P. O. Box 1940
Jamestown, ND 58402-1940
Dear Mr. Hemmer:
This responds to your request for an interpretation whether your company's mobile industrial tub grinders must be assigned vehicle identification numbers (VIN) pursuant to 49 CFR Part 565, Vehicle identification number - basic requirements. As explained below, the answer is no.
Your letter stated that your company was asked to provide your "World Manufacturer Identification (WMI) Code." The WMI is the first three digits of a VIN and identifies a motor vehicle manufacturer. Your letter emphasizes that the grinders "are not used on the highway for commercial purposes." The grinders are mobile to facilitate towing from DuraTech to the buyer, which "may then use the highway system to get the machine from one jobsite to another." You enclosed six brochures, each describing a different model of an industrial tub grinder. The brochures describe the grinders as used for grinding timber and debris ranging from (depending on the model) tree limbs and yard waste, to large trees, construction debris, tires and demolition lumber.
In a telephone conversation with Dorothy Nakama of my staff, you explained that the length of time a grinder is at a job site depends on the task. The grinder could be at a tire dump or construction site for months at a time. You stated that the grinders very rarely stay at a job site for less than a week.
NHTSA's VIN requirement (49 CFR Part 565) applies only to "motor vehicles," within the meaning of 49 U.S.C. 30102(a)(6). That section defines "motor vehicle" as:
a vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on public streets, roads, and highways, but does not include a vehicle operated only on a rail line.
Whether the agency considers your grinders to be motor vehicles depends on their use. The statutory definition does not encompass mobile construction equipment, such as cranes and scrapers, which use the highway only to move between job sites and which typically spend extended periods of time at a single job site. In such cases, the on-highway use of the vehicle is merely incidental and is not the primary purpose for which the vehicle was manufactured. In contrast are instances where vehicles, such as dump trucks, frequently use the highway going to and from job sites, and stay at a job site for only a limited time. Such vehicles are considered motor vehicles for purposes of the Safety Act, since the on-highway use is more than "incidental."
Based on your description, it appears that your company's grinders are not motor vehicles. This is because the grinders stay on job sites for extended periods of time (usually for months) and only use the highway to move from site to site. Therefore, your grinders need not be assigned VINs pursuant to 49 CFR Part 565. I note that, if the agency were to receive additional information indicating that the grinders use the roads more than on an incidental basis, then the agency would reassess this interpretation.
Please note that since a State may require equipment such as your grinders to be registered, you may wish to contact the States about the status of your grinder in that State.
You also informed Ms. Nakama over the telephone that the Canadian government would require your grinders to be assigned VINs for sale in Canada. NHTSA and the Canadian government have independent requirements, and our determination that your grinders need not be assigned VINs would have no effect on Canadian requirements. NHTSA cannot prohibit your company from assigning VINs (in accordance with the format prescribed in Part 565) to your grinders to meet Canadian requirements.
However, since the grinders are not "motor vehicles," I would recommend that your company ensure that grinders sold in the U.S. not be assigned VINs. For U.S. purposes, assigning VINs to your grinders may cause confusion as to whether the grinders are "motor vehicles." If a DuraTech grinder had a VIN, state officials, including law enforcement officers and highway inspectors, reviewing the VIN may question why the grinder has no certification label pursuant to 49 CFR Part 567 Certification (i.e., certifying that a vehicle meets all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS)(at 49 CFR Part 571) applicable to the vehicle type), and why the grinder does not appear to meet such safety standards. Your U.S. customers may find it difficult to respond to such questions.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any questions, please contact Dorothy Nakama at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel