How to Find Out Who Owns a Car

Knowing who owns a particular car can be useful for a variety of reasons. You may need to identify the owner of a car that was involved in a hit-and-run accident, locate the seller of a used car you’re interested in buying, verify ownership records for your own car, or have some other legitimate purpose.

While car owner information is protected for privacy reasons, there are ways to legally obtain it as long as you have a valid justification. This comprehensive guide will walk through the various methods and resources you can use to find out who owns a car.

Overview of Steps to Find the Car Owner

The basic process for locating a car owner involves:

  • Obtaining identifying information about the car, such as the license plate number or Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
  • Researching vehicle records through online databases or government agencies
  • Submitting a formal request if you meet allowable criteria for accessing protected owner records
  • Paying any applicable fees for vehicle history reports or record searches

This article will explore these steps in detail, along with tips, options, and requirements based on your specific situation. With the right approach, you can successfully determine the registered owner of most vehicles.

Identifying the Car

The first step to finding the owner of a car is gathering key identifying details about the vehicle itself. There are two main ways to positively identify a car: by license plate number or VIN.

License Plate Number

A license plate number is a unique alphanumeric code assigned to each vehicle by a state’s department of motor vehicles. It is attached to the front and rear of the car on a metal plate or sticker.

License plate numbers generally follow a standard format: a combination of letters and numbers that identify the state, followed by a unique code specific to that vehicle. For example, a California license plate might be “6ABC123”.

Some tips for obtaining a license plate number:

  • Look at the front and rear of the unattended vehicle and write down the full number sequence.
  • Take clear photos showing the entire license plate if possible.
  • Note the state, as you’ll need to search records in that same jurisdiction.
  • Pay attention to the plate’s expiration date if visible, as that can help match records.

While license plates are not as standardized and universal as VINs, they provide a way to search for owner records in the vehicle’s home state.

Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

The VIN is a unique 17-character serial number assigned to every car, truck, and SUV at the time of manufacture. It serves as a definitive way to identify individual vehicles.

VINs follow a standardized format established by the International Organization for Standardization in 1981. Here are the basic components in order:

  • World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI) – The first 3 digits identify the manufacturer, country of origin, and vehicle type or characteristics.
  • Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS) – Positions 4-9 describe the vehicle attributes like model, body type, engine type, etc.
  • Vehicle Identification Section (VIS) – The last 8 digits are randomly generated for uniqueness.

A VIN can be found in several locations on the vehicle:

  • Printed on a metal plate on the dashboard near the windshield.
  • Stamped on the engine block.
  • On the driver’s side door jamb and firewall under the hood.
  • On the vehicle title, registration card, and insurance documents.

Tips for gathering a VIN:

  • Look through the lower corner of the windshield for the dashboard VIN plate.
  • Check government paperwork if you have access to the vehicle’s records.
  • Take clear photos or write down the full 17-digit sequence without mistakes.
  • Run a VIN check to decode the WMI, VDS, and VIS components.

The VIN is the most reliable way to search across all vehicle history databases and government agencies.

Researching Vehicle Records

Once you have the license plate number or VIN, you can start researching vehicle records to try to identify the registered owner. There are two main record sources to consult – online databases and government agencies.

Online Vehicle History Databases

There are many commercial services that compile vehicle data from a variety of sources into searchable online databases. By entering a VIN or license plate number, you can access registration details, ownership records, accident history, title information, and more.

Some major vehicle history databases include:

  • Carfax – Extensive database with over 20 billion records from over 100,000 data sources.
  • AutoCheck – Owned by Experian; compiles title, registration, accident, and ownership info.
  • National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) – Federal government-approved vehicle history provider.
  • FAXVIN – Uses artificial intelligence to aggregate vehicle info from thousands of sources.

The advantages of these online databases are:

  • Instant, 24/7 access to search for owner information.
  • Comprehensive data compiled from many sources.
  • Detailed vehicle history reports and decoded VIN information.
  • Ability to search by both VIN and license plate number.

The disadvantages are:

  • You usually have to pay individual fees for full reports from $10-$50.
  • Privacy restrictions may limit access to personal owner details.
  • Information accuracy depends on the database’s sources.

Before paying for an online vehicle history report, check what owner data is included and confirm the service searches records in the necessary state.

State Government Agencies

Every state has a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or equivalent agency that registers vehicles and maintains records on ownership.

Contacting your state’s DMV directly allows you to request vehicle registration details, including:

  • Registered owner name and address – The person or business entity currently on record as owning the car.
  • Vehicle title information – Details on the current title holder and any recorded transfers of ownership.
  • Registration status – Whether the car is actively registered and plates are up to date.

The advantages of DMV records are:

  • Official government records from the vehicle’s home state.
  • Can obtain most recent owner information.
  • May provide additional details beyond online databases.

The disadvantages are:

  • In-person or phone requests often required.
  • Restrictions on accessing protected personal data.
  • Searches can take time and fees may apply.

Check your state DMV website for procedures to request vehicle owner records. Be ready to explain your specific reasons and connection to the car.

