (which was standard with all Garnet Shelby Chargers). Note that the S5 code also dictated what type of door panels and other interior appointments were installed; this four-letter code describes the entire interior.

Finally on this line is the code for the vehicle's engine; this code always begins with E and has two other characters. Our sample's code of EDE designates the standard (non-H.O.) 2.2L carbureted engine. Hmm--a Shelby Charger without the H.O. engine? It must be an automatic car. We'll find out for sure a little later.

Line #3 begins with the date code--the exact date the car was scheduled to be built. This simple three-character code uses one character for the month and the other two numbers for the day of that month. The months were numbered 1-9 and then A-C for October, November, and December; this way each month could be designated with a single character. So our sample car's 518 shows it to have been built on May 18th, 1984. Be sure when you decode the date information that you don't confuse the human calender with the automobile calendar--a car built in October would be for the model year corresponding to the following calendar year.

Next is a large string of charactes, usually 8 characters long, which is a factory production code unrelated to the car itself. After that is a three-character code specifying the transmission type. Here DGA indicates a three-speed automatic, just as we suspected earlier. Finally, this line contains a single character which tells for which continental market the car was built. In our car's case, U indicates the United States.

On line #4 is where the car's actual equipment and options begins to be listed. Note that only certain codes will appear on a fendertag; this list will not be complete compared to a build sheet. Those codes which are shown on the tag will be presented in alphabetical order; they will continue up the tag line by line until the END code, specifying the end of the RPO codes. What equipment is listed on our example? We see (again) the APA two-tone paint option; CKM = cargo dress-up package; CUA = armrest; CUC = center console; DLE = three-speed automatic with 3.02 axle ratio (this transmission code includes the axle ratio whereas the one on line #3 does not); GSE = painted (black) right remote mirror; HAA = air conditioning; MMG = black belt molding; MXB = rear spoiler; MXC = front air dam; NAA = 49-state emissions; RCD = four speaker stereo system; 4EA = sold order.

Note that on some cars there is so much equipment listed that it doesn't all fit on one fendertag. When that is the case, you will see a CTD code (not listed alphabetically) which signifies that the codes are continued on a second fendertag. This second tag will be mounted next to the first one and will repeat the VIN to verify identification; after that the remaining codes will be listed until concluded with the END designation.

Finally, the upper right corner of the tag will have a two-part code featuring two digits and then six more. This is another code used by the factory to track the car; it does not reflect upon the car's equipment.

So that's it! Now you know how to comprehend a fendertag in order to gain insight about your car's original equipment.

Last modified: 4-30-03. Original page content created by Dempsey Bowling.