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How to Check a License Plate Status

by John Marcheur

Though many private citizens believe that vehicle license plate information may only be obtained by law enforcement officials, the task of gathering data on an assigned license plate is relatively easy. The search for license plate data will usually provide registrant name and address information, vehicle registration and expiration date, vehicle make and model, VIN number, title information, and the lien holder's name if applicable. While this information is protected by the Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994, you may still receive adequate amounts of information to complete your search.

Record and write down the license plate number. You must record the license plate number in the same format as it appears on both the vehicle registration paperwork and the vehicle license plate itself. If the number/letter combination displayed on either the registration or license plate does not match then notify your state's department of licensing or department of motor vehicles immediately.

Visit the department of motor vehicles, department of licensing, or appropriate government agency in person. You may visit the vehicle licensing authority to obtain information on a specific vehicle license. You may either visit on a walk-in basis or use the appointment system available in some states. The amount and type of information you receive will be subject to the Driver's Privacy Protection Act, a federal statute that governs the release and use of personal information on licensed motor vehicle operators. You may either receive requested information immediately or after waiting a specified time period after paying the appropriate fees.

Visit the website of the appropriate government agency. Many state licensing authorities have made a number of driver and vehicle licensing services available online. Visit the web site of your appropriate state authority to complete a license plate query. For example, Wisconsin residents can visit the state department of transportation website to obtain information on the license plate expiration date, and the vehicle year and make. In many states users may also renew expired registration and license plates through use of the same state licensing website.

Run a reverse license plate search. The use of private investigators and organizations that specialize in obtaining background information on businesses and individuals can provide information on a license plate by conducting a reverse license plate search. You must provide the name and address of the business or person to begin the search. The company then uses this data to generate a report to include information regarding the vehicles owned by or assigned to the person or business. You may also use a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to obtain license plate information. Many of these private search companies advertise online and can also be found in the white pages of the local phone directory.

Monitor local police activity using a commercially available police scanner. Police scanners have long been available for use by the general public. You can use the scanner to obtain information on a licensed vehicle by listening to the reported activity discussed over the frequency in use. If your query involves a police-related incident or investigation then information regarding related motor vehicles may be discussed over the scanner. In addition, the communication via nationwide police scanners are currently available to the general public through live internet audio feed. Websites such as http://www.police-scanner.info provide these feeds to the general public.

Tip

  • Many state licensing and vehicle registration offices maintain license plate records indefinitely. If needed, you may utilize the state archives to find previous license plate information for an individual or business.

Warning

  • You may not obtain information on plates belonging to government or law enforcement vehicles.

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About the Author

John Marcheur is a freelance writer who began his professional career in 2010. His writing appears on a number of websites, covering a range of subjects from job search strategies to lifestyle topics and military issues. Marcheur is a military veteran who has studied marketing and small business through Pierce College in Washington.

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