Harley VIN Identification

Harley VIN Identification

How to Identify Harley VIN Numbers

When buying any used Harley-Davidson, checking the Harley VIN numbers against the title is mandatory. If they do not match exactly you should think about looking elsewhere.

Typographical errors on motorcycle registrations are sometimes very common, but don’t take any chances. In some cases a visit to your local department of motor vehicles may be enough to get a VIN typo corrected. However, when buying a Harley or other vehicle with an out of state title, the difficulty in correcting such errors increases dramatically. With strict state regulations increasing every year, you are better off avoiding any problem that may leave you holding a piece of property that cannot be documented. Not only is it illegal to drive, but you leave yourself open to unscrupulous people who could make a legal claim against you and your property.

If you have a Harley engine with matching title taken from a crashed or salvaged motorcycle, and put that engine into a new frame, the title is invalid. Anyone trying to sell you a post-1970 Harley where the title VIN only matches the engine, but does not match the number on the frame, PASS! Want to upgrade your bike to a new custom frame? You must apply for a new title. While it is nice to have an original Harley with matching engine and frame numbers, only the frame VIN is relevant when it comes to legal registration.

Never accept a Harley or other vehicles without a legal title. One such case involved an individual restoring a Harley originally purchased without proper papers. Some deadbeat and his lawyer came along and claimed the Harley was his. Without enough money to pay an attorney, and lacking any legal title or receipts, the poor guy was forced to give the bike to this shark in order to avoid a lawsuit. This may sound like extortion but it happens all the time. Don’t become another horror story. Take precautions when investigating the authenticity of the Harley VIN and registration.

There has always been much debate over bikes with matching numbers and their true value. In my opinion, any Harley being sold as “rare” or “limited” is usually anything but that. As with beauty, value and rarity are often in the eye of the beholder. If matching numbers makes a motorcycle more valuable to you, then only you can put a value on it. Just don’t expect the next person buying that Harley from you to think the same way.

Locating the Harley VIN

Prior to 1961 On Harley models prior to 1961, the engine number acts as the VIN. This number can be found on the left side engine case. Harley models produced prior to 1969 do not carry any frame number.
VIN Numbering Conventions:

First two numbers are the model year.
Letters (up to four) are the model designation.
The last numbers are the production run number.

1962 – 1969
VIN Numbering Conventions:

First two numbers are the model year.
Letters (2-4) are the model designation.
The last numbers are the production run number.

In addition, models with 4 digit production numbers have an even-numbered first digit for even years, odd for odd years. Models containing a 5 digit production number will have the first two digits even for even years, odd for odd years.

Why is this important? If the VIN does not follow this even or odd numbering sequence, you can almost guarantee that the VIN has been altered. It is extremely common to find mismatched engines in these early bikes with different VIN numbers than the title paperwork. 1970 – 1980:
Beginning in 1970, Harley started stamping VIN numbers on both the frame and engine case. The exception as noted by our friends at Cyborg Cycles, is the 1979 model . This exception is discussed below.

First two numbers are the model code.
Next 5 digits, position 3-7 is the production run number.
The last 2 digits designate the year.

The only legal VIN number for Harley’s produced after 1970 is on the frame. NO EXCEPTION! It doesn’t matter if the engine case number matches your registration papers, if the frame VIN doesn’t match the registration you have a problem! You might be able to fool a few cops or even someone at the DMV, but don’t count on it. In addition, it should go without saying that any alteration to the VIN is illegal. This goes for restamping frames or adding the original VIN to a replacement frame. If you replace the frame, you need to have a new VIN assigned to your Harley.

Always remember that on models built after 1970, the Harley VIN always follows the frame… not the engine!

The infamous 1979 Exception
During the 1979 model run, some Harley’s were produced with engine numbers that did not match the frame number. The production date is reported to be from 1/9/79 – 2/7/79, and the frame VIN’s affected are 43000H9 through 48199H9. These models had engines numbered with a separate “crankcase number” instead of the frame’s VIN. This engine number is reported to be a ten digit numeric ID. Rumor has it that Harley went back to the old numbering sequence once the legal ramifications were realized. Regardless of the engine case number, the title must always match the frame VIN. Thanks to Cyborg Cycles for this information.

1981 -2000:
Beginning in 1981, Harley started using a 17 digit VIN number on the frame and an abbreviated VIN on the engine case. As always, the legal title must match the VIN number on the frame. If the title and frame VIN reads 1HD1ELK12BZ123456 , the engine case number should read something like ELKB123456 . VIN number rules described under the 1970 – 1980 Harley models also apply here.

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