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  • II.


    • A.

      History and Overview of the VIN System

Since 1954, American automobile manufacturers have used a vehicle identification

number (VIN) to describe and identify each of the motor vehicles they manufacture. The early

VINs came in a wide array of configurations and variations, depending on the individual

manufacturer. A move to create a more systematic VIN scheme was made in 1968, with the

enactment of Federal motor vehicle safety standard (FMVSS) No. 115, which took effect

January 1, 1969. That standard required each passenger car to have a VIN that is permanently

“sunk or embossed” on a part of the vehicle visible through the glazing by a person standing at

the left windshield pillar. Manufacturers were required to avoid having a VIN be repeated within

a 10-year period.

In response to a petition from the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association and

Volkswagen of America, Inc., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in

1976 began considering an even more structured and standardized system of VINs as well as

expanding the system to additional classes of vehicles. This process led to the current system of

17-character VINs. A final rule implementing the new system was published on August 17,

1978.2 The rule stipulated that beginning with the 1981 model year, NHTSA would require that

all over-the-road-vehicles sold must contain a 17-character VIN in a fixed format. The standard

further required that the VINs of any two vehicles manufactured within a 30 year period not be


On June 7, 1996, NHTSA issued a final rule consolidating all VIN requirements into 49

CFR Part 565.3 Federal motor vehicle safety standard (FMVSS) No. 115 was eliminated. Part

2 3

43 FR 36448 (Aug. 17, 1978) (Docket No. 1-22; Notice 5) 61 FR 29031 (June 7, 1996) (Docket No. NHTSA-95-85; Notice 2)

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