How to Find the Owner of a Car the Free and Legal Way

You might be thinking, “Why do I need to know how to find the current owner of a vehicle? I’m not a stalker!” Well, there are actually plenty of legitimate reasons why you might want to do that. Examples include:

  • You witnessed or were injured in a hit-and-run accident.
  • Someone is trying to sell you their car, and you’d like to check if that person is who they say they are.
  • You saw someone drive by and suspect that they might be a long-lost friend.
  • A stranger keeps parking their car in front of your house or in your driveway.
  • You collect vintage or specialty vehicles, and you saw a fantastic car you’d be interested in buying.
How to find the current owner of a vehicle.

Convinced yet? Well, if you are, let’s dive straight into the topic without further ado!

What You Will Need

Before learning how to find the current owner of a vehicle, you will need to collect some clues. These include any information about the car and its owner that you can get your hands on, such as:

  • The make and model of the vehicle.
  • Any unusual characteristics, such as a peculiar paint job, unusual accessories, dents, scratches, or a vintage look.
  • The license plate number.
  • The vehicle identification number, more commonly known as VIN.

Depending on the situation, you may have to use any or all of the above to help you find the owner of your mystery vehicle.

The VIN Number: What It Is and Where to Find It

This little number is so crucial that it deserves its own section. If you want to know how to find the current owner of a vehicle, then you really need to find out what its VIN is. Here is what it is and how and where you can find it.

The VIN is a unique serial number that consists of a set of 17 characters. These include both digits and letters, with the exception of the letters I (i), O (O), and Q (q). That prevents any confusion with the numbers 1 and 0. 

Every vehicle has its own unique VIN that can be used to identify it and gain more information on it.

The VIN is typically imprinted onto the vehicle itself. You can normally find it in one of the following locations:

  • On the left-side dashboard
  • On the driver’s side-door frame
  • At the front of the engine block

Alternatively, you can look for the VIN in the vehicle’s registration, insurance, or title papers — that is, if you have access to them.

What Do the VIN Characters Stand For?

Not many people know this, but every digit and numeral in a VIN has a very specific function and meaning. In case you want to know more about it, here is a little bonus section to quench your curiosity.

  1. The first character represents the vehicle’s country of manufacture.
  2. The second and third characters represent the vehicle’s manufacturer.
  3. Then, the fourth to eight characters stand for the vehicle’s brand, engine size, and type.
  4. The ninth character acts as a check or security digit that certifies the VIN as authorized by the manufacturer.
  5. The tenth character represents the vehicle model’s year.
  6. Going further, the eleventh character stands for the manufacturing plant.
  7. Finally, the remaining characters are the vehicle’s serial number.

5 Ways to Find the Current Owner of a Car

1. Use Online Databases (Free or Paid)

In this day and age, there are plenty of websites that allow you to search for a vehicle using its VIN.

Obviously, this method requires you to identify the VIN first. I suspect that you can’t have a look in the vehicle’s papers, or you’d already know who the owner is.

Therefore, your best course of action would be to locate the VIN on the vehicle itself. How do you do that? Well, approach the car — inconspicuously — and have a look at the dashboard and side-door frame on the driver’s side through the windshield. The VIN should be right there; if it isn’t, then it’s probably at the front of the engine block.

Then, go online and search for websites that offer VIN reference checks. Some of these are free of charge, while others might require a small fee.

Usually, free websites can only help buyers of second-hand cars to track the history of the vehicle and make sure that it has not been stolen or damaged. You are not likely to get personal data such as the names or contact details of past and current owners.

On the other hand, some of the paid services provide more detailed information. Just make sure you know what kind of information you will be getting in advance. Don’t make the mistake of paying for a service only to end up with unsatisfactory or incomplete data afterward.

Last but not least, be mindful when using the search results. Even the paid search engines are not bulletproof and can’t offer a 100% guarantee that the information they provide is correct. What’s more, most of these websites have no formal license or verification of any sort. Many even contain small print that warns you to verify any search data independently.

2. Contact the Authorities

Contacting the authorities will provide you with the most trustworthy and complete information about a vehicle and its owner.

What’s more, turning to the authorities is an absolute must in the event of a traffic accident, a vehicle being stolen or damaged, or any other kind of illegal behavior.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, depending on the situation, the appropriate institution to turn to may be different.

