Whenever you first register your bike, chances are that the department of motor vehicles will ask you for the machine’s vehicle identification number (VIN).  But why is that?  What can you tell from a motorcycle’s VIN?

17 character VIN

There’s quite a bit of information in those 17 numbers and letters.  And, they can tell you a story that you may want to know about.  Using a VIN, you can gather a significant amount of information about the bike itself or its history.

For example, you will be able to ensure that certain parts will fit your bike since manufacturers make a huge number of modifications of the same model.  You can also find out if the bike has been in an accident or is stolen.  Or, you can determine whether the bike has any manufacturer recalls and defects, has flood, hail or fire damage and determine any liens.

Lots of information

That’s a lot of information so you may as well understand how a VIN works and what you can do to obtain information on the bike you are interested in.

As mentioned earlier, VINs produced to be used or sold in the US will have 17 characters including letters and numbers.  No motorcycle VIN will have the letters O, Q, and I to avoid their similar-looking numerical counterparts.  So just what do those characters mean?

  • The first character identifies the country of the vehicle’s manufacturer.
  • Characters two and three identify the manufacturer.
  • The fourth through the eighth characters provide a “portrait” of the motorcycle.  The digits can characterize the brand, engine size, type, and sometimes model.
  • Character nine is a “check digit” and acts as a security code that identifies the VIN as being authorized by the manufacturer.
  • The tenth character identifies the model year of the motorcycle while the eleventh character indicates the motorcycles’ assembly plant.
  • Finally, the last six numbers are the serial number of the bike.

So for example, here’s a breakdown for each of the characters.


A breakdown of the information found in a motorcycle VIN. Image credit: Motosport.com

Checking a VIN

If you’d like to quickly check a motorcycle VIN, there are a number of online sources such as Cyclepedia where you can check a VIN for free.  Their site will provide you with the year, make, and model of most popular ATVs, motorcycles, and scooters.  Input the VIN and you will receive the world manufacturer identifier, vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS), Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS), Check Digit, Model Year, Plant Code, Manufacturer Identifier and Sequential Number of production.  For more detailed information like damage and lienholders, other paid sources can give you more detailed information about the motorcycle’s history.

So as you can see, VIN’s provide a wealth of knowledge about a particular machine.  If you are looking to buy a used machine, the VIN can help you understand a lot about your machine.

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