How Do I Check a License Plate Owner for Free?

by Johnno CaryUpdated August 06, 2023

Understand the Legal Issues

The topic of whether it is permissible to use a free license plate lookup service or webiste to search for vehicle owner information, a car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) or vehicle information is complex. To give a few examples:

Accessing private information‌ ‌of a person‌ by using a license plate search or VIN check to find plate number records is illegal, according to the department of motor vehicles, department of transportation and some other motor vehicle government agencies that issue license plates -- regardless of the circumstances. Such information includes the license plate owner’s name, address, phone number, driver’s license and Social Security number. This is all a part of the driver’s privacy protection act (DPPA) and applies to both new and used cars and motorcycles.

According to the Law Dictionary‌, accessing this vehicle license plate information through the state’s motor vehicles agency is permissible. Since this information is public record, the Freedom of Information Act allows you to check the records or vehicle registration info for anyone you choose.

Some states have noted‌ that though a plate holder’s information is private, it can be accessed by certain businesses and agencies such as law enforcement officers, attorneys and insurance companies under compelling circumstances.

Check the Motor Vehicles Agency

If you have a valid reason to check a plate number, such as ‌accident history‌, you can request the vehicle history report from the state's motor vehicles agency. Accessing this vehicle records is free with many search tools, but depending on the state, you may be charged a fee for the printout and mailing. This info can tell you many things like the odometer readings, vehicle specifications and market value. To find this, follow this simple procedure:

Prepare a formal request in writing or appear in person. If your reason is genuine:

  • you will be required to fill out some forms to prove your address.
  • you will need to declare that you understand the legal implications of accessing such private license plate information.

If your application is considered, the motor vehicles agency can react as follows:

  • In most cases, the agency will never provide you with the address and contact information of the owner of the vehicle.
  • The state DMV agency can provide you a sanitized record with clues about the owner -- such as the names of the owner and lien holders.
  • Sometimes the agency can call and inform the plate owners that you’re looking for them.

If your request is declined:

  • Ask to be provided with the reason for refusal in writing.

  • Look for other options or means of getting the information you require, such as a private investigator.

Use Third-Party Websites

If the state’s motor vehicles agency cannot provide you with information about a car owner from its records, you may opt to check with third-party online services. Note that ‌some -- but not many -- of these websites are free‌.


Some websites say they are free, but will actually charge you a fee and may provide you with outdated information or no information at all. Before you decide to use a third-party website, understand how they operate:

They collect information from sources‌ such as vital statistics, courts, gas filling stations and insurance records -- and not necessarily from motor vehicle agency registries.

The plate owner will not know you’re searching for him‌ provided the reason why you’re using a license plate number search for this information is not meant for harm or deprive the plate owner.

If plate owner discovers that their vehicle details or vehicle title are accessible‌ to the public and he does not want that, he can contact the website administrators and opt out of the lookup tool.

You may have to pay a subscription fee‌ to access the database, which averages about $30 at the time of publication, depending on the report-access option you select. Most service providers say the cost is covers their time, expenses of data collection and server maintenance.


Before using a third-part website, obtain a ‌Google safe-browsing report.‌ For example, if you're doing a liscense plate check or searching a VIN number through the website, type: After you press "Enter," a report will open in the same window telling you if the website has been reported as suspicious.

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