Bidding on a classic car this month? Learn what ‘numbers-matching’ means

Collectors from all over the world descend on Scottsdale this month to find some of the rarest vehicles ever made.

By Eric Hill  | Rose Law Group attorney working in the fields of automotive investment and renewable energy

The holidays are over, but for car enthusiasts, the fun is only beginning this month as auction season begins in Scottsdale. Collectors from all over the world descend on Arizona to find some of the most rare vehicles ever made, and the most desirable examples are often so-called “numbers-matching” cars. If you’re heading to the auctions, you’ve probably heard that phrase, but what exactly does numbers-matching mean?

Generally speaking, an enthusiast would consider a numbers-matching vehicle to be one in which the numbering of the car’s major components match that of the Vehicle Identification Number or VIN. For example, a car with an engine and transmission that are each stamped with numbers matching the VIN would typically be considered numbers- matching. The numbers-matching status is desirable because it signifies the vehicle’s originality. If a car retains its original engine and transmission, it is closer to the way it was when it left the factory, therefore more valuable than one with replaced or modified major parts As such, collectors look to see if part numbers match VINs to verify originality. 

It is important, however, to understand numbers-matching is not a legal term, so buyers need to do their own research as to how the term applies to the vehicle they want to purchase. Sellers of collector cars that has been advertised as numbers-matching should be able to explain what it means to their cars. In some instances, the seller may describe the car as numbers-matching because only the VIN and the engine match. For an original car, it may mean even more components match – not only the engine and transmission but the rear axle or other parts as well. In addition, it should be noted VINs came into use in the 1950s and became standardized in 1981 so older vehicles advertised as numbers-matching will require more research.  

As with any purchase, it’s important for buyers to do their homework by asking questions of the seller and being familiar with the year, make, and model of the car in question before bidding If you have your eye on a numbers-matching car that’s coming across the auction block this month, learn exactly what that means so you can bid with confidence.