U.S. auto industry running out of vehicle ID numbers

Associated Press
July 1 2004

U.S. auto industry running out of vehicle ID numbers

Associated Press

DETROIT – An unexpected boom in auto production in recent decades
means U.S. manufacturers will run out of vehicle identification
numbers before the end of the decade, according to experts.

The current 17-digit codes that identify the origin, make, model and
attributes of cars, trucks, buses and trailers worldwide were set up
in 1981.

Automakers build 60 million cars and trucks every year and each one
is assigned a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Heavy trucks,
motorcycles and other vehicles also require VINs.

The number is widely used by repair shops, state license offices,
insurance agencies and law enforcement to process warranty and
insurance claims and to identify and recover stolen vehicles.
Duplication of the numbers could cause disruptions, experts say.

“We’ve been brainwashing law enforcement and the insurance community
and virtually everybody that a VIN is like DNA there’s one for any
one vehicle,” Ed Sparkman, spokesman for the Chicago-based National
Insurance Crime Bureau, told The Detroit News for a story Thursday.

The Society of Automotive Engineers, which established the existing
VIN system, has formed a committee to address the impending shortage.

The committee says that adding digits is not an option because it
would cost too much, even though 18- or 19-character codes would not
repeat for 100 years.

“The scope of the logistical changes and the monetary impact are just
astronomical,” said Dave Proefke, a technical engineer for vehicle
security at General Motors Corporation, who chairs the committee.

“For GM, it would mean a significant change for every assembly center
we have, all our engineering centers, all our processing centers,” he

One solution that will be considered when the committee votes on a
final recommendation in September or October is to reclaim digits
that are going unused in other parts of the world.

The first three digits of a VIN are assigned according to region.
While countries like the United States that produce a lot of vehicles
are running out of their assigned numbers, about two dozen countries
that do not manufacture cars, from Armenia to Zimbabwe are not using

The group may also reclaim codes from U.S. manufacturers no longer in