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Since 1954, American automobile manufacturers have used a vehicle identification number (V.I.N.) to describe and identify motor vehicles. The early VINs came in a wide array of configurations and variations, depending on the individual manufacturer.

Beginning with model year (MY)1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration required that all over-the-road-vehicles sold must contain a 17-character VIN. This standard established a fixed VIN format.



The Department of Transportation issued the Federal Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention Standard to reduce the number of motor vehicle thefts by assisting law enforcement authorities in tracing and recovering parts from stolen motor vehicles. This standard became effective beginning with model year (MY)1987 and required that designated high-theft car lines 12 or14 (two-door/four door models) of its major component parts be marked with the vehicle identification number (VIN). This standard, which at that time only applied to passenger cars, specifically required manufacturers to apply the VIN onto certain covered original equipment major parts and replacement parts for those vehicles that had been designated as likely high-theft car lines, unless the line was exempted from the marking requirements because it was equipped with an antitheft device as standard equipment on the entire line.

In 1994, the Theft Prevention Standard was amended by extending the parts-marking requirements originally specific to passenger cars, to include multipurpose passenger vehicles (MPVs) and light-duty trucks (rated at 6,000 pounds gross vehicle weight or less). This rule also listed the covered major component parts and replacement parts to be marked for each of the classes of vehicles (the engine, transmission, front/rear bumper, right/left front fender, hood, right/left front door, right/left rear door, sliding cargo door(s), right/left quarter panel (passenger cars), right/left side assembly (MPVs), pickup box, and /or cargo box (light-duty trucks), rear doors, decklid or hatchback and tailgate); and established a new median theft rate of 3.5826 for all passenger motor vehicles. The agency also required that certain selected lines with below median theft rates be parts marked.

U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
1-800-424-9153 (TTY)