Audi may have produced thousands of cars with the same VIN, but why?

August 26, 2017

Bavarian prosecutors discovered thousands of Audis produced with identical vehicle identification numbers, or VINs, according to a new report out of Germany. The Audis were primarily exported to China, Korea, and Japan—but the question is, why did they exist in the first place?

The findings are a result of the ongoing Dieselgate scandal, for which investigators searched countless Audi and Volkswagen documents while looking for evidence of a coverup. In speaking to German business newspaper Handelsblatt, an Audi spokesperson said the company was unaware of any VIN repetition.

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A VIN is a unique string of letters and numbers that is assigned to a vehicle in the manufacturing process and can never be changed. It is essentially a code that doubles as a serial number, stamped onto every body panel, that informs everything from the year and specific factory in which a given vehicle was produced, to the body style, engine, and other information. The final six numbers indicate the vehicle’s specific sequence for a given year; a 2015 Audi A4 with a VIN ending in 000123, for example, would be the 123rd A4 produced in 2015.

According to Handelsblatt, Audi’s auditors had the VIN issue marked in a color coded system that prioritized “risk of discovery.”

What remains unclear is whether the repeating VINs is the result of a mistake or a deliberate attempt at a coverup. Indeed, whether the issue is confined to a spreadsheet error or if the vehicles in question really do have identical numbers stamped on their body panels remains a mystery.

Beyond a Hollywood-style car-stealing scheme, there would be little real world benefit to mass-repetition of a single VIN. The numbers allow carmakers, governments, and owners to track a car’s history, accident and maintenance records, and so forth.

For now, it appears to remain a mystery.

-- by Aaron Miller

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