27 February 2006

Tracing Vehicle Ownership History

A Hagerty Collector Network member recently asked if there was a way to look up vehicle registration history for a 1966 Mustang. There are many reasons that car collectors seek this type of information. First, it’s fun to know the history of a vehicle. Second, a previous owner can tell you about a car and verify its options as well as offer any literature or parts they might still have. Third, you might learn if the car has been in an accident or had major repairs. Also, you made need the written permission of the previous owner to maintain its unique registry number in some car clubs.

Tracing car ownership isn’t easy to do because of a federal law that went into effect in September 1997. The Drivers Privacy Protection Act prohibits state motor vehicle departments from giving records to individuals. The law was drafted because stalkers had used DMV records to obtain home addresses. Several states raised states’ rights objections, but the law is still in effect.

If you think you can talk a DMV clerk into bending the law for a car collector, visit the British Car Forum: Car History news group at www.britishcarforum.com. It includes a discussion about an Austin-Healey BN6 owner trying to trace registration information on his car.  

Due to the privacy legislation, any hobbyist who wants to trace their car’s history has a lot of legwork to do, but it is possible. In fact, I’ve been able to find the previous owners of eight of my 11 cars without any DMV help.

A good reference is How to Find Cars & Owners, by Barbara Spear and Mike Brezden. Though reprinted in 1992, it’s now out of print, but you might be able to find a copy via eBay, Amazon.com or used bookseller T.E. Warth, Esq. Both editions came out before the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act took effect in September 1997; however, the book covers many aspects of tracing ownership history – not just title searches through state motor vehicle agencies.

The authors start out telling people the reason they should care about past owners. They talk about things to consider, such as the car’s age, and having realistic expectations. “There is no magic computer with an all-encompassing database of past owners,” says Spear. There are basic instructions from how to set up a three-ring binder to make a “case file” to how to make phone calls and write letters that past owners will respond positively to.

Investigative techniques of searching through a car looking for clues to past ownership are also covered in the book. Are there old registration papers in the glove box? How about an ice scraper with the original dealer’s name? Better yet, an owner’s manual with the GM Protect-O-Plate or Ford Warranty Information Card glued in it? Look under the seats for old pay stubs or bank deposit slips. If you’re lucky, you might find a factory Broadcast Sheet with all the car’s options listed on it stuck behind the instrument panel or rear seat. 

The book tells you what to ask for if you do locate one of the car’s previous owners. This may sound like overkill, but in most cases the car owner won’t want a pen-pal, so it’s important to find out everything possible while you have the opportunity. The book also covers different questions to ask a car dealer or auction house that might have handle a sale of the vehicle. If you can’t find copies of How to Find Cars & Owners, you’ll be happy to learn that a great deal of the information in the book has been posted to the Internet by Spear. The copyrighted information is available at www.yankeelady.com/library.htm.

There are several other websites that contain helpful information about tracing vehicle histories. The 1970 Corvette Registry & Resources link list at www.corvetteforum.net/c3/1970registry/ includes links to an online owner center for research, information about getting started tracing your car’s history and a listing of DMV offices across the .

If you own a British Car, the British Motor Heritage Industry Trust can trace your car’s production records that will show when it was built and when and where it came to the states. It will also document chassis and engine numbers and may help determine if they properly match. There is a set fee for this service and a certificate is provided. The address is: British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, Archive Department, HeritageMotorCenter, Banbury Road, Gaydon, WarwickCV35 OBJ, England.

Visiting the websites listed above will get you started on tracing the history of your car or truck. How far you take the investigation is up to you. How much information you’ll find is up to Lady Luck. Hopefully, she’ll be riding with you.

John “Gunner” Gunnell is the automotive books editor at Krause Publications in Iola, Wis., and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide.

