Sep 17 2020
By Jake Maki
This post has been republished with updates since its original publish date in June 2012
While the light-duty and passenger segments encompass a large portion of the vehicles that one might be looking to VIN decode, it certainly doesn't cover them all. These additional segments, such as mid-duty, heavy-duty, and motorcycles, each represent huge markets with large direct and allied business opportunities. As a result, there is a fair amount of interest in services to VIN decode these vehicles.
The good news is that all of these vehicles are required to have 17-Digit VINs assigned to them by the NHTSA if their function/purpose includes driving --even intermittently-- on public roads. However, they can pose a challenge to decode since the requirements imposed by the NHTSA are less strict and require less data to be captured.
Here's a brief overview of what you can expect from VIN decoding vehicles outside of the light-duty and passenger segments.
Motorcycles and scooters are consistently assigned a VIN pattern that identifies the make, model, and engine details. In addition, if there are multiple choices for trim, emissions and brake type, these are usually captured within the VIN Pattern. Because there is very little optional equipment on these types of vehicles, VIN decoding is a very useful tool that can fulfill the needs of many business use cases involving motorcycle data, ranging from inventory decoding to data normalization. Here's some information on decoding ATV's and Off-Road Vehicles not purposed for driving on public roads.
These vehicles are generally used to transport materials, equipment, people, packages and goods. They make up a good portion of the vehicles seen traveling city and town roads during traditional working hours. This segment would include everything from Cab-Over Isuzu FCRs, Chevy Top Kicks, Ford F-450s and above, to many models from brands like Freightliner, Mitsubishi-Fuso and Daimler. These fleets need to be managed and monitored. In addition, the sale, customization, up-fitting and service of these vehicles is a huge industry in the U.S. As a result, there is often interest in VIN decoding these vehicles.
Medium-Duty vehicles typically have much more customized and complex choices for vehicle configuration within each model lineup. The vast majority are outfitted with a wide variety of 3rd party diesel engines and Heavy-Duty transmissions. The cab, axle(s), body-type and wheelbase length are usually available in a variety of combinations and optional choices for each model. Chassis versions of Medium-Duty vehicles are often sold in an incomplete form by the OEM assigning the VIN to be further up-fitted to their final configuration by another manufacturer. Often they will be built into RVs, small buses, emergency/para-transit vehicles, UPS vans or other specialty purpose vehicles.
The bad news is that while Mid-Duty vehicles are required to have a VIN, in many cases the information captured by the VIN is not as detailed or specific as it is for passenger vehicles. The year, GVW Range class, vehicle type and assembly plant, as well as the original manufacturer and model name can be determined from the VIN. In addition, the brand, fuel type, number of cylinders and displacement of the engine can be determined with some regularity.
There may be many configurations of each engine tied to the same VIN pattern that differ on engine performance and technical specs. Depending on manufacturer and model, the drivetrain, cab type and body type may be identified by the VIN, but not always. VIN Decoding Medium-Duty vehicles can be very useful for basic identification, but the data captured in the VIN Pattern is somewhat limited when considering the complexity of the vehicles.
Heavy-Duty trucks, like tractor-trailers and straight trucks, are also required to carry a 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number. Some of the well-known brands that are associated with this segment include Mack, Peterbuilt, and International. There are obviously many of these vehicles on the road, especially on interstates, as they do the majority of material and product distribution in the U.S.
Heavy-Duty trucks are very large (as named) and expensive pieces of equipment, so naturally there is a sizable industry built around their sale and maintenance. VIN decoding is the best way to identify these vehicles for any sales or service related business needs. The data captured by the VIN, as well as the limitations of VIN Decoding, is similar to the Medium-Duty segment.
When VIN decoding Heavy-Duty vehicles, realize that there is a lot of vehicle customization in this segment that will not be captured in a traditional VIN decode. However, it's still worth utilizing a VIN decoder for some of the core vehicle data.
All towable trailers and equipment are required to be assigned a 17 digit VIN. There are hundreds of trailer manufacturers in North America and each has numerous configurations, so being able to identify these trailers is essential. A trailer VIN will identify the manufacturer, assembly plant, year, trailer type, attachment type, length, and axle count.
In many cases, a trailer will be customized post-manufacturing. For example, a trailer might be manufactured as a utility trailer and then later upfitted as a specialized woodchipper. Unfortunately, this information cannot be identified by VIN since the VIN is assigned at time of manufacturing.
Learn more details about trailer VIN decoding in this article.
From jumbo motorhomes to towable pop-up trailers, all recreational vehicles (RVs) will have a VIN assigned. The challenges in decoding them comes in two parts.
The first challenge is that you might have to deal with multiple VINs. Most RV's are built off of a chassis/incomplete vehicle, manufactured by a third party. This incomplete vehicle is then built out by the RV manufacturer into a retail vehicle. For example, a manufacturer like Coachman or Gulfstream will buy an incomplete truck or van from GM or Ford and build an RV on that chassis.
The problem is that the chassis manufacturer assigns the incomplete vehicle a VIN and then a second VIN is assigned by the RV manufacturer to the completed vehicle. Because of this, caution should be exercised when VIN decoding RVs, as either VIN can be decoded but different details may be obtained from each VIN.
Towable RVs will only have one VIN number, which makes them much easier to decode consistently. However, the information that can be obtained from an RV VIN (towable and driveable) is very limited given the next challenge.
The second challenge is that VIN decoding the 17 digit VIN assigned by the RV manufacturers will tell you much of the basic model, line and engine details you might expect. Unfortunately, none of the optional equipment and customization on the vehicle is encoded. This limits the utility of VIN decoding since much of the monetary value and consumer interest in the RV is tied to the myriad of customizable options and add-ons.
Construction and agricultural equipment are required to carry a 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number if their function/purpose includes driving on public roadways. For example, a Backhoe Loader that can legally be driven from one worksite to another on public roads would be required by the NHTSA to have a VIN assigned. These VINs usually get down to a model/equipment line level and can be used to determine basic engine and drivetrain details.
Garbage trucks, fire engines, buses and other specialty vehicles that are driven on the road are assigned a 17-Digit that you can decode. The kind of information that can be obtained from a VIN Decoder is generally similar to the Medium and Heavy-Duty vehicle segments.
As you can see from the information above, any vehicle purposed for use on public roads in the US is assigned a VIN number that can be decoded. The utility and amount of data that is captured from the VIN varies by segment. In addition, the availability of reliable commercial databases to decode these vehicle segments also varies greatly.
Feel free to contact us directly or comment below with questions or other details that you would like to add on VIN decoding the vehicle segments mentioned above.
If you have a vehicle outside the light-duty segment and would like to try to decode it using our free VIN Decoder.
Here's an infographic displaying all the different vehicles DataOne decodes across the various vehicle segments.
Continue on to our next article VIN Decoding 101 Part 10: Why You Shouldn't Settle for a VIN Decoder That Just Decodes the VIN