Submitting a Formal Records Request

If you’ve researched online and through government agencies and still need the car owner’s identifying details, the next step is submitting a formal request for protected records.

Justifying Your Request

Due to privacy laws, you must have a legitimate authorized purpose to access the personal information of a vehicle owner such as name, phone number, address, etc.

Common allowable reasons include:

  • Insurance claims investigation – If you were the victim of a hit-and-run or accident.
  • Legal proceedings – If you are involved in a lawsuit or legal case involving the vehicle.
  • Law enforcement – If you are a police officer or government investigator.
  • Rightful ownership – If you co-own or are trying to confirm ownership of the car.
  • DMV authorization – If the DMV grants you access for a qualified reason.

Be prepared to explain and document your specific situation. Many state DMVs require notarized request forms along with evidence to support your need if it involves legal or insurance matters.

Understanding State Laws

Each state has its own laws around releasing protected vehicle owner information. Become familiar with the regulations in the state where the car is registered.

For example, some states:

  • Allow insurance companies to access records but limit individual access.
  • Only release records to law enforcement unless court ordered.
  • Charge statutory fees for searching and providing owner data.
  • Have specific request forms that must be notarized.

Consult your state DMV website or contact their office to learn about required procedures before submitting a formal request.

Hiring a Private Investigator

If you are not able to access the vehicle owner’s personal information yourself, consider hiring a private investigator who specializes in asset investigation and has access to restricted databases.

They have resources and methods for locating owners, such as:

  • Contacts at DMV agencies who can search records.
  • Access to non-public vehicle registration databases.
  • Ability to conduct background searches using the owner’s name.
  • Skills in tracking down contact information.

While hiring a private investigator will involve fees, they may be able to provide personal details you cannot obtain yourself. Look for someone experienced in vehicle ownership tracing.

Paying Fees for Vehicle Information

Most online vehicle history databases charge between $10-$50 for a full report. State DMVs also often charge administrative fees for searching registration records or transferring protected owner data.

  • Carfax – $24.99 for a single report or $59.99/month for unlimited reports.
  • AutoCheck – $24.99 for one report or packages with unlimited reports starting at $79.99.
  • NMVTIS Providers – Around $10-$15 for a basic vehicle history report.
  • State DMVs – Vary by state but around $10-$20 for motor vehicle record searches.

Be prepared with payment information on hand when accessing paid services. Make sure to first verify they have data for the vehicle you are searching before purchasing.

Some other tips for minimizing fees:

  • Start with free online VIN decoders to get basic specs.
  • Check what data is included before paying for full reports.
  • See if your insurance company provides free VIN lookups.
  • Only request the specific records you actually need.

With a legitimate reason and the right approach, you can successfully discover the registered owner of a vehicle while minimizing any access costs.

Tips for Accurate Owner Information

When trying to identify the current owner of a car, keep these tips in mind to get the most accurate and up-to-date information:

  • Verify VIN accuracy – Double check the full 17-digit VIN if possible to avoid search errors.
  • Check multiple sources – Cross-reference online and government records for consistency.
  • Review recent registration – Owner details on the latest registration paperwork are most current.
  • Consider title transfers – Make sure to check title records for any ownership changes.
  • Watch out for lag time – There can be delays between sales and record updates.
  • Contact the owner – Once identified, directly contacting the owner verifies they still possess the car.

Taking these extra steps helps avoid incorrect or outdated data that may lead you to the wrong person.

Protecting Vehicle Owner Privacy

While finding the owner of a car is possible in many cases, be aware that privacy laws strictly govern access to personal vehicle records. Only proceed with searches for legitimate justified purposes.

The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act

This federal law establishes standards for when personal DMV information can be released. All states have adopted provisions restricting access only to authorized parties with approved reasons.

Fines for violations can be up to $5,000 per offense. Know your state’s regulations and be transparent regarding your specific reasons when requesting protected vehicle owner records.

Avoiding Harassment

Do not misuse any owner contact information you obtain for purposes of harassment or harm. This includes spam calls, stalking, aggressive solicitation, discrimination, and other unwanted contact.

Securing Your Own Records

You can place restrictions on access to your own registration and title records by submitting a confidentiality request to your state DMV. This helps protect against improper use of your data.

Follow all laws and procedures carefully to perform vehicle owner searches ethically and legally.

Key Takeaways

  • Identify the vehicle by license plate number or VIN to begin searching records.
  • Check online vehicle history databases and state DMV records for registration and title details.
  • Submit a formal request to the DMV if you have a qualified reason to access protected owner information.
  • Understand your state’s specific laws, processes, and fees to obtain private records legally.
  • Verify accuracy through multiple sources and direct owner contact once identified.
  • Respect privacy by only accessing vehicle owner data for legitimate purposes.


Finding out who owns a particular car involves following precise steps for gathering vehicle details, researching public records, and requesting protected personal information. While ownership records are shielded for privacy, they can be obtained for justified causes by understanding regulations and using the right methods. With a systematic approach, you can successfully identify the registered owner of most vehicles when necessary.

Citations: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

Similar Posts