VIN-formation: How one wrong number can cause a headache and tips on what you can do about it.

by: John R. Paul

December 23, 2011

Think of it as the automotive equivalent of human DNA. A vehicle identification number is an alphanumeric identifier that tells everything about a vehicle’s unique history. A VIN can unlock secrets about a cherished car or truck. But, as this story illustrates, it can sometimes make for a big hassle, too.            

For most, a vehicle identification number is little more than a jumble of letters and digits that have no bearing on their use and enjoyment of a favorite vehicle. The smallest error in the VIN, however, can lead to unwanted headaches when it comes time to register your vehicle.

Take the case of one Canadian historic vehicle owner who recently contacted the HVA office looking for help with a cross-border registration problem caused by an inaccurately-recorded VIN.

Wrong Number Woes

It started with the purchase of the vehicle in California over eight years ago. The vehicle was then transported north of the border into Ontario. The importation process went smoothly with no one—not the vehicle’s new owner nor the agents in Canadian customs—noticing any errors associated with the vehicle’s VIN.

But when it came time to re-register the car, the VIN on the California DMV title documents and that on the vehicle itself did not match. The VIN on the title from the California DMV had an additional “0” not present on the actual VIN plate on the vehicle.

This tiny inaccuracy turned into a big problem after the Ontario Ministry of Transport informed the buyer that the VIN was, in fact, incorrect and would need to be corrected prior to being able to register the vehicle in Ontario.

Naturally, the next call made by the owner was to the vehicle’s place of origin, where the news got even worse. California officials insisted the vehicle would have to return to the state for a full inspection—not a feasible option for a car sitting halfway across the continent in Ontario.

VIN-dication

After multiple visits to the Ontario Ministry of Transport, the owner was informed that his only remaining option was to have the vehicle inspected and the VIN confirmed by a national automobile club or similar organization. Enter the Historic Vehicle Association’s Canadian representatives.

Upon learning of the situation following an email from the vehicle’s owner, Nigel Matthews, the HVA’s Canadian correspondent and President of the Specialty Vehicle Association of British Columbia, was sure he could help.

As the North American representative for FIVA, the HVA qualifies as an acceptable organization to verify the VIN’s accuracy and authenticity. By providing the Ontario Ministry of Transport with a photograph of the VIN plate and a letter confirming its accuracy, a locally based FIVA/HVA “scrutineer” dispatched by Matthews was able to provide the necessary documentation to satisfy Canadian officials and correct the error on the original California DMV title.

Preventative Measures

To help avoid similar frustrations, make sure the VIN on your vehicle matches the VIN on your title paperwork. It can also be helpful to review your VIN using an online decoder designed to help you decipher the alphanumeric code unique to your vehicle. Simple proactive measures like these can often prevent major headaches down the road.

Should you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact the HVA at 866.922.9397, or send an email detailing the problem to info@historicvehicle.org.

 

Comments

  1. Mike Austin, TX

    When I bought my Triumph TR3 last year from a private party in Central New York state, he told me the registration did not match the car. The year was wrong, it was a 1960, the registration said it was a 1959. The VIN also had the wrong suffix, an E rather thab an L. I wanted to get this fixed before I bought the car. We went to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles in Sartoga Springs, NY to get it straightened out. . . . I knew a "root canal" would be less painful. The lady behind the counter looked at a photo of the VIN tag and the Moss Motors serial number/model year chart from their Triumph catalog and reissued a correctede registration card, both VIN and year. This took less than 15 minutes!!!!

