Has It Been 30 Years Already?

Vehicle Identification Numbers will reset this year--here's how to decode the new system

At the time, committee chairman Dave Proefke, a GM technical engineer, said longer codes would force a major overhaul of computer systems across the industry that would be much more costly and challenging than the situation caused by the Y2K computer scare. He said the change would cost tens of millions of dollars for smaller manufacturers, and larger manufacturers like GM would have to make significant changes to assembly plants, and engineering and processing centers.


Thankfully, like the Y2K doomsday scenario that never happened, manufacturers will not have to worry about spending hundreds of thousands of dollars--if not more--changing all their machines to add more spots for numerals.

By modifying the current 17-character system, NHTSA achieved two goals, according to the Federal docket:

"First, the need to issue new manufacturer identifiers, particularly for large manufacturers, should be drastically reduced, thus preserving for a longer period of time the remaining combinations of characters that are available to be issued. Second, the changes will substantially increase the number of combinations of characters available in positions 4 through 8 of the VIN, as well as combinations of those characters with characters in the other VIN positions, so that the number of available VINs will significantly increase, enabling the current 17-character system to continue for another 30 years and possibly longer."


This past April, NHTSA published its final rule, amending VIN requirements (in 49 CFR Part 565) for passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles and trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 lbs. or less "so that the system will remain viable for at least another 30 years."

The rule change applies to all motor vehicles manufactured on or after October 27, 2008, whose VINs have an "A" or "B" in the 10th position of the VIN, and all motor vehicles manufactured on or after April 30, 2009.

What will change? Vehicle OEMs will observe the following:
• Vehicle "make" will no longer be required to be identified in the manufacturer identifier of the VIN.
• Vehicle "make" will now need to be identified, along with other information items included in the previous version of Part 565, in the second section of the VIN, which consists of VIN positions 4 through 8.
• In generating VINs for vehicles that comply with Part 565, manufacturers of passenger cars and multipurpose passenger vehicles and trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating of 4536 kg. (10,000 lbs.) or less will have an expanded number of characters available in positions 4, 5, and 6 of the VIN. All three of these positions may now be either numeric or alphabetic.

These manufacturers will also be required to use an alphabetic character in position 7 of the VIN.

The final rule clearly states that "NHTSA believes that this rule will have a beneficial effect on safety in that it ensures the continued integrity of the VIN system (ensuring that vehicles will continue to be uniquely identified)."

In other words, there shouldn't be any mix-ups or missed messages come recall time, and vehicle histories will be as reliable, if not moreso, than they already are.

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