How To Lookup a License Plate
Updated on October 17, 2018
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If you’ve jotted down someone’s license plate number, there’s a lot you can do with it — IF you know how the license plate lookup process works. If you don