  2. David Rugg Minnesota

    Is there a title history available anywhere like CARFAX or for the VIN # for determining the history of vehicles built before 1981 ? I would like to trace the history of my collector cars built in the erly 70s with 13 digit VIN numbers and I haven't been able to locate anything online or anywhere else. Thank You

  3. Max S. Byers Havelock, NC

    Hello, Your article in Latest News dated 23 Dec 2011 was most interesting to me. As the BJ8 Model Registrar for the Austin-Healey Club of America, I am aware that in the 1960s it was apparently a custom of the California DMV to add digits to the front of the manufacturer’s VIN on the registration/title to indicate the “year” of the car since the British Motor Corporation VIN itself did not provide a code for the year. Thus, a VIN stamped HBJ8L/33013 on the VIN plate on the firewall would read 66HBJ8L33013 on the registration and/or title to indicate a 1966 model year. I am aware of several instances where such a practice caused problems to a new owner who tried to register the car outside of California and was told the paperwork did not match the VIN on the firewall plate. In two cases, I was able to provide an official registry letter to the new owner explaining to the local registration authorities what had happened so that a valid registration could be obtained (once in Canada, and once in Japan). Other states may have had a similar practice (Virginia seems to have had a custom of adding an extraneous “0” to the registration of some VINs). It’s curious that DMVs could be so casual about altering the original manufacturer’s VIN, but very difficult to deal with when trying to get such a discrepancy corrected. Steve Byers AHCA BJ8 Registry Havelock, NC

  4. Terry Butler Redondo Beach, California

    This story reminds me of the phrase "it takes twice as long to correct and error than to do it right the first time" but what also came to mind was the criminal element of falsifying a VIN to make the car seem more valuable than it really is (ie: a mustang Shelby vs. an ordinary coupe).

  5. David Horchak Imperial Pa

    VIN-sanity; I had an issue as wel. I bought my Jensen Healey off of Ebaymotors from a charity in the hell that is CA. It was a junkard worthy vehicle that was not registered as it was a long way from being operable. During the 8 year restoration I moved to several states with the car remaining with my restorer. I was living in Houston when the work was done and I had it shipped to me. I tried to register it in TX. The first hassle was I would need the title from CA. The CA DMV wanted several grand for all the years it was inoperable and to inspect the vehicle. That was a no go. My other option was paying for a bond (of several grand) in Texas in case it was fraudulent. While working on this I was told the 5 digit VIN (yes 5 digits) was actually showing for a Buick in Ohio. I assured them GM in the 70s had no 5 digit VINS. During this time I found my restorer had put the gasket between the tranny and motor in backwards so off to the shop. I moved to AZ at this time. While the car was done I ended up waiting out a hurricane in Houston before I could get it shipped. It arrived fine. I went to the AZ DMV. I called ahead of time and they said I could bring it down but due to the age Iwould probably need a level 2 inspection which would require an appointment to bring in an inspector to the small town of Bullhead City AZ. Went down to AZ DMV inspector took a decent look over. Said a level 2 wasn't needed, passed my car and had all my paperwork done with all legal matters handled in 15 minutes or so.

  6. Robert La Mar Half Moon Bay, CA

    Things must be different going the other way. I recently purchased a vehicle in Manitoba and imported it to California. The Canadian Ownership Certificate not only had a missing digit in the VIN, the vehicle was registered as a 1951 rather than a 1952. However, a simple DMV inspection corrected the VIN and the completion of a Statement of Fact form along with some documentation, i.e. photos, etc. resolved the year of manufacture issue. Hard to believe California is easier to deal with than Canada.

  7. Phil Phoenix, AZ

    Wise Advise, Always check the VINs ! Thanks for Article

  8. Phil Phoenix, AZ

    Wise Advise, Always check the VINs ! Thanks for Article

  9. Dave East Texas

    Clerical errors and bureaucracy definitely do not mix. Back in 1980 I moved from Illinois to Arizona, not realizing that there was an error on the VIN # of my car registration. After 4 hours at Phoenix DMV I was told I couldn't register my car without a corrected registration Getting a corrected one would take forever and my IL registration was almost expired so I did what any fine upstanding law abiding citizen would do. I carefully folded the registration creasing the incorrect digit, put it in my back pocket for a week, then went to Scottsdale DMV to try again. Low and behold the registration wasn't fully readable so they took the number from the title and the vin plate like any idiot would have done in the first place. Problem solved.

