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How to Check California License Plates

by Jessica Jewell

There are several reasons for wanting to check a California license plate. The most common reason is to check on the availability of vanity plates in order to register a new license plate. To check the availability of California license plates, you can use the resources provided by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Other reasons for checking a California license plate may include a criminal or personal investigation. To search for licenses plates in that manner, you must contact a personal investigator or law enforcement official.

Checking the Availability of California License Plates

Step 1

Call the California Department of Motor Vehicles at 1-800-777-0133. Or, visit your local branch in person. Find location listings on the official California DMV website.

Step 2

Ask to speak to an associate regarding the availability of a vanity plate. You do not need to make an appointment to speak to someone regarding a license plate check, though you may have to wait in line until someone who can perform the search is available.

Tell the associate the exact combination of letters and numbers that you wish to check. He will search the official database and tell you whether or not that license plate is available for purchase. If it is, you can order the plate in person, over the phone or go to the DMV website. At the top of the main page of the website, select the "Online Services" tab. Then select "Personalized Plates." This will take you to the order form for vanity plates.

Checking California License Plates for the Purposes of Investigation

Step 1

Contact your local police department. If you want to check a license plate because of traffic violations or suspected criminal activity, the best option is to give the information to a law enforcement official, who will conduct a proper and legal investigation. Never try to solve a crime or find a criminal alone by using a license plate or investigation. You could put yourself in considerable danger and even break the law if you do not investigate in a proper, legal manner.

Step 2

Contact a personal investigator if you want to check the license plate for reasons having to do with a lawsuit or court case. You will need to pay a personal investigator for his or her time, but he or she may be able to get more accurate information than a generalized online records search.

Perform an online records search using the exact license plate information. There are countless online records search resources. The price for these searches varies depending on the website, but keep in mind that none can absolutely guarantee search results that reflect accurate and updated information.

Items you will need

  • License plate number

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