VIN (Vehicle Identification Numbers) are unique identifiers for every road vehicle made in the United States (and many other countries) after 1981. They consist of a 17-character sequence.
This may sound boring, but it’s actually a pretty clever system, as each character corresponds to a position in a map of variables. VIN numbers can be used to track all sorts of things like registrations, recalls, thefts and claims.
That in turn helps prevent theft, misrepresentation, chop shop chicanery, insurance fraud, and other crimes that none of us want to deal with.
So do golf carts have VIN numbers?
The simple answer is no, but the discussion doesn’t end there. When golf carts are manufactured, they receive a serial number. Much like VIN numbers, these unique letter/number combos highlight the vehicle model, model year, production week, etc.
However, if you are buying a street legal golf cart, it will have (or need) a vehicle identification number.
Again, for an off road vehicle the standard serial number is sufficient, but to make a golf car street legal, a VIN number is required.
Why the extra requirements?
The Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Theft division reported good success in cutting down on vehicle theft when it began implementing the VIN number system in 1987.
Consequently, they expanded the VIN system so that manufacturers were required to put the VIN on all the major parts of their “high theft” risk vehicles.
How does this help the consumer?
Let’s say you found an engine with a VIN number that didn’t match the VIN in a vehicle that you were servicing. This could be a simple engine swap or a sign of past theft. The VIN allows you to track the part back through its history.
Breaking down the VIN
Each character in a VIN corresponds to a specific data point. The VIN, which is broken up into three sections, works out like this:
- Digit 1: Nation of origin, or, if the vehicle was assembled from parts from several nations, the nation of assembly.
- Digit 2: Manufacturer of the vehicle.
- Digit 3: Division within the manufacturer – car, truck, heavy plant, light planet, etc.
- Digits 4-8: vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and describe the vehicle in more detail. Eg, 4 might represent weight or horsepower, 5 might be platform (van, trailer, etc), and 6 might be unique model code – Corvette, Mustang, etc. 7 could be body-type – four-door, two-door, convertible, hatchback, etc. 8 is usually reserved for engine-type – 6-cylinder V8, etc.
Depending on the information-density favored by the manufacturer, digits four through eight can also include data like whether or not the vehicle has airbags, the kind of transmission, or anything else that helps pinpoint the specific vehicle.
Digits 9-11 are consistent across all manufacturers.
- Digit 9: a check digit, based on calculations using the rest of the digits. That flags up any tampering or errors quickly when checked by computer.
- Digit 10: model year, so you can identify a 1998 Ford Focus, compared to a 1999 model
- Digit 11: plant code, identifying the factory where the vehicle was made or assembled.
- Digits 12-17: production sequence numbers that identify the specific vehicle itself.
The depth of this data represented by a unique VIN means every vehicle should be theoretically identifiable down to the component parts and the production history.
But here’s the thing.
VINs only apply to every road-going vehicle.
Golf carts, when they’re built, are not intended for driving on a public road and so the won’t come standard with a VIN. They will come with a serial number from the manufacturer, which can be used in a fairly similar way – searched, checked, and identified to some level of certainty.
The serial number tag will include data on where the cart was built, when it was built, its model, etc. But it’s not a VIN, because in the vast majority of cases, it doesn’t need to be.
If you’re just going to use a golf cart on the golf course, you don’t need it to have a VIN. The same is true if you only intend to use the golf cart on private property.
If you intend to modify your golf cart so you can drive it on public roads, you need to get a VIN from the Department of Transportation.
Be aware, this will change its vehicular status. You will subsequently need to get a license plate, pay insurance on it, and in fact do everything you would do with any other road-going vehicle.
It’s fun to drive a Club Car or EZGO golf cart on public roads, but the acquisition of a VIN for the cart should be your first step.
So again, you should already have a golf cart serial number, but to drive your golf car on a public street, you need to get a VIN.
How do I get a VIN Number for my golf cart?
There’s no simple answer to this question, as the rules and requirement vary by state. Assuming your state allows you to register your low speed vehicle, this is a logical process you can follow.
Connect with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), even if it’s just to ask some preliminary questions.
Assuming your state allows you to register your cart for road use, you’ll need to be prepared with proper documentation. They will probably require a proof of purchase or a bill of sale so they know you have the right to change the status of the cart.
You might also be asked questions such as the weight of the cart. These vital data points will allow for the construction of a VIN.
An inspection may be required to make sure that you’ve correctly upgraded the cart for road use. Be aware, this is a potentially expensive upgrade process. Golf cart parts aren’t cheap and it may take a chunk of time to prepare a street legal neighborhood electric vehicle, even with the help of a mechanic.
For instance, you’ll likely need to upgrade your lights, add a turn signal, mount an exterior mirror, etc. A seat belt or windshield may be required.
Furthermore, the rigors of public roads mean that you’ll need more engine power than most standard golf carts. If you can’t reach the minimum posted speed limit, that’s a problem. Your golf cart will need speed modifications so it can reach 20 to 35 mph. Otherwise, you’re going to create issues when you hit the streets.
As you’ve probably figured out, all of these amendments can be costly, but states don’t want a complete free-for-all on the roads.
Assuming you live in a state that allows for golf cart registrations, you should eventually be issued a VIN number, which will then result in a license plate.
From that point on, your cart can be identified by a data-rich VIN number, rather than just the manufacturer’s serial number (which you’ll still want for reference).
Make sure you’ve signed up for an insurance policy before you hit the road in your totally-awesome street-legal Yamaha golf cart (our favorite…sorry Club Car fans).
Are you considering a custom golf cart? Read our interview with Sloan of BA Carts.