  10. Dave East Texas

    Clerical errors and bureaucracy definitely do not mix. Back in 1980 I moved from Illinois to Arizona, not realizing that there was an error on the VIN # of my car registration. After 4 hours at Phoenix DMV I was told I couldn't register my car without a corrected registration Getting a corrected one would take forever and my IL registration was almost expired so I did what any fine upstanding law abiding citizen would do. I carefully folded the registration creasing the incorrect digit, put it in my back pocket for a week, then went to Scottsdale DMV to try again. Low and behold the registration wasn't fully readable so they took the number from the title and the vin plate like any idiot would have done in the first place. Problem solved.

  11. Dave East Texas

    Clerical errors and bureaucracy definitely do not mix. Back in 1980 I moved from Illinois to Arizona, not realizing that there was an error on the VIN # of my car registration. After 4 hours at Phoenix DMV I was told I couldn't register my car without a corrected registration Getting a corrected one would take forever and my IL registration was almost expired so I did what any fine upstanding law abiding citizen would do. I carefully folded the registration creasing the incorrect digit, put it in my back pocket for a week, then went to Scottsdale DMV to try again. Low and behold the registration wasn't fully readable so they took the number from the title and the vin plate like any idiot would have done in the first place. Problem solved.

  12. Dave East Texas

    Clerical errors and bureaucracy definitely do not mix. Back in 1980 I moved from Illinois to Arizona, not realizing that there was an error on the VIN # of my car registration. After 4 hours at Phoenix DMV I was told I couldn't register my car without a corrected registration Getting a corrected one would take forever and my IL registration was almost expired so I did what any fine upstanding law abiding citizen would do. I carefully folded the registration creasing the incorrect digit, put it in my back pocket for a week, then went to Scottsdale DMV to try again. Low and behold the registration wasn't fully readable so they took the number from the title and the vin plate like any idiot would have done in the first place. Problem solved.

  13. Dave East Texas

    Clerical errors and bureaucracy definitely do not mix. Back in 1980 I moved from Illinois to Arizona, not realizing that there was an error on the VIN # of my car registration. After 4 hours at Phoenix DMV I was told I couldn't register my car without a corrected registration Getting a corrected one would take forever and my IL registration was almost expired so I did what any fine upstanding law abiding citizen would do. I carefully folded the registration creasing the incorrect digit, put it in my back pocket for a week, then went to Scottsdale DMV to try again. Low and behold the registration wasn't fully readable so they took the number from the title and the vin plate like any idiot would have done in the first place. Problem solved.

  14. Dave East Texas

    Clerical errors and bureaucracy definitely do not mix. Back in 1980 I moved from Illinois to Arizona, not realizing that there was an error on the VIN # of my car registration. After 4 hours at Phoenix DMV I was told I couldn't register my car without a corrected registration Getting a corrected one would take forever and my IL registration was almost expired so I did what any fine upstanding law abiding citizen would do. I carefully folded the registration creasing the incorrect digit, put it in my back pocket for a week, then went to Scottsdale DMV to try again. Low and behold the registration wasn't fully readable so they took the number from the title and the vin plate like any idiot would have done in the first place. Problem solved.

  15. Dave East Texas

    Clerical errors and bureaucracy definitely do not mix. Back in 1980 I moved from Illinois to Arizona, not realizing that there was an error on the VIN # of my car registration. After 4 hours at Phoenix DMV I was told I couldn't register my car without a corrected registration Getting a corrected one would take forever and my IL registration was almost expired so I did what any fine upstanding law abiding citizen would do. I carefully folded the registration creasing the incorrect digit, put it in my back pocket for a week, then went to Scottsdale DMV to try again. Low and behold the registration wasn't fully readable so they took the number from the title and the vin plate like any idiot would have done in the first place. Problem solved.

  16. sheldon soldwisch bensenville illinois

    lets see

  17. Dave East Texas

    Clerical errors and bureaucracy definitely do not mix. Back in 1980 I moved from Illinois to Arizona, not realizing that there was an error on the VIN # of my car registration. After 4 hours at Phoenix DMV I was told I couldn't register my car without a corrected registration Getting a corrected one would take forever and my IL registration was almost expired so I did what any fine upstanding law abiding citizen would do. I carefully folded the registration creasing the incorrect digit, put it in my back pocket for a week, then went to Scottsdale DMV to try again. Low and behold the registration wasn't fully readable so they took the number from the title and the vin plate like any idiot would have done in the first place. Problem solved.

