How to Run a Reverse License Plate Number Lookup

If you are considering buying a car and want to know more about the owner or you need to contact the owner for some reason, you may be able to run a reverse license plate number lookup. Below, we discuss these searches and their limitations.

What is a Reverse License Plate Number Lookup?

A reverse license plate number search takes the full license plate number and the state or registration to reveal information about the vehicle associated with the license plate. This information is input into a vehicle records database and can reveal important information about the vehicle, the owner, and the VIN.

What Type of Information Does a License Plate Lookup Reveal?

A license plate lookup may reveal a lot of information about a vehicle and its owner. It may reveal the owner’s name and his or her registered address. The type of information that you can receive from a license plate lookup may vary from one state to the next, based on state laws and the regulations of the Department of Motor Vehicles in that state.

The license plate lookup may provide comprehensive information about the vehicle, depending on the service you select. Depending on the service provider, your reverse lookup may include:

  • Make and model of the vehicle
  • Registration history
  • Government recalls
  • Accident history related to the vehicle
  • History of flood, hail or fire damage
  • Lien and repossession records for the registered vehicle
  • Whether the vehicle is subject to a mileage rollback waiver
  • Vehicle sketch and image
  • Law enforcement and accident reports that mentioned the vehicle’s license plate
  • Images and videos associated with the license plate number
  • Service and inspection history

Generally, there are several organizations that may provide information about vehicles, including the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, the Department of Motor Vehicles, car manufacturers, law enforcement agencies, public auctions, and other reputable sources. Reverse license plate lookup servicers generally pull information from various organizations to provide one comprehensive report about the vehicle and owner based on information associated with the license plate number.

Legal Reasons to Use a License Plate Lookup

Before performing a license plate lookup, you must have a valid reason to search for plate owner information. While the permissible uses for a reverse plate lookup may vary by area, some of the common reasons that are permitted include:

1. Report Bad Driving

You may need to use a license plate number to report someone’s bad or dangerous driving. By giving law enforcement a license plate number, authorities can be on the lookout for drunk drivers or others. Additionally, some commercial companies or rideshare services may include a “How’s My Driving?” sticker that encourages you to use a license plate number to report its drivers.

2. Report an Accident

You may be able to use a reverse license plate number lookup to report an accident. If the other driver left the scene of the accident, did not provide his or her information to you, or gave you fake information, you may be able to uncover the driver’s real information through the reverse plate lookup.

If you hit a parked vehicle and are unable to locate the owner, you may be able to find the owner’s information by conducting a reverse lookup.

3. Law Enforcement Purposes

A license plate lookup is usually permitted in connection to driver safety or theft.

4. Court Proceeding

You can usually look up a license plate number if you are involved in a civil matter, including arbitration or litigation that involves the motor vehicle or in which you may make a lien against the vehicle.

5. Employment Purposes

Employers can conduct these types of searches in order to verify information about commercial drivers.

6. Research Purposes

This information is also available for research purposes, but personal information is usually excluded. The search can also be used for market research companies that distribute surveys to car owners.

7. Towing Purposes

A tow truck company can typically use a reverse license plate lookup to find the registered owner of a vehicle it has towed away.

8. Other Reasons

There are many other potentially permissible reasons to perform a reverse plate lookup, including those provided by state or federal law, such as the Automobile Information Disclosure Act and Clean Air Act. Government agencies, insurance companies, private investigators, and others may be able to use a reverse lookup on multiple vehicles. Additionally, a search is generally permitted if the registered owner has provided signed, written consent for it.

Driver’s Privacy Protection Act

The major law related to obtaining information from a license plate lookup is the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, which was passed in 1994. This law largely prohibits the Department of Motor Vehicles to release personally identifiable information about registered owners tied to license plate numbers except for permitted uses. Additionally, the law makes it illegal to obtain a driver’s information by making false representations. The law also provides for civil penalties if these rules are violated.

Using a Reverse License Plate Number Lookup When Buying a Car

The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act also allows you to look up license plate information “for use in the normal course of business” to “verify the accuracy of personal information” or to “correct information.” Therefore, you may be able to use this type of search when buying a vehicle. This search may also provide the VIN, which can open up access to additional information about the vehicle, such as a history of accidents involving the vehicle, title issues with the vehicle, purchase history for the vehicle, and other information you might want to know before you agree to purchase a vehicle.

How to Run a Reverse License Plate Lookup

There are generally two ways to run a reverse license plate lookup: online or at the Department of Motor Vehicles (or related organization). Here is what you need to know about these general options:

1. Online License Plate Searches

There are several online reverse license plate lookup companies that allow you to use a license plate number in order to find information that is publicly available about the vehicle. Some sites are free; some are not. Additionally, the type of information and accuracy of the information may vary tremendously from one provider to the next.

If you want to conduct an online license plate lookup, the process to obtain the vehicle information may include:

  • Open a web browser
  • Perform a Google search or go to the specific website of a company you want to use
  • Enter the license plate number
  • Select the state listed on the license plate
  • View the results and opt in to purchase additional options
  • Review the remaining information
  • Some of these sites allow users to upload information about the vehicle, including comments, videos, or photos.

2. At the Department of Motor Vehicles

Another way to perform a reverse phone lookup is to go to your local Department of Motor Vehicles and provide a representative with the license plate that you want to look up. The representative will ask you why you need the information. If the purpose is permissible, you may be charged a nominal fee for the representative to perform the search.

Limitations of License Plate Lookups

Reverse license plate lookups can only reveal information that is tied to the license plate, such as people who lawfully registered the vehicle and the vehicle that the license plate has been associated with. It is a common scam for people to take license plates off of registered and legal vehicles and then put them on stolen vehicles. It may also be easier for someone to fabricate license plates. The information you can receive from this type of search is limited to the information that has been legally tied to it, so you may not reveal illegal connections through this type of search. Additionally, some of the servicers that provide information from a reverse lookup do not certify that the information is accurate.

Alternative: Look Up Car Owner by VIN

Another option other than using a reverse license plate lookup is to research the car owner by VIN. This type of check is more likely to get you a more thorough review of the owner and the vehicle. While a license plate can be transferred from one vehicle to the next, a VIN is a unique identifying number that is tied to a single vehicle. Therefore, it is more difficult to commit fraud with this information.

If you would like help with a reverse lookup or need to look up a car owner by a VIN, we can help. We can discuss the information you need and the best way to go about getting it. Contact us today to learn more.

All information and advice contained within this website is to be taken at your own risk. Nothing contained within this website should be misconstrued as professional driving instruction.