Call the Police

I don’t need to tell you that you should definitely call the police if you are a witness or victim of a hit-and-run or other traffic accident, as well as any illegal behavior. In situations like these, it is particularly important that you do not attempt to identify or locate the owner of the vehicle on your own.

Provide the police with as much information about the accident, vehicle, and the other driver as possible.

Key pieces of data include the VIN and license plate number, as well as the make and model of the car and any distinguishing features of both the vehicle and its driver.

It is also vital that you provide the police with your personal data and contact details and make yourself available for any follow-up questions that they may have.

Contact Your Insurance Company

Again, this is a must if an accident took place or if your car was stolen or damaged in any way. If you are filing or even thinking of filing a claim, your insurer is your go-to information provider on how to find the current owner of a vehicle.

As with the police, make sure you cooperate fully. Give your insurer as much information as you can and fill out all the required paperwork.

Contact the Registry of Motor Vehicles

The Registry of Motor Vehicles, or its foreign counterparts for those of you who don’t live in the U.S., is the ultimate authority on all things related to automobiles. They have access to a wealth of information about any given vehicle and could help you identify an owner based on the license plate number or VIN.

Privacy and Confidentiality

When contacting any government authorities, you should keep in mind that the information you seek might be private and confidential, especially if it involves personal data and contact details.

That means that, as a private person, you may not be entitled to access such information. However, the relevant authorities may provide that information to authorized third parties, such as your lawyer or your insurance company. It all depends on the context and the type of information at hand.

What’s more, the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act controls access to confidential information about vehicle owners in order to prevent its use for illegal purposes. Therefore, you should only seek such information for legitimate and lawful reasons.

3. Leaf Through the Paperwork

The Certificate of Title

If you recently sold your car and are trying to find the new owner, you should first have a look at the Certificate of Title. This document is part of any vehicle sale and includes the personal details of both the seller and buyer. Needless to say, you should keep a copy of this document at all times.

The Bill of Sale

Alternatively, you could also check the Bill of Sale. Depending on your state, it may or may not be one of the required documents for vehicle sales. If you have one, it should identify both the seller and buyer, just like the Certificate of Title. However, keep in mind that Bills of Sale are not generally recorded with the registry, so you should have kept your own copy.

Accident or Insurance Reports

Finally, browse through any accident or insurance reports that you may have. With any luck, these should at least have the car’s VIN and license plate number, which you could then use to look up the new owner online. If you don’t have your own copies of any accident or insurance claims, consider contacting your insurance company to see if they might have any.

4. Get in Touch With Car Clubs

Car clubs can be a surprisingly great source of information on how to find the current owner of a vehicle. Who knows, the mystery owner you are trying to find could be a member of one such organization. If the vehicle in question looks like it could be a collector’s item, it might be worth checking in with your local car clubs.   

However, before doing that, you would need to know the make, model, and year of the car, as well as any other descriptive information that could help identify the vehicle. Naturally, that includes the VIN and license plate number too.

Once you have these and any other details that might come in handy, look up car clubs online. However, don’t limit your search to local organizations only — try to contact as many national car clubs as you can. The person you are looking for could be just passing by your area.

5. Place an Ad in Traditional and Social Media

Finally, if nothing else seems to work and you are still clueless as to how to find the current owner of a vehicle, then ask people through your social media accounts or simply place an old-school newspaper ad. If you go for the latter, it might be best to opt for a local rather than a national paper.

Another option would be to place a classified ad in a car magazine. That could be especially helpful if you are looking for the owner of a specialty or collectible vehicle.

If you prefer online social media, then Facebook and CraigsList are both great choices. If you can, try to find car enthusiasts or similar Facebook groups and consider posting a photo of the vehicle in question — anything that could help you narrow down your search.

In either case, make sure to provide as much and as specific information about the car as possible. In addition, don’t forget to include your contact details as well, so that people can easily find you. However, make sure not to share too much private information and, if possible, avoid meeting strangers in person.

To Conclude

At the end of the day, regardless of your preferred method of how to find the current owner of a vehicle, make sure always to use your common sense and keep your wits about you. Never share your contact details or any sensitive personal data haphazardly. Likewise, don’t expect that you are entitled to other people’s private information and only use it for legitimate purposes. And don’t forget that, sometimes, ignorance is bliss.



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