58 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Sudheer Guntur June 3, 2013 at 03:26
    How to open the vehicle owner used as vehicle plate number.
  • 2
    James earl tipton Clute,Texas July 9, 2013 at 20:02
    Trying to find vin# on a 1975 GMC truck I once owned
  • 3
    GAJRAJ new delhi October 20, 2013 at 10:07
    pls. tell me about my car owner history vide car no.dl7cn4967
  • 4
    mikey United States January 6, 2014 at 23:13
    I want to know how to find a car my dad use to own any good directions?
  • 5
    Joe Florida July 16, 2014 at 16:38
    I bought a 55 chevy wagon in Colorado in 1979 and did not make it into my name. I pulled the car out of storage and started to work on it but can not find the title now. How do I find the name of the owner so I can contact them to see if they can get me another title. If they are even still alive. I do have the vin#. Joe
  • 6
    Cody Oklahoma August 6, 2014 at 17:28
    I have a 1970 challenger r/t that my grandpa left me. He really wanted to know the history of the car and talk to the previous owners. It was a old drag car that we are restoring. But this year my grandpa passed away and never got to know the history of the challenger. I tried but didnt have the time because his cancer was really fast paste. If there was anyway someone could help or get my going in the right direction that would be great! Thanks Cody
  • 7
    Jim Omena, Michigan September 26, 2014 at 12:33
    Any resource for military vehicle information by VIN number?
  • 8
    Ray Tulsa, Oklahoma October 13, 2014 at 09:58
    Cody, I am in the process of tracing the history on a 1970 Challenger R/T also. I would be interested in hearing how your search is going and what you have found.
  • 9
    ricki tyler tx. June 3, 2015 at 14:50
    trying to find vin# on 63 impala I used to own one I had in high school whould like to find possibly repurchase to restore lots of memories in it
  • 10
    De Washington, D.C. June 11, 2015 at 15:19
    I have a1999 Pontiac that I have misplace the title to. I have went to the DMV about my problem they said I have to contact the last owner but I have no way of getting in contact with them. Is there anyway I can get in contact or find the last owner of the car I have the vin#
  • 11
    Pattie il July 16, 2015 at 21:10
    Looking for my first car a 1977 Cutlass Supreme. The dealer I bought it from went out of business and I do not have the vin.
  • 12
    Jose Borrero Puerto Rico August 25, 2015 at 13:26
    How can I get history of a car. It's a 1980 Toyota Celica Supra Hatchback but by the Vin # I can't find. What website I need to look. Thank You for your help in Advance
  • 13
    Roger B Walker Sr 8631 Studebaker January 18, 2016 at 09:07
    Looking for a previous owner vehicle of 1963 Chevrolet Impala
  • 14
    Doug Raulerson Apopka, FL February 6, 2016 at 16:19
    My father showed me a round aluminum plate about the size of a silver dollar. He said it was the title to a vehicle owned by his father or grandfather. It has at the top FLORIDA then MOTOR VEHICLE then these stamped numbers 660383 then below that TITLE then below that CERTIFICATE PLATE. How can I find what type of vehicle this tittle plate was for and who's name was listed as the owner. Please reply via email or text me & 407-448-0157 and I will send a picture. Your assistance is appreciated.
  • 15
    mike barker st.louis mo. February 16, 2016 at 14:24
    looking for my 65 dodge pickup. i have vin# last known mo. plate # 825nx4 was my fathers truck in family since 1966
  • 16
    David dorsey Bowman, ga March 7, 2016 at 04:26
    I have lost the title to a 2001 Chevrolet 3500, I bought the truck and got the title in the mail from the auction and there is no record of what name the truck is registered to.
  • 17
    Inba Dayalan Halasuru March 8, 2016 at 10:12
    Want to find two wheeler owner details
  • 18
    Tom Hackman Pennsylvania March 17, 2016 at 16:30
    I bought a 68 Ford Torino fastback GT to restore from SD wit a b.o.s. I need to tilte in my state but need to know who titled it last in SD. The person I bought it from did no paperwork when he purchased the car so no title. I have a VIN # and also there are old plated from 1989 still on the car. Where do I start? I called the notory in my state and contacted SD dept. of rev. but could get no help. Thank you for any help with this.
  • 19
    Maria Osorio lamesa tx April 12, 2016 at 12:12
    I need to find out a vin# of a car I use to have.
  • 20
    MARK US May 19, 2016 at 12:55
    @Maria, Use VinAudit for real vehicle information about your vin.
  • 21
    Trudy Perry Pennsylvania June 6, 2016 at 09:06
    Is there anyway I can find out past & present owners of a 1971 or 1972 Mustang Mach 1 in yellow without knowing the vin number>
  • 22
    Chris Cantrall Pekin IL June 24, 2016 at 18:17
