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What is a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)?

The vehicle identification number (VIN) is a unique string of numeric and alphanumeric characters assigned to a vehicle that contains information to describe and identify the vehicle. The VIN number can be located on the dashboard, visible through the windshield on the driver's side, as well as on the driver side door jam.

In 1981, the 17-digit VIN was standardized by the NHTSA for vehicle destined for use in the U.S.

For more details on the history of the VIN, view our article "What is a VIN?" 

What is encoded in a VIN Number?

VIN numbers encode much of the core vehicle information, including make, engine, body and drive type, passenger restraint system, when and where they were manufactured, and the serial number. However, some of the information can vary greatly between OEMs, especially in the vehicle descriptor positions (4-8).

See detailed descriptions on what's encoded in the VIN in this blog article.

Many VIN decoder solutions provide more vehicle information than what is encoded in the VIN by tying additional vehicle details to the VDS positions. Learn more in the section "Vehicle details you should expect from a commercial VIN decoder."

17-Digit VIN Decode Sample:

McLaren 17-Digit-VIN-Decoder-Data-Sample-Graphic

Learn More About VINS and VIN Decoding

The market's effect on VINs

The market that a vehicle exists in has a significant impact on what information is available to decode. Though many markets share some similar VIN standards, such as the NHTSA or ISO standards, each regulatory body has at least some aspects of their requirements that make them unique to that market. 

For that very reason, many VIN decoding solutions specialize in certain vehicle markets. View our blog article "The Market's effect on a VIN" to learn more.

Common VIN terminology

What's a VIN Squish or VIN Pattern? These two terms are actually interchangeable, both describing the portion of the VIN where core information is encoded. The VIN pattern/squish is made up of positions 1-8, 10, and 11. 

These are just two of the many terms centered around VINs and vehicle data. View this blog article to become a master on VIN terminology. 

Identifying Vehicle Specs by VIN

Quick access to complete and accurate vehicle specifications is necessary for many businesses in the automotive and allied industries. Some businesses may be looking to identify “construction” vehicle specs such as weights, dimensions, capacities, etc., while other businesses may be looking for “operation” and/or “performance” vehicle specs, including engine and transmission, standard and optional equipment, fuel economy, exterior and interior colors, etc.

Identifying vehicle specs by VIN number with use of a VIN decoding solution is ideal for businesses working with several vehicle makes and models. Learn how to identify vehicle specs by VIN, as well as which specs can be identified in this article. And learn about some of the most common use cases in this article.

Surprising facts about VINs, VIN decoding, and vehicle data

There’s a lot more to VIN numbers, the 17-digit string of numeric and alphanumeric characters found on vehicles, and the vehicle data behind them than you may expect. In fact, VINs can be quite complex.

 This blog article covers some interesting facts about VINs, VIN decoding, and vehicle data that often come as a surprise to many of our end users. Perhaps some of these facts will help clarify questions you’ve had while working with VINs.

Vehicle details you should expect from a VIN

There is often some confusion about what information can actually be obtained from a VIN number. For example, year, make and model are always encoded, however, trim cannot consistently be identified from VIN alone. There's a great deal of variability in what's encoded within the vehicle descriptor section (positions 4-8).

All commercially available VIN decoders will extract the information encoded in the VIN Pattern or VIN Squish (What's a VIN Squish?). However, the good ones will also pass along additional information that they know about the vehicle and its configuration. Some of these inputs may include the OEM Model number, package code, installed equipment and option codes. This is sometimes referred to as VIN explosion.

For more info, view our blog article "10 Vehicle Details You Should Expect from a VIN Decoder"

Vehicle details you should not expect from a VIN pattern alone

Decoding a VIN can return a large amount of useful information. However, there are still many vehicle details that can't be determined from a basic decode of the VIN pattern alone. There are some vehicle details that are sometimes encoded in the VIN and others that are never encoded.