  18. Dave East Texas

    Clerical errors and bureaucracy definitely do not mix. Back in 1980 I moved from Illinois to Arizona, not realizing that there was an error on the VIN # of my car registration. After 4 hours at Phoenix DMV I was told I couldn't register my car without a corrected registration Getting a corrected one would take forever and my IL registration was almost expired so I did what any fine upstanding law abiding citizen would do. I carefully folded the registration creasing the incorrect digit, put it in my back pocket for a week, then went to Scottsdale DMV to try again. Low and behold the registration wasn't fully readable so they took the number from the title and the vin plate like any idiot would have done in the first place. Problem solved.

  19. steve wible manhattanbeach ca.

    greetings and HAPPY NEW YEAR!! MY COMMENT REGARDING THE NON-MATCHING VIN# IS THAT A "CHANGE" HAD TAKEN PLACE, ,BUT THEN I AM UNAWARE OF THE NUMBER OF VIN # WHICH HAVE BEEN REPORTED THAT ARE NON-MATCHING. I ALSO HAVE A QUESTION CONCERNING MY VIN#. I AM BUILDING A `57 FORD SEDAN DELIVERY, AND THERE ARE ONLY 10-DIGITS. NEWER MODELS HAVE 17. I AM LIMITED ON MY RESEARCH SOURCES. DMV HAS NOTHING, BUT I FOUND A "GURU" OF FORD HISTORY, HIS NAME IS....LOUISCHAMPEAU.I READ OFF THE VIN, AND HE TOLD ME THAT MY CAR WAS MADE FOR LOS ANGELES CORONERS OFFICE. ..A7RS163827. I WOULD LOVE TO TRACE IT BACK FROM THE START, IS THERE A WAY TO DO THIS? OR AM I DREAMING?I HAVE HEARD OF OTHERS SAYING THEY HAVE ONE ALSO, BUT WHAT FACTORS DO THEY USE TO DETERMINE IF THEY ACTUALLY ARE "CORONER" VEHICLES? I APPRECIATE YOUR EXPERTISE WHEN IT COMES TO DIFFICULT QUESTIONS, I AM A FORMER VW FANATIC(ABOUT 33) AND NOW MY OLDEST HAS THE ADDICTION. THIS IS MY FIRST DOMESTIC UTILITY VEHICLE. TOOK ME MONTHS TO REALIZE IT HAD A RADIATOR. THANKS FOR LISTENING STEVE WIBLE

  20. Doug L Bancroft MI

    When I had a Sunbeam Tiger, I found that a big issue can also be the rivets that hold the VIN tag to the body. Original VIN rivets are different than your run of the mill pop rivet. Of course, I discovered this after I ahd already removed all the body tags for repainting. BTW, I believe the Lotus VIN tag in the photo has non-original rivets.

  21. Doug L Bancroft MI

    When I had a Sunbeam Tiger, I found that a big issue can also be the rivets that hold the VIN tag to the body. Original VIN rivets are different than your run of the mill pop rivet. Of course, I discovered this after I ahd already removed all the body tags for repainting. BTW, I believe the Lotus VIN tag in the photo has non-original rivets.

  22. Jim Skow Nipomo, California

    Great story. My problem registering my 1959 Corvette in California was that the DMV lady insisted that there were supposed to be two VIN plates on the car. She would not budge. I had to take the car to the CHP inspector. He laughed, signed off on the car (one VIN plate) and said he had told the DMV several times before that many older cars had the VIN number in only one place.

  23. richardcd Savannah, GA

    In Georgia, there were no titles issued before 1962. If you have a car older than that, you do not have a title, and the state will not issue one. I've often wondered how one sells a car from Georgia to someone in a state that requires a title.

  24. richardcd Savannah, GA

    In Georgia, vehicles were not titled prior to 1962, and the state will not issue a title for a car older than 1962. I have often wondered how one would sell a Georgia car older than 1962 to someone in a state that requires a title.

