How to Find a Car Owner

by Christina Riopelle

Forlorn old cars that house families of raccoons may entice car enthusiasts to tow home a rescued treasure. However, just because the car corroded beyond recognition or does not run, does not guarantee abandoned status. Theft, natural disaster or owner hospitalization or displacement can cause separation from a rightful owner. The listed owner must receive notification before destruction or relocation. For vehicles manufactured in the 1950s or later, a VIN, or vehicle identification number, aids in the search.

Write down the VIN number.

Find the Vehicle Identification Number. Look on the passenger's side of the dashboard nearest to the windshield. If rust obscures it, check the inside edge of the door. Some parts also bear the VIN. Write the number down carefully. Since the VIN consists of letters and numbers, print it in block letters to avoid errors. You will not remember if you scribbled down a "5" or an "S" later.

A purchase offer could be unwanted solicitation.

Determine if your intent to contact the owner is permissible. Individuals may use title information for research purposes, but may not use motor vehicle records for solicitation. An owner may construe an offer of purchase as unwanted solicitation.

Wait in line at the DMV for records.

Stand in line at the local Department of Motor Vehicles or Secretary of States Office. The agency varies by state. Present the VIN to request an abstract record. The agency issues an abstract omitting the owner's contact address unless the requestor demonstrates permissible use.

Local authorities locate the owner.

Contact local authorities. According to the Drivers Protection Act, allowable contact includes "For use in providing notice to the owners of towed or impounded vehicles." Law enforcement also uses records in the course of investigations and to notify owner of recovered property. The process does not result in a vehicle purchase, but the rightful owner finds their car.


  • check Vehicle Identification Numbers debuted in the mid-1950s. Cars manufactured prior to that do not have VINs.

About the Author

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  • photo_camera abandoned bus image by Gina Rothfels from