When you perform a license plate search, you are looking up the unique plate number attached to a vehicle. These numbers are generally issued by a local city or state DMV, or another similar driver service agency. Since license plates are distributed and handled on a statewide basis, there are often varying regulations across the country. For example, some states like Alabama and Hawaii allow you to keep your license plate number when you get a new vehicle. In these states, you may be able to access driver history through license plates. However, when you search a license plate from Alaska, you will find that plates are never transferred between vehicles.

Unlike a VIN number, which always stays with a specific automobile, a license plate number search can potentially show either vehicle or driver history. Unlike a specifically formulated VIN number, the characters in a license plate number are usually distributed serially. Furthermore, most states allow drivers to request personalized license plates and plate numbers. Check in with your local DMV or similar agency for more details about license plate protocols.

What can I learn from an auto license plate search?

Unfortunately, not all states offer online license plate search services, and the information provided on the reports are limited to protect driver safety. The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act requires all states to prohibit the release or use of personal information by any DMV. Protected information includes access to a driver’s Social Security Number, driver license or identification card number, name, address, telephone number and medical information contained in motor vehicle or driver records.

Only law enforcement are authorized to find personal information about vehicle owners through the running of license plates. Depending on your state, you may be able to access the following info through a public records license plate search:

  • Vehicle information such as body type, engine specs and more
  • A vehicle’s registration status
  • Amount of people that owned the vehicle
  • Recent odometer readings
  • Traffic citations linked to the vehicle
  • Vehicle registration details
  • Vehicle history report
  • Accident report

Performing a free license plate search will allow you to view vehicle-specific information, while paid services typically provide more data. A license plate search can give you access to the same vehicle history reports that professionals in the automobile industry utilize to influence their vehicle purchasing decisions. However, many paid searches are performed by third-party services.

Note: If you live in a state that allows drivers to keep the same license plate numbers with new vehicles, you may be able to access more driver history through a license plate search.

When should I perform a license plate search?

While the information available in a license plate number search varies by state, they can still contain beneficial material if you are a car buyer. If you are looking for information about a vehicle that you spot on the road, searching a license plate can provide you with some essential info. This option is beneficial because you may be unable to access a VIN if you spot it while driving, but their license plate number is always visible.

Oftentimes, safety features such as airbags and seatbelts are detailed on these reports. Additionally, these reports can also provide pertinent safety information such as vehicle or part recalls. In fact, some free license plate searches will provide you with a vehicle’s VIN number so that you can performs more detailed searches. Accident records and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recalls about particular vehicles may be essential to consider when you are trying to purchase a used vehicle.

Moreover, an auto license plate search can be useful when you are looking for a vehicle’s history report. Knowing a vehicle’s history can greatly influence your purchasing decision. You may come across a seller that does not always reveal all the problems about a vehicle, but some license plate searches will perform checks for significant problems and detail any title brands on a vehicle. Records and problems that are investigated can include:

  • Abandoned records.
  • Fire, hair or water damaged records.
  • Major damage incidents.
  • Junk or scrap records.
  • Insurance loss or probable total loss records.
  • Salvage or salvage auction records.
  • Reports of vehicle theft.

All car buyers are recommended to check a vehicle history report through a public records license plate search or a VIN number report in order to avoid stolen or unsafe vehicles.

Where does the information on a license plate search come from?

Most services that search a license plate gather their information from multiple credible sources. A majority of the information comes from the public records available through various motor vehicle departments. Service stations and insurance companies also provide relevant information found in a license plate search.

Who is allowed to search a license plate?

Running a license plate search to check on another person is illegal in most circumstances, but many services will collect public information linked to a plate. You will not be able to access the same personal data that a law enforcement officer can view, but everyone has access to public records. The data gathered in these searches is similar to a VIN check.

Numerous laws, especially the Freedom of Information Act, permits citizens to access data collected by the government. Any data created by the Department of Motor Vehicle and other government agencies is available for public access. Besides that, these agencies allow easy access to this information in order to cut down on car fraud and automobile theft.

Can I perform a license plate search on my own?

While it is possible to search a license plate on your own, it would consume a lot of your time and resources. You would essentially need to contact every DMV, police department, federal agency and insurance company to gather all of their public data.

If you are doing this research to help you purchase a new vehicle, you simply won’t have the time to complete plate checks on your own. Instead, you can gather a fair amount of data in a matter of minutes by using a free license plate search service.

Last updated on Tuesday, March 10 2020.