  25. Tom Fountain Valley, Ca

    Interesting comment made by Max. I have a 1961 Bugeye Sprite, the title and the registration show the Vin # as 61AN5*****. The plate has a piece of plastic with 61 stamped into it which is attached to the Vin plate ahead of the vehicle numbers. I've owned the car since 1969 and that stamped plastic has always been attached to the car.

  26. 1940 Dodge Saugatuck, MI

    Richardcd - I recently purchased a car from out of state that had no title, and had not dealt with it before. It's actually fairly easy, depending on the purchase price. I just needed a signed bill of sale from the seller, indicating the year/make/model, VIN and purchase price. In my situation, the price was purchase price was below the threshold requiring me to purchase a bond to cover it in case the car turned out to be stolen. The hardest part was convincing the Secretary of State lady that it was the correct VIN, because it had so few digits.

  27. 1940 Dodge Saugatuck, MI

    Richardcd - I recently purchased a car from out of state that had no title, and had not dealt with it before. It's actually fairly easy, depending on the purchase price. I just needed a signed bill of sale from the seller, indicating the year/make/model, VIN and purchase price. In my situation, the price was purchase price was below the threshold requiring me to purchase a bond to cover it in case the car turned out to be stolen. The hardest part was convincing the Secretary of State lady that it was the correct VIN, because it had so few digits.

  28. Doug Ohio

    Ohio has an online tool that is absolutely free. Simply go to www.ohiobmv.com, select "Online Services," and then click "Vehicle Title Inquiry." Enter the VIN and see if it was titled in Ohio. I believe the database goes back to about 1992. If anyone is aware of a similar service for other states or provinces, please post the web address on this thread.

  29. Scott Ohio

    Ohio has a free VIN look-up. Go to www.ohiobmv.com, select “Online Services” and then click “Vehicle Title Inquiry.” Enter the VIN on the form and see if it has been registered in Ohio. I believe the database goes back to about 1992. If anyone is aware of a similar service for other states or provinces, please post the web address in this post.

  30. David Vann Padre Island, Texas

    Our so-called 'United States' is actually 50 individual countries, loosely associated with 'Similar' laws. They are just similar enough to cause massive confusion. We need someone to persuade these 50 independent Countries to make all DMV laws, rules, restrictions, etc into One National Standard.

  31. David Vann Padre Island, Texas

    Our so-called 'United States' is actually 50 individual countries, loosely associated with 'Similar' laws. They are just similar enough to cause massive confusion. We need someone to persuade these 50 independent Countries to make all DMV laws, rules, restrictions, etc into One National Standard.

  32. Kassie I'm not easily impressed but you've done it with that psotnig.

    I'm not easily impressed but you've done it with that psotnig.

  33. Habib CA has modified thgins. 10 years. Sorry. 10 years for DUI and serious points, down to 3 years for minor thgins.California has a DUI / DWI washout period of 10 years, calculated from arrest date to arrest date. This means that anyone arrested for drunk or drug driving within 10 years of the last arrest date will be charged with a second offense, with increased penalties and punishment. The punishment in court for a second or third drunk driving conviction is much harsher than for a first offense – a multiple-offense drunk driving conviction carries mandatory jail time, an 18-month alcohol education program, a required ignition interlock device (such as Smart Start), and more.

    CA has modified thgins. 10 years. Sorry. 10 years for DUI and serious points, down to 3 years for minor thgins.California has a DUI / DWI washout period of 10 years, calculated from arrest date to arrest date. This means that anyone arrested for drunk or drug driving within 10 years of the last arrest date will be charged with a second offense, with increased penalties and punishment. The punishment in court for a second or third drunk driving conviction is much harsher than for a first offense – a multiple-offense drunk driving conviction carries mandatory jail time, an 18-month alcohol education program, a required ignition interlock device (such as Smart Start), and more.

  34. Tim Florida

    i purchased a new motorcycle delivered from California with three wrong numbers on the MCO and BILL OF SALE. been trying to work through the dealer to obtain a correct MCO so i can register but i am getting no where so far. i'll never buy another vehicle from another state.

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