    Trying to find the original owner of my 1972 Buick Skylark
  • 23
    R Donaldson Newcastle-upon-tyne September 18, 2016 at 05:50
    can i find the present owner of motorcycle i used to own
  • 24
    SHELLY HARTSVILLE SC October 3, 2016 at 12:01
    I NEED TO FIND THE PREVIOUS OWNER OF A 1980 HARLEY I BOUGHT .. WHAT CAN I DO?
  • 25
    john umbarger jr Benbrook Texas October 24, 2016 at 08:20
    Looking for a 1968 Camaro Rally Sport purchased in high school in 1974 metallic blue with a black vinyl top and a white stripe across the hood down to the door panel 327 motor with a turbo 400
  • 26
    R Guy Pennsylvania October 29, 2016 at 07:23
    I have a rare opportunity to get a BWM 1972-1980 528i. The speed-o-meter states it can up to 80 mph. The individual I am getting it from doesn't have title and not able to locate Vin number on vehicle. I want to restore but not sure because of this issue. Please advise. Thank You
  • 27
    Dan Long Myrtle Beach sc 29579 October 31, 2016 at 15:07
    I am trying to find the builder of a 32 ford coupe Downs fiberglass car I purchased.
  • 28
    Leo Pennsylvania December 10, 2016 at 16:34
    I purchased a 52 f8 off a farmer about 5 years ago. After enough nagging from me to get the title he finally sent for a lost title. He later found out, that he sold 2 trucks at the same time and handed the other buyer the title to my truck, and I note have his. How can I find the owner of that truck to exchange for the right title
  • 29
    anthony L Valentin NJ January 4, 2017 at 15:54
    I am trying to find my old mustang 1FACP44E8NF141821. So far I have had no luck with online searches
  • 30
    Lesley MO January 27, 2017 at 18:34
    Searching for a previously owned 1969 chevy chevelle. I have located the 13 digit vin#. What steps do I need to take to find who owns it.
  • 31
    Mike SMith Ohio February 2, 2017 at 21:49
    Looking for previous owner of a Chevy pickup
  • 32
    MARIE MOORE BAYVILLE, N.J. February 14, 2017 at 19:24
    WANT TO KNOW WHO OWNED OR LEASED VEHICLE BEFORE ME.
  • 33
    drew connecticut February 15, 2017 at 15:48
    Anthony your mustang is in new york. https://www.vehiclehistory.com/vehicle/land.php
  • 34
    Mjd1980 Deptford New Jersey February 19, 2017 at 01:04
    After reading this piece, I'm doubtful in my ability to find a car I've been looking for. I have close to no information on it other than Year, make, model, physical description and the fact that I owned from 1989-1990. I know who I sold it to. That's about all info I have. If anyone can give me some advice as to whether I have a shot in hell to find whatever happened to the car, I'd appreciate a point in the right direction. I didn't own it long but it was my favorite car I had ever owned, would love to see if still exists, and buy it back... it's a huge reach, I know, but it's something I regret letting go of... thank you
  • 35
    steven arthur los angeles, ca March 3, 2017 at 19:01
    trying to find history of first sale of my 1967 Camaro
  • 36
    Ray Tucker Iowa March 5, 2017 at 19:03
    I would like to find my 1971 Chevelle that I ordered back in 1971 and sold in 1979.....I Don't have vin number but I have Pictures of car...
  • 37
    sheridan Utah March 8, 2017 at 00:15
    I am looking for a truck my boyfriend's grandpa used to own. We have no information on current owner, previous owners, VIN #, or plate number... It is an old Chevy Truck, flat black with red pin striping. It is lifted and sits on 35's with 15 inch wheels. The original engine has been replaced with a V8 Camaro engine. If anybody has any information regarding a vehicle matching this description please contact me... It was sold to someone in Utah at the time of his grandfather's passing. Thank you.. swbusiness713@gmail.com
  • 38
    Marc Illinois March 9, 2017 at 11:11
    I'm trying to locate my old 2003 FXDWG I sold my best friend. He sold it on craigslist, and passed away a month later. I have no idea who he sold it to, but I want to buy it back. The VIN is 1HD1GEV143K305362. I've been looking on the internet on-and-off for about a year now with no luck. Every site I'm pointed to only offers automobile information, not motorcycles. If they offer motorcycles, they only tell you a vehicle history report...not who owns it.
  • 39
    GEORGE BOULTON TUCSON AZ March 19, 2017 at 10:05
    I JUST BOUGHT A 1947 LINCOLN 76H SERIES SEDAN IT HAS BEEN STORED FOR 32 YEARS IN A WEAR HOUSE THEN SOLD TO A MAN IN SALEM NY AND HE STORED IT FOR 20 YEARS. HOW CAN I FIND WHO AND WHERE IT WAS ORIGINALLY BOUGHT AND THE OWNERS. AS I WAS TOLD ,I THINK I AM THE 4TH OWNER.
  • 40
    prajna provindence, rhode island March 27, 2017 at 16:57
    vin#4jgab544e7ya148505, how can i find who was the last owner of this car.
  • 41
    Jim weiding Washington March 31, 2017 at 13:33
    I am trying to find my two nova's I had and all I got is the old license plate numbers HUK765 KGZ806 Any help would be great!
