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VIN Decoding 101: Everything You Wanted to Know About VINs


Post has been republished with updates since its original publish date November 2011

As you might expect we get a lot of questions about VINs.  There is a lot of confusion about what a VIN is, how is it used, what information is captured within it and what is not.  In this series we hope to provide a good resource that you can use to educate yourself on Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) and VIN Decoding.  The articles will progressively build from very basic and general information about VINs to more detailed and specific aspects of using them and vehicle data in business and technical settings.  We hope you find them useful.

Blog Article Series Index:

(Click to see article overviews)

Part 1 – What is a VIN?

Part 2 – What is captured in the vehicle identification number?

Part 3 – The Market Effect

Part 4 – 15 common VIN data terms defined

Part 5 – 10 vehicle details you should expect from a VIN decoder

Part 6 – Exceptions to the VIN decoding rules

Part 7 - 10 vehicle details the VIN Pattern will not give you

Part 8 – VIN decoding "Off-Road" vehicles

Part 9 - VIN decoding outside the light-duty/passenger vehicle segment

Part 10 – Why you shouldn't settle for a VIN decoder that just decodes the VIN

Part 11 - VIN Decoder, VIN Check, and Vehicle History Reports: How Do They Differ?

VIN-number-locationsPart 1 – What is a VIN?

The VIN acronym stands for Vehicles Identification Number. It refers to a unique number assigned to a vehicle that contains information to describe and identify the vehicle. While most people associate VINs with cars, they are used in the US and internationally for all variety of vehicles and equipment. It may not surprise you that motorcycles, heavy trucks, and buses all are assigned VINs, but even snowmobiles, tractors, back-hoes, and trailers have a VIN assigned to them during the manufacturing process.

This article will cover the history of VINs and how they've evolved into their current format.

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VIN-breakdownPart 2 – What is captured in the vehicle identification number?

There are a few different VIN standards internationally, including ISO and NHTSA, that have similar requirements such as the VIN's length (17 characters). However, The VIN standard created by the NHTSA for all vehicles manufactured for use in North America starting in the model year (MY) 1981 was much more stringent in its requirements.

This article will focus on the components of a VIN created to meet the NHTSA standard for the passenger and light duty vehicle segment.

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Market's-Effect-on-VIN-NumberPart 3 – The Market Effect

Though not required, almost all markets (a country or group of countries) follow the ISO standard’s recommendations regarding use of the 17-digit VIN. However, most markets have a regulatory body, similar to the NHTSA, that establishes requirements for that country. While there are common elements that are used extensively, as well as a good amount of overlap on what different markets require, each regulatory body has at least some aspects of their requirements that make them unique to that market.

This article will help identify some of the differences in VIN standards across various markets internationally and how this will impact your decision on choosing a vehicle data provider.

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VIN-Data-TermsPart 4 – 15 common VIN data terms defined 

Like almost every area of expertise, VIN Decoding has unique terminology associated with it.  If you haven't worked with a VIN decoder or VIN data in the past, many of these term's meaning may not be intuitive. 

In this article are the definitions of 15 common terms that you will likely come across as you work with automotive and VIN data.

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encoded-in-a-vin-numberPart 5 – 10 vehicle details you should expect from a VIN decoder 

It is not uncommon for some of the people that express interest in our VIN data to have little experience with automotive data in the past.  They may be new to the company, position or they may be looking to apply an existing business model in a new way that requires a VIN decoder or vehicle data. Many times these people are not quite sure what to expect to get in return from decoding 17-digit VINs.

In this article is a list of 10 things that you can expect to be returned when decoding US Passenger and Light-Duty VINs.

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exceptions-to-vin-decoding-rulesPart 6 – Exceptions to the VIN decoding rules

As made evident in our previous articles on VIN decoding, there's certain information that is required to be encoded in a VIN pattern, even more so in the US and Canadian markets.  However, if you acquire and review a VIN file, like our VIN Basic file, you will come across exceptions to even these basic rules.

This article addresses a couple of VIN rule exceptions that our customers have questioned in the past.

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10-Details-Not-to-Expect-From-a-VIN-DecoderPart 7 - 10 vehicle details the VIN Pattern will not give you  

We often have potential customers approach us hoping to determine a specific detail or attribute of the vehicle using only the VIN. Decoding a VIN can return a large amount of useful information. Yet there are still many vehicle details that can't be determined from a basic decode of the VIN Pattern alone.

In this article are a list of commonly-inquired-about vehicle details that the VIN Pattern is not going to capture, or at least won't capture consistently.

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off-road-vehicle-vin-decoderPart 8 – 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.  

Can these vehicles be decoded using the same principles and VIN decoders used for light-duty and passenger vehicles?

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HD-Motocycle-RV-Agricultural-VIN-DecodingPart 9 - VIN decoding outside the light-duty/passenger vehicle segment

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.

Here's a brief overview of what you can expect from VIN decoding vehicles outside of the light-duty and passenger segments.

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settling-for-basic-vin-decoderPart 10 – Why you shouldn't settle for a VIN decoder that just decodes the VIN

For many applications, a basic VIN decode - one that decodes only what is encoded in the VIN - will provide all the details that your business needs. There are also many applications that will greatly benefit from a more advanced VIN decoder that can provide as much detail as possible. 

This article covers ways in which a commericial VIN decoder can provide much more precise, detailed decodes than a basic decoder. 

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VIN-decoder-VIN-check-Vehicle-History-ReportPart 11 - VIN Decoder, VIN Check, and Vehicle History Reports: How Do They Differ?

VIN decoders, VIN check tools, and vehicle history reports all provide very valuable data that are integral to many automotive business processes, such as inventory management, insurance claims/warranty contracts, and vehicle service/repair. However, the data provided among these tools and services are not the same.

In this article, we've clarified some of the major areas of confusion between the three services by detailing their core functionalities.

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Topics: Vehicle

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