How to Find a Car by VIN Number

by Contributor

The VIN number can tell you a lot about a car, including the current owner, previous owners, and the address where the vehicle is registered. Each state's Department of Motor Vehicles keeps detailed records of each car registered in that state. Once you have obtained the car's VIN number, you will be able to find plenty of information on the vehicle itself - including the last known address of the individual where the car was registered. This is a good place to start when trying to find a car by VIN number.

Step 1

Obtain the VIN number for the car you wish to locate. This is the 17-digit number that acts as a unique "fingerprint" for all vehicles. You must have the car's VIN number readily available in order search for the car with it.

Step 2

Contact your state's Department of Motor Vehicles, or DMV (or in some states, Motor Vehicle Services or MVS) and asks for a public records request form. If your local DMV does not have a request form to offer, you can also draft a request yourself in letter format.

Step 3

Complete the request form (or draft a request letter) by providing the VIN number you have for the motor vehicle. Also provide a detailed reason for your request. State your full name and address, then sign the bottom of your request form or letter.

Step 4

Submit the complete form or letter to your local DMV. You may also need to pay a fee before the DMV will conduct the search, and additional costs for duplicating records. To avoid the fee, you may be able to review the records on premise, though the DMV will prohibit taking them home. Be aware that some owner or registrant's information, including Social Security numbers and other personally-identifying information, is considered confidential and will not be released.

Review the most recent registration form for the motor vehicle. This will provide you with the name and the address of the person who last registered the vehicle. In most cases, this is also the name and address of the person who currently owns and/or possesses the vehicle. This address should reveal the location of the motor vehicle for which you are searching.


  • Vehicles that were manufacturer prior to 1981 may have a VIN number shorter than 17 characters. For these vehicles, the VIN number should be between 11 and 17 characters.
  • Valid VIN numbers will always consist of a mix of letters and numbers. The letters "I" and "O" are not used, however; if you believe the VIN number you have contains these letters, you may be mistaking them for the numbers "1" and "0."


  • If you come across a VIN number that does not follow these patterns, and/or your search returns no results for the number you provided, there is a chance the VIN number you have is invalid. If this is the case, check the vehicle (if possible) to see if the original VIN number may have been tampered with or completely removed and replaced with another, invalid one.

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