How to Decode a VIN for a Harley-Davidson

by John SmithUpdated November 07, 2017
itstillruns article image
motorcycle image by Greg Pickens from

Harley-Davidson is an American icon. Just about everyone can identify a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, if not by its large size then surely by its thunderous exhaust note. More popular in the past two decades than ever before, the distinctive two-wheel road cruisers have been in production since 1903. In that time span, Harley-Davidson motorcycles have had at least three types of vehicle identification number (VIN). Depending on the era of your Harley, you can decode the Hog's VIN to learn a wealth of information about the bike.

Determine whether your model was made before or after 1981. Before 1981, a Harley's VIN would be 9 digits or so. After 1980, Harley VIN number should be 17 digits. Harleys made during the 1960s and earlier can have VINs of 11 characters or more, but never as many as 17. The general breakdown of the 17-character (post 1980) VIN is as follows: Characters 1 through 3 identify the motorcycle as a Harley Davidson model (ex: 1 HD). Character 4 determines the bike's weight class (heavyweight, lightweight, and sidecar). Characters 5 and 6: determine model designation. Character 7 indicates engine type. Character 8 signifies the bike's introduction date. Character 9: Check digit. Character 10 indicates the bike's year of manufacture. Character 11 tells what factory the Harley was built in. And characters 12 through 17 are the ID number of that particular motorcycle; they're a numerical designation telling what bike this was in sequence coming off the assembly line.

Call a Harley-Davidson dealership and give the appropriate person your VIN. The dealer will have a breakdown of model numbers in their parts guide and should be able to tell you the exact model and year of your bike based on your VIN. This is particularly useful for older models, especially those from 1960 and earlier.

Go to the Motoverse website and enter your VIN if you have a 17 digit VIN. They have a decoder system online that will automatically break down the details. Note that it does not understand shorter VIN numbers.

Download the Harley VIN decoder from Save the file to your computer and double-click the file to install. The program will break down details of your Harley, such as model and engine type, year and location of production. Knowing what the VIN character sequence means is one thing, but determining the details of each individual character is altogether more empowering. This website will help you get the exact details of your Harley model.

More Articles

article divider