Sometimes encoded:

  • Trim
  • Transmission

Never encoded:

  • Exterior color
  • Interior color
  • Upholstery
  • Features
  • Optional equipment
  • Curb weight
  • Gross vehicle weight range
  • Price

Fortunately, a commercial VIN decoder such as DataOne's is able to identify many of these details not encoded in the VIN by pulling in additional data sources.

View our blog article "10 Vehicle Details Not Decoded By the VIN Pattern" for details on each of the above bullet points and how you might obtain these important details by VIN decoding.

VIN decoding outside the passenger and light-duty vehicle markets

Passenger and light-duty are not the only vehicle markets that require a 17-digit VIN for on-road use. Some others include medium- and heavy-duty trucks, motorcycles, trailers, and recreational vehicles (RVs). Though being able to decode these vehicles is valuable, there are some associated challenges since the NHTSA VIN requirements are not quite as strict. 

Here are some of the major challenges with the following vehicle segments:

  • Medium-duty - These vehicles are typically customized a great deal after manufacturing and the VIN won't identified modifications made to the vehicle.
  • Heavy-duty - Decoding HD vehicles is a similar challenge to the medium market. There is often a lot of customizing with these large vehicles.
  • Trailers - All towable trailers and equipment are required to be assigned a 17 Digit VIN. Learn more about trailer VIN decoding here.
  • RVs - RVs can have multiple VINs, one assigned from the chassis manufacturer and the second assigned from the RV manufacturer. Additionally, RV VINs don't capture optional equipment and customization.

For further details, check out our article "VIN Decoding Outside the Light-Duty and Passenger Vehicle Segment."

VIN decoding off-road vehicles

Recreational "off-road" vehicles (ATVs, UTVs, side-by-sides, dirt bikes, snowmobiles) are another very popular vehicle market in the US with millions of units sold every year. There is a need for VIN decoding and vehicle identification to support initial sales and marketing efforts, resale, registration, insurance, and taxation. However, VIN standards for off-road vehicles are not nearly as rigid as for vehicles intended for on-road use.

The good news is that many of the major manufacturers will still assign a VIN compatible with the ISO VIN Standard. If you are looking to decode off-road vehicle(s) in the North American market, here are some more details in this blog article.   

VIN decoding trailers

In comparison to passenger vehicles with currently 40 manufacturers, trailers are made by hundreds of manufacturers in North America and each has numerous configurations. Commercial VIN decoding solutions for trailers are rare because of the effort required to obtain this data as well as the differences in how the VIN is used. However, they do exist!

Check out our trailer VIN decoding blog article to better understand what information can and cannot be obtained from a trailer VIN.

Free vs. paid VIN decoder services

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.

This blog article details a number of things you should consider when determining which VIN decoding solution is best for your business:

VIN Decoder API vs. Delivered Vehicle Database

There are two primary ways to access and leverage VIN data: through a web service API or through delivered flat files. Is one is better than the other? 

In this article, we’ve provided the major benefits of each delivery option, as well as addressed the questions you should be asking to help make the right decision for your business.

How to Integrate a VIN Barcode Scanner

VIN barcode scanners can be quite valuable for many businesses in the auto industry. While DataOne does not offer a VIN barcode scanning product, our VIN decoder API can support the development of a VIN barcode scanner. In this article, we cover some of the basics of barcode scanning, some of the different development options, how VIN barcode scanning works, and some of the challenges and benefits.

Common Misconceptions About VIN Data

VIN data can be confusing. As such, we get many inquiries about vehicle data that we do not source as a commercial VIN decoding solution. Some of the most common misconceptions include VIN databases including parts data, registration/titling information, and vehicle history reports. While DataOne, and other commercial VIN decoding solutions typically do not source this data, as it has nothing to do with the vehicle at the time of manufacturing (when the VIN is assigned), this data will be tied back to the VIN throughout the life of each vehicle. Check out this article to help clear up any confusion!


VIN Decoder Resources

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