Is it Legal to Run a License Plate? (The answer may surprise you!)

Prominently displayed as a Google featured snippet, the informational website, asserts that “it is illegal to run a license plate…regardless of circumstances…and only a member of law enforcement is permitted to run a plate…”.It is legal to run a license plate?

This assertion is factually incorrect.  ( I guess there is something to be said about not believing everything you read on the Internet.)

No doubt, a private, non-governmental website which generates revenue by selling ad space, is referring to the DPPA (Drivers Privacy Protection Act), a federal law that limits the public release of personally identifiable information associated with state DMV records.

In fact, the DPPA cites 14 specific exceptions, including reasons concerning motor vehicle safety, notification to the owners of towed vehicles and in connection with any court proceeding or litigation matter.

But this article is not about the DPPA. For the purposes of this post, we are going to assume that you have a perfectly valid reason to run a license plate.

When Running a License Plate Becomes a Historic Record

As each State DMV deems their vehicle records to become outdated, they sell them to data aggregators, such as Infopay, the parent company of (and many more) who then package and re-sell them to the public. Of course, the general public does not realize that they are buying historic information, and Search Quarry does not go out-of-their-way to explain this. You have to dig deep and read their terms of service and legal disclaimer to reveal this fact. Does anyone actually do this?  Unfortunately, the unsuspecting consumer is purchasing a subscription to old, outdated material, as the vehicle has likely been sold to a new owner or the license plate is now associated with a different vehicle. The enticement used to lure you in is their seemingly low price of $2.95.  But this is only the initial trial period, after which you are billed up to $25.00 every month, until you cancel. All this comes with absolutely no guarantee that the requested license plate ran reflects current information.

Docusearch is Different

Unlike the company mentioned above, Docusearch doesn’t aggregate anything.  We are licensed private investigators with access to 38 State DMV’s. We provide current registration details associated with a license plate, including the name and address of the registered owner and details regarding the vehicle, like the VIN, year, make and model. And because each license plate ran is hand-searched, results cannot be instant.  But we are fast.  In fact, most often results are returned in less than one hour.  Just as important, at Docusearch, there is no monthly subscription to purchase and no re-occurring charges to your credit card.  You simply pay for the search you need. The average cost for a Docusearch license plate lookup is $39, however some states charge more.  Yes, the cost is higher than the same search from a historic database. That’s because states charge more for “live” information.

The Bottom Line

Running license plates is completely legal providing you have a permissible purpose.  And if you do, then you probably want to assure that the name, address and vehicle information you receive is accurate and current.

There may be circumstances where someone is looking for the current owner of a vintage vehicle they owned 20 years ago, and they only have the old license number.  As Docusearch only conducts searches for vehicles that are currently registered, by plate number or VIN, we can offer little assistance in these cases.  Also, there are 12 states that don’t allow access to vehicle registration information, not even to licensed investigators. To check state availability, prices and turn-around times, please visit

[Disclaimer: The information in this article is provided for general informational purposes only. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.]

About Docusearch’s License Plate Lookup Service

Online for over 22 years, Docusearch has been trusted by private investigators, attorneys and insurance companies nationwide to find current vehicle ownership records through it’s license plate lookup service. Unlike database providers and subscription software, Docusearch obtains vehicle registration records direct form the source, the State DMV.  Why should you settle for anything less than current, accurate results.

Other License Plate Lookup Resources:

License Plate Lookup Scam Alert — Always Read the Fine Print!
License Plate Search – How to Search License Plate Numbers Online
Is There a Free License Plate Lookup?
License Plate Number Lookup: 6 Must-Knows Before You Search [2020]

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