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VIN Decoding "Off-Road" Vehicles

The NHTSA standard for VIN assignment is applied to all motorized vehicles, motorcycles and trailers that travel on the roads, streets and highways of the US.  However, the NHTSA has no jurisdiction over recreational vehicles not intended to ever be driven on a street or highway.  These "off-road" recreational vehicles are hugely popular and account for millions of purchases and tens of millions of vehicles in use in the US every year.  As a result there is a need to decode and identify these vehicles for initial sales and marketing efforts, resale, registration, insurance, and taxation.  Are these vehicles able to be VIN decoded using the same principles and decoders used for light-duty and passenger vehicles?  The answer is a solid...maybe.


ATV's, Side-by-Side and Dirt Bikes

These "off-road" vehicles are not under NHTSA jurisdiction unless they are created with the intent to include "on road" use.  When "on-road" use is intended by the manufacturer, the vehicle will be assigned a 17 digit VIN.  The NHTSA standard does not address "off-road" vehicles, however you will find that most large manufacturers of these vehicles assign a 17 digit identification number that is compatible with the ISO VIN Standard.  It may not, however, be compatible with more stringent NHTSA VIN requirements.  Also, since regulations did not require the migration to a 17-digit standard by a certain date, each manufacturer may have a different model year that they started use of the 17-digit identification numbers.  Use may even vary for a manufacturer within a model year from model to model.  

Before the widespread adoption of the 17-digit standard, many manufacturers used shorter (Sometimes as short as 8 digits) proprietary identification codes that require a decoder unique to the make. Some of the smaller and low end manufacturers still use a proprietary identification system that would not be compatible with modern VIN decoding solutions.



Snowmobiles are not required by the NHTSA to have a 17 digit vehicle identification number to be sold within the US.  Transport Canada, however, requires a 17 Digit VIN be assigned to Snowmobiles that is specific to make, line/model and engine.  As a result of this requirement, many manufacturers (Yamaha, Artic Cat, Bombardier, Polaris to name a few) assign a 17 digit VIN that meets the Canadian regulations to all the snowmobile models that are sold in the US and Canada.


What can you expect if you are hoping to VIN Decode these off-road segments of the vehicle population?  Unlike passenger vehicles in MY1981, there is not a clean start model year when off-road OEMs started using 17-digit VINs.  So expect some inconsistencies in year ranges covered by different manufacturers. In addition, not all manufacturers assign 17 digit VINs.  However, most of the large manufacturers do, and use them consistently.   Based on these two facts, a VIN decoding solution is not a stand alone option if you are looking to identify off-road vehicles over a large span of years or across a large number of smaller manufacturers.  On the other hand, since most major manufacturers use the VINs in recent years, a decoding solution can be a very helpful, important and time saving tool if your business works regularly with off-road vehicles.


Do you have more questions about VIN Decoding?  Check out a link to our VIN Decoding 101 series of articles below

VIN Decoding 101 - Everything you could ever want to know about VINs

Topics: vin decoding, dirt bike, ATV side by side, Snowmobile, Off-Road, VIN Decoding 101

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