  • 42
    Mike Kingman IN April 6, 2017 at 14:42
    Don't really care of previous owners right now, but I would like to find out where my truck was originally sold. Thx for any info
  • 43
    Mary h vargas San Antonio tx April 11, 2017 at 16:25
    Just bought used car need to find past owner and history
  • 44
    adam nw arkansas April 14, 2017 at 23:43
    I have a 1964 vw beetle and have the vin, I also have a 1985 magazine that the bug was featured in. And was owned by a famous person. Is the anyway to verify that this is the car by the vin. I'm not sure this previous owner will even respond if I ask.
  • 45
    norman grimminger 416 mcclellan road halifax pa 17032 April 20, 2017 at 13:26
    i have a 1972 corvette convertible i am building
  • 46
    Albert Severn Bel Air, Maryland April 21, 2017 at 14:40
    I had a 1979 Camaro Z/28 I purchased in 1979, had the vehicle for 11 years had to sell the vehicle due to making ends meet and no money to due some repairs that were needed. I would love to find this vehicle to purchase it back to restore, many memories with that vehicle. I think I still have the VIN number for it.
  • 47
    james rock KY April 25, 2017 at 22:27
    How can I find previous owner of 2016 Harley Davidson
  • 48
    angelique South Dakota April 27, 2017 at 17:01
    i bought a car in fall of 2015 and didnt get in my name right away. when i planed on getting the car in my name i lost the title the next day. i tried to get another and i wasnt able to due to not remember who owned it last.. feel so stupid for not getting this done any sooner. can you please help me on how i can get a new title for my car
  • 49
    sara vineland nj April 28, 2017 at 17:24
    I have a friend that bought 2003 mustang ID number 1FAFP40423F309072 if u know the last owner can he please get in touch with me.thank u.
  • 50
    Rod Ragazzo Windermere, FL May 3, 2017 at 18:28
    Trying to locate my Dad's 2003 Aviator. He only had 30k on it when sold in 2011?when traded in at Bayview Cadillac in Ft Lauderdale. The VIN is: 5LMEU88HX3ZJ03762 Thanks
  • 51
    Mitchell Mason OH May 4, 2017 at 00:13
    Looking of my 1968 Dodge cornet RT Super Bee that I sold in 1979 the guy named Herman and hei Norwood Ohio if anybody could help me track that down appreciated I may have sold at him the 1978
  • 52
    John secor Connecticut May 9, 2017 at 16:02
    Looking for a 1968 GT 500 mustang my neighbor owned,vin# 8T02S182205-02955 am trying to locate to purchase if possible
  • 53
    Thomas Murawski IL May 9, 2017 at 19:03
    I have the vin# and license# for my 1970 Nova SS big block 4speed sold locally in 1980,rare color Autumn gold # 58. I am seeking current location.
  • 54
    Cecil Mullis atl, ga May 22, 2017 at 14:30
    I am looking for previous owners of my 2003 f250 super duty lariate that was sold new in Boaz Al its dark green with most opts on it then sold in Pisgah Al then to Tn it went then to me it has a few more opts added that i need to find out about for insurance reasons thanks.
  • 55
    Damon Landisville pa May 24, 2017 at 23:32
    Searching for previous owner s of this 1971 blue Chevelle 454 SS auto there a wild 355 in it now vin 136371B185974 . Bought it from a guy name Joe was a 17 yr. Old kid back then he bought from a tree nursery in warminster Pa near the air force base back in 1995 . Any help would be nice thank you
  • 56
    Mark neighbors PA June 6, 2017 at 11:35
    36 37 years ago my dad had a Harley davison and back in August he a major stroke I tried to get info on it and I couldn't get much out of him I want to try to find the bile and where it went and see if I could buy it back and surprise him with it I don't have any info like vin or who bought the bike how can I get this info and who can help me my email is lotta69ers@yahoo.com and my name is mark neighbors you can find me on facebook if anyone can help I would so appreciate it
  • 57
    Mauricio Ornelas CA June 14, 2017 at 19:19
    I purchased a vehicle from a private seller turns out he was not the owner when I went looking for him the car was registered to a previous owner who had turned it into Carmax Carmax is not willing to help me out in this matter so I need to get hold of this individual that sold me the car. Hope you can help out.
  • 58
    Betsy Manahawkin, NJ June 19, 2017 at 12:35
    I am looking at a 2006 Subaru Baja, currently in possession of an independent dealer.( it would buy from) I did a car Fax and see the original owner was from my area, and had it for over 9 yrs, Sold to a nother party who had I assume problems, and did some repairs, also appears to be local . I would like to talk to owner # 2 who got rid of it Nov of 2016, Called last know repair shop but they were not at liberty to give me a name. Any help out there?

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