Court rules car makers must make VINs available to independent operators

Car manufacturers must make vehicle identification numbers (VIN) available to independent operators, a court has ruled.

The ruling was handed down by the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) – which also applies to UK law – and covers information necessary for the repair and maintenance of vehicles.

It will mainly affect technical data publishers, spare parts distributors and repairers. It marks a landmark decision for the aftermarket sector.

The court did note, however, that where the VIN makes it possible to identify the owner of a vehicle, the transferring of data must be lawful under General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements, as it covers personal details.

How the case was brought to court

A leading German trade association who represents the parts distributors considered that neither the form nor the content of the information provided by the manufacturer of heavy goods vehicles, Scania, to its members wasn’t sufficient.

The association brought proceedings before a German court; uncertain as to the scope of Scania’s obligations, that court in turn referred the matter to the European Court of Justice.

The ECJ was asked to rule whether the vehicle identification number is to be regarded as personal data that manufacturers are required to make this available to independent operators.

In response, the Court decided that car manufacturers are required to provide access to all vehicle repair and maintenance information, including the VIN.

What this means

The court ruling means that information necessary for the repair and maintenance of vehicles must be made available.

It must be made accessible online and must enable the relevant data to be extracted and retained immediately.

The court also stated that car manufacturers are required to set up a database, which must cover information on parts that can be replaced by spare parts.

It must then be possible to search for information in that database according to vehicle identification numbers and other criteria, such as engine output or trim level of the vehicle.

The court said that vehicle identification numbers must be included in the database.

Is a VIN not personal information

The VIN, taken in isolation, is not personal in nature, the court ruled.

However, it becomes personal data when someone who has access to it also has the means to identify the owner of the vehicle.

Even where vehicle identification numbers are to be classified as personal data, the General Data Protection Regulation does not preclude car manufacturers from being obliged to make them available to independent operators.

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