#15: Can’t spell “Vino” without “VIN”

Today’s question for Dr. Buzz and his panel of experts comes from From Mark P. of Galveston FL:

I’m looking for a scooter and I’m considering the Yamaha Vino. I’ve read that Yamaha makes some Vinos in China, and I’ve seen ads for much-cheaper Chinese scooters that look like Vinos. Are these all the same bike? How can I tell where a scooter was manufactured?

Shifton Cross: Use the scooter’s name in a sentence. Example: “Tonight I have a date with Isabella Rossellini. Im picking her up on my Kymco Grand Dink.”

See? That doesnt sound right. Now try it again, but instead of the Kymco try “Lambretta Cento.” That sounds great. We know that Isabella Rossellini is Italian, so the Lambretta must be Italian.

Dr. Buzz: Never mind that Portia DiRossi is from Australia. And “Wah pahng-key wah-ay pay bow PGO G-Max?” still doesn’t sound right.

Havelock VanDerHook: If the name ends in a set of vowels like ‘ia’ or ‘cci’ (pronouced like chee) it’s likely Italian.

Dr. Buzz: …and rhymes with “Her Chee,” the Taiwanese manufacturers of the decidedly un-Italian new “Lambretta.”

VanDerHook: Well, OK, but if it ends in ‘ette’ I’d guess it’s from France. Now if it ends in a ‘ki’, the best bet is that it’s from Japan.

Also, you can use the “magnet test.” Use a common refrigerator magnet and hold it against the body of the scooter. If it sticks, it’s probably an early American scooter, good old Detroit iron!

Dr. Buzz: I think probably the only thing in the world scarier than a Chinese scooter is an American scooter. As usual, you guys aren’t much help.

That’s a very tough question, Mark. (Is that the name I made up for you? I’ve lost track…) Luckily, there’s a simple answer. Though, like most things, it’s not as simple as it should be.

AS you probably know, all vehicles have an identifying number called the “VIN.” This VIN must be etched into the motor and the frame of the bike. Usually the frame VIN can be found on the inside of the legshield or on the actual front fork of the bike (often hidden under a rectangular panel in the middle of the legshield). The engine VIN is usually etched into the engine case somewhere reasonably visible. The VINs on the engine and frame should match. The VIN is basically the serial number for your bike, but all those numbers have meaning.

The first three digits of the VIN are the “World Manufacturer Identification,” or WMI. This WMI comes in very handy, especially in the world of scooters, where many importers share manufacturers and rebrand their bikes for different markets.

The first digit of the WMI denotes the country in which it was manufactured. some countries have one letter all to themselves, for instance Chinese scooters’ VINs start with “L.” No amount of marketing and rebranding can scratch that “L” off the VIN, though some importers have found sneaky ways to get around that, we’ll get into that in a moment.

The next two digits indicate the manufacturer. If the third digit is a “9,” the manufacturer makes fewer than 500 vehicles per year and shares a WMI with other companies. Otherwise, you can positively identify the manufacturer armed with these three digits and the NHTSA website. If you enter a WMI into that database and it doesn’t show up, or shows up as a farm machinery manufacturer in Laos, you can generally assume that the bike is not registered with the NHTSA and thus has been imported illegaly.

2strokebuzz’s Scooter VIN database lists all the scooter WMIs we could find, and also tells you what country your scooter came from. If you don’t see your scooter on that list, please send it to us, we’ll add it.

Find the first three letters of your VIN, and have a look. In your example, a Yamaha Vino, your Vin is probably “JYA,” which means it was built in Japan by Yamaha, or “LPR,” which would mean it was made in China by their subsidary, Yamaha Motor Taiwan Co., Ltd. It’s curious that a company with “Taiwan” in their name would have a VMI that starts with “L,” (Taiwan’s RMIs start with “R”), but Yamaha is a big-time responsible company, so I would imagine it means their subsidary in Taiwan runs a factory in mainland China. Cars are the same way, if Toyota builds a car in Kentucky, it’ll have an American VIN, if Ford builds a car in Mexico, its VIN will start with a 3.

What about all those other scooters that look like Vinos? Look ’em up in the database. They’re not made by Yamaha. In fact, you may even see some with “Yamaha” stamped on the side of the engine that weren’t even made by Yamaha. There’s a lot of weirdness, bootlegging and intellectual property theft going on in China.

Some of that weirdness doesn’t stay in China. For instance, we found a Diamo scooter (to be fair, it was at a trade show and not for sale) with a WMI starting with “Q,” a letter that is generally not used in VINs, and not assigned to any country. It may have been a prototype, but if you see a scooter on a showroom floor with a VIN starting with “Q,” run away, fast. Other manufacturers use import/export laws and the lack of NHTSA enforcement to their advantage. Some of the bikes listed as being made in the U.S. or Mexico may have had a few parts bolted on here, but you can be sure the bulk of the scooter was manufactured in China.

So all those other “Vinos” are not the same. They are made by a variety of manufacturers with varying quality control standards, and imported by a variety of importers with a wide range of ethics. Scooters that look exactly the same might have been built hundreds of miles apart by two unrelated companies. Sometimes, even two scooters made in the same factory that look identical can vary in quality, the importer may or may not be involved in the production and quality control. You can learn a lot by looking at that list, you’ll see that some well-known brands have changed manufacturers a few times (are the parts as interchangeable as the suppliers?), and some vendors supply a dozen different importers. The scooter market is not pretty, but checking the WMI can usually help you find your way to the truth.

Do you have a question for the 2strokebuzz experts? Email Dr. Buzz! Your confidentiality is guaranteed.

Note: Dr. Buzz is an unlicensed, mostly-fictional doctor. Take his advice, and that of his team of experts, with a grain of salt.

6 thoughts on “#15: Can’t spell “Vino” without “VIN””

  1. Thanks, OTM! That link is actually in the story, but our team of experts tends to ramble a bit, and it got lost, ha.

  2. You did a pretty good job with your discorse about scooter VINs.

    To be technically correct, I believe that you wil find that there is no Federal or State law that mandates that a motor vehicle VIN is stamped into the frame. These VIN stamping have been voluntary (by vehicle manufacturers) since the concept started.

    The applicable Federal laws about VIN placements are 49 CFR Part 565 and 567. With the laws about tampering with VINs are at 18 U.S.C. 511.

    Unfortunately, many specially constructed (homemade) motorcycles have been seized by law enforcement because their frames did not bear a “stamped in” VIN.

    The rationale for banning the VIN stamping, is that a replacement frame is a part like a shock absorber, and bare frames sold for replacement purposes should not be affixed with motor vehicle VINs by frame manufacturers. So homebuilt motorcycles using store bought frames should not have the frame builders VINs, but rather the VINs of the actual assembler (should that be a professional albeit low volume motor vycle manufacturer), or the VIN as assigned by a state DMV under the state’s specially constructed vehicle program.

    Review one specially construction application at http://www.state.ks.us and query using “TR91” to see the application to register a specially constructed motorcycle/car/truck/trailer.

    Also go to http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/interps and query “puentes” to see where NHTSA said “do not put a VIN on a bare frame unless you are completing and certifying the motorcycle for sale within the U.S. economy and you have registered with NHTSA as a motorcycle manufacturer.”

    Federal law mandates that the cycle’s VIN appear on its certification label, required to be affixed by its manufacturer at time of production, on the cycle’s frame near (as possible) the intersection of the frame and fork, visible by turning the handlebars. Harley-Davidson certification labels quite often appear far down the downtubes as fairings and wind/leg shields may occlude the visibility of the frame/fork intersection.

    To decipher a scooter’s VIN (and recent other type vehicles), one may access two more of the DOT Internet sites.

    (1) ftp://ftp.nhtsa.dot.gov/manufacturer and click on the newest (right click to determine the newest) version of the “directory 565,” which is an alphabetical directory encompassing the last five years or so of the scanned VIN submissions received by NHTSA. Record all the ORG### and FAX### file names associated with the manufacturer of interest’s name.

    (2) ftp://ftp.nhtsa.dot.gov/mfrmail and search out the files name discovered in the previous ftp site. i.e.: ORG### and FAX###

    These sites may be too difficult for non-computer literate persons to surf, but their use will uncover complete VIN deciphers for recent VIN codings, received by the government.

    And, rather than gave your spouse grief, over the breakfast table, about how useless the government is, by not blocking the importation of such obviously dangerous “whatever type vehicle you are crusading against today,” go to http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems and see how many actual complaints (by scooter name) the good citizens have shared with NHTSA, about actual death and/or injury observed by them, and attribitable to a given make/model/brand of motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment.

    Citizens should not complain unless those citizens do their part in forwarding VOQ complaints to NHTSA, with valid information.

    Every motor vehicle owner’s manual has the governmnent’s contact information for sending these VOQs, plus http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems has a link to electronic VOQs for instant transmission and inclusion ito the governments database.

    If the government does not receive legitimate complaints about potential (with reasonable documentation) death or injury, the assumption has to be that the product is acceptable, and thus there is no reason for the government to hammer foreign or domestic manufacturers.

  3. yes, email, illnoise(at)2strokebuzz-dot-com. I’ve got a couple good ones, hopefully the next installment will be up in a couple days, but keep ’em coming.

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