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The #1 Motorcycling Magazine for Women, and Men Who Ride With Women

Get To Know Your VIN Number

It's actually quite interesting!

By Sara Liberte

Let me start off by writing that I know saying VIN numbers is redundant. VIN stands for Vehicle Identification Number, so we are actually saying Vehicle Identification Number number. Funny, huh? It is common practice to call it a VIN number so there is no need to get anal about it. It is what it is and saying VIN number is common in the automotive and motorcycle fields when dealing with insurance companies and at the notary.
get to know your VIN number motorcycle frame
The frame tag, or the label on the frame, lists important information about the bike including the VIN number.

Now let's get to what those numbers stand for. The VIN on a motorcycle is made up of 17 digits and is located in two places on your motorcycle, on the engine case and on the frame. It's stamped into the frame and is also on a label on the frame. (1970 and later model motorcycles only have a frame tag.) The number sequence is broken down by digit. A chart explaining each digit is listed in your service manual. The numbers define: 

1. model
2. year
3. engine displacement
4. country or plant of manufacturer
5. sequential production number (serial number)

Here's one breakdown of numbers. This VIN is from a 2000 Harley-Davidson XLH 1200:
1 HD 4 CH P 1 3 Y K 200062

1= this is the market designation. 1 means originally manufactured for sale within the United States. A 5 means for sale outside the United States.

HD= Manufacturer, in this case Harley-Davidson.

4= Motorcycle Type (1= Heavyweight, 901cc and larger engine displacement, 4= Middleweight, 351-900cc engine displacement)

CH= Model Designation. Every manufacturer has its own list, and it changes when the model changes significantly.

P= Engine Type (P=1200cc Evolution engine, M=883cc Evolution engine, 4= Twin Cam 96.)

1=Introduction Date and Special Models (1=Regular introduction date, 2=Mid-year introduction date, 3=California model)

3=VIN check digit (Can be 0-9 or X). According to Wikipedia, a check digit is a form of redundancy check used for error detection, the decimal equivalent of a binary checksum. It consists of a single digit computed from the other digits in the message.

Y=Model Year (Y=2000, 8=2008)

K=Assembly Plant (K=Kansas City, M=Missouri, Y=York, Penn.)

200062= Sequential number or serial number

get to know your VIN number motorcycle
The VIN number is also stamped into the engine case.

Your VIN number is also a security device making it easy to identify a bike that may have been stolen. Often a stolen motorcycle's parts are sold separately so when a frame VIN does not match an engine VIN, it's a tip off that the bike is either stolen or built from stolen parts. Reputable builders always keep on top of keeping VIN numbers accurate.

So why is it so important to know about your VIN? Besides having a built in security code, your VIN holds the history of the motorcycle. Think of it as your motorcycle's social security number. The VIN identifies the motorcycle on its registration, insurance documents, accident reports, etc.

get to know your VIN number motorcycle service manual
This is a service manual, different from an owner's manual, that also contains VIN information. This does not come with your motorcycle. You need to buy this separately.

It's important to know the history of a bike when purchasing, especially a used motorcycle. Buying a used motorcycle from someone you don't know can be risky when previous owners aren't forthcoming about a motorcycle's past. Has it been laid down? Has it been in an accident? Has it been recalled? Has it been stolen or salvaged? VIN numbers are documented in accident reports, in stolen vehicle reports, in recall reports, and those records are available to the public.

When making an investment in a motorcycle, you need to do your homework. Take the time to check out the VIN number of a used motorcycle you're considering purchasing. If you suspect the bike has a checkered past, use the VIN to search appropriate public records.

Now that you understand a bit about your VIN, grab your owner's manual and find out exactly what your VIN represents. It's fun and during the cold winter months can keep you connected to your bike.

get to know your VIN number sara liberte
About the Author
Sara Liberte owns and operates RT's North Hills Cycle Inc. in Pittsburgh, Penn. Sara is the author of How to Repair and Maintain American V-Twin Motorcycles and is the creator of, a Web site developed to encourage women to maintain a balance between their motorcycle and body. She also works as a professional photographer. 

Related Articles
Buying a Used Motorcycle vs. New
More Get to Know Your Motorcycle Stories
Brakes Maintenance 101

Reader Comments

Actually what is stamped on your engine case is the engine number, Harley used a mix of numbers from the VIN to make up the engine number so it should always match by the last six of the VIN… but other manufactures don't always do this. Victory comes up with an engine number that is not based off of your VIN but the number is listed on the MSO (manufacturer statement of origin) and should be listed on the original title, so if the number that is stamped on your engine case doesn’t match up with the VIN, it might not always be a stolen engine, again just check with your owners manual.

Teri Medina
Oxnard, CA
Monday, April 04, 2011
I am hoping to get my bike license soon, at 56. I got the bug late. I have been reading biking stuff all over, but most of the good info has been from this site and the short riders Web sites. You guessed right, my inseam is 27 inches. My interest is in dual purpose bikes, and my choices are extremely limited and I have been looking for info on lowering a UJM to fit me.

I am very impressed by the quality and amount of good info. I have several bookmarks on motorbike sites, but this one is my favorite. Keep up the good work, and ride on, I hope to be doing so myself sometime very soon.

Jay Damhar
Saint John, N.B. Canada
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
I think this is excellent advice and so very useful. I will pass this on to my brother. In spite of it being a "women's" site, there is nothing gender about the need to know all the numbers and letters of a V.I.N. and what they stand for and ways to protect one's self.

I found you by doing a search for my car V.I.N., and have yet to find that. I enjoyed your article and think you did a great job. I used to ride with my best friend years ago and we had a blast. Many good memories. Keep up the good work!

Rhode Island
Friday, March 06, 2009
Editor Response
I'm glad you found something useful on our site to share with your brother. We're not really a women's site, we are a site about women and motorcycling, so anyone interested in learning more about the culture of women is invited to the site. We speak to all riders regardless of gender.
Genevieve Schmitt, Editor
Good info for readers who might have not known this. Keep up the good work. I like reading your WRN articles. Thanks

Thursday, December 11, 2008
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