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Feb 27 2019

Aside from the obvious difference, one is free and one costs money, there is often confusion around how free VIN decoder services vs. paid VIN decoding solutions differ and why one might pay a premium. Each business has different vehicle data and VIN decoding needs, and while a free VIN decoder might do the trick for some businesses, others may have a need for a more comprehensive VIN decoding solution.

Here are a number of things you should consider when determining which VIN decoding solution is best for your business:   

1. Usage

How many VINs will you need to decode each month? Will you have a need for decoding VINs in bulk?

Usage is important to consider since most free VIN decoders will only allow a single decode at a time, and some might have a cap on the number of VINs that can be decoded within a given time period.  A commercial VIN decoding solution will not have limitations on the number of VINs decoded and a solution such as DataOne’s VIN decoder API can also support batch decodes.

Free VIN decoders are generally most valuable for consumers looking to decode their personal vehicle or vehicle of interest, as well as businesses with a small number of VINs to decode. For businesses decoding hundreds or thousands of VINs per month, or even a large amount in one batch, a paid solution is recommended.

2. Coverage

Not all VIN decoding services are created equal, especially when it comes to their depth and breadth of coverage. VIN decoding coverage will most commonly vary by regional markets (US and Canada), vehicle markets (passenger/light-duty, medium/heavy-duty, powersports, etc.) and the level of vehicle data captured (basic data vs. full vehicle specs).

If your business is working with a small number of VINs each month and only require basic data (year, make, model, trim, engine type, drive type, etc.) for the passenger/light-duty market, a free VIN decoder could work for your business. However, if your products and solutions require a more precise decode with greater detail (specs, equipment, drivetrain, available colors, awards & accolades, government ratings, etc.), you’ll need to consider a commercial VIN decoding solution. 

For more details on how a commercial VIN decoding solution can obtain this granularity, view our blog article "Why You Shouldn't Settle for a VIN Decode That Just Decodes The VIN."


3. Timeliness and Accuracy

A highly accurate vehicle database that releases new vehicle model data in a timely manner is incredibly valuable. Especially if your business is involved in, or supporting, the sale of new vehicles. Typically, a free VIN decoder will not be quick to update their database with the latest vehicle models, and the quality and cleanliness of the data will not be up to the standards of a commercial VIN decoding solution. This is largely because free VIN decoders are typically intended for consumer use.

4. Integration

If you are working with 100+ VINs a month, it will make sense to leverage a VIN decoding solution that can be integrated into your products or internal tools. Additionally, it’s important that integration can be done with ease. Most free VIN decoders offer a built-out tool on their website but do not support integration into your products/internal tools via cutting edge APIs or delivered flat files with daily updates. Free VIN decoding options that do support integration often will not offer very thorough technical documentation.

5. Support

A free VIN decoder most likely will not offer customer support. Accessibility to knowledgeable support personnel is invaluable for a service that will play a major role in your product(s). The data provider you choose should offer well-supported products and technical documentation. This will be especially helpful in the earlier stages while integrating the data into your existing products or developing new products.

6. Service Level Agreement (SLA)

Lastly, a commercial vehicle data and VIN decoding solution will offer a service level agreement (SLA). Any good SLA will include commitment to uptime and performance, unthrottled and high capacity options, access to support, data retention, and contractual commitments to longevity and quality of service (QoS). This is reason enough to license data rather than relying on a free VIN decoder.


Though free VIN decoding might seem like a great way to save a few dollars for your business, it’s probably not be the best area to lower expenses, especially if your products and/services require highly accurate, timely and comprehensive data. If any of the points highlighted in this article raise concern, you should consider looking into a premium vehicle data and VIN decoding solution that will best support your business’s data needs and offer ultimate flexibility.

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Interested in learning more about VIN decoding? Check out our VIN Decoding 101 blog article series.


Photo Credit: yousang / Shutterstock.com


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