How to Read a Harley VIN

By Jerry Romick
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Harley Davidson has long used a letter designation system to identify different motorcycle families and models. From time to time, the famed motorcycle company changed the way they identified different models. Harley has also made several alterations in how they structure the vehicle identification numbers of their motorcycles and where on the bikes these VINs appear. A VIN is the legal identification tag for each individual motorcycle and is important for titling and registering the bike. It is key in recovering and identifying a stolen motorcycle.

Harley-Davidson VINs from 1981 to Present

Locate the VIN. On Harley-Davidson models manufactured from 1981 to the present, the 17-character alpha-numeric VIN is stamped on the frame. An abbreviated number is also stamped on the engine. The official VIN needed to register the motorcycle is the one on the frame.

Read the first digit. A "1" signifies that this particular Harley-Davidson motorcycle was manufactured in the USA.

Read the two-letter identifier. The "HD" means this motorcycle is an authentic Harley-Davidson.

Read the next single digit. This identifies the weight class of the motorcycle. A "1" means a heavyweight, "2" is a lightweight, and "8" is a sidecar.

Read the next two-letter identifier. This identifies the particular Harley-Davidson model.

Read the next single letter. This is the engine identifier.

Read the next single digit. This indicates when in the model year this motorcycle was introduced. A "1" means the bike came out during the normal new model introduction, "2" means the motorcycle had a mid-year or January introduction. A "3" signifies this bike was manufactured for sale in California and was introduced at the normal time. A "4" indicates the bike was an anniversary model, "5" designates the bike as a special edition, regular introduction for California. A "6" is found on special edition bikes introduced mid-year for California.

Read the next single digit. This is a check digit.

Read the next single letter. This indicates the assembly plant where the motorcycle was manufactured. Bikes with a "Y" were assembled in York, Pennsylvania. Those with a "T" came out of Tomahawk, Wisconsin. A "J" indicates that the motorcycle was assembled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Read the final six digits. This is the serial number, or sequential production run number, which is unique to this motorcycle.

Harley-Davidson VINs from 1970 through 1980

Locate the VIN. On Harley-Davidson motorcycles manufactured between 1970 and 1980, the 10-character alpha-numeric VIN was stamped on both the frame and engine. For a few months during 1979 Harley-Davidson used a different number on the engine. Once Harley-Davidson learned that two separate numbers on one motorcycle could cause law enforcement to believe the bike was stolen and "chopped," the company abandoned the practice.

Read the first two characters. This number and letter identify the model of this motorcycle.

Read the next five digits. These are the sequential production numbers.

Read the last two characters. This letter and number identify the year of manufacture for this motorcycle.

Harley-Davidson VINs from 1930 through 1969

Locate the VIN. On Harley-Davidson motorcycles manufactured from 1930 through 1969, the VIN was stamped on the engine only. Prior to 1930, Harley-Davidson VINs and placement were not as standardized and changed frequently.

Read the the first two digits. These numbers indicate the year when this motorcycle was manufactured.

Read the next sequence of letters. The letters -- up to four of them -- identify the model.

Read the last group of numbers. These represent the sequential production number of the motorcycle.

About the Author

Jerry Romick has worked in radio and television for more than 30 years, often contributing to radio publications and websites. He is also an avid motorcyclist who has written about motorcycles for sites such as AllAboutBikes and PowerSportsTV. Romick holds a Bachelor of Science in communications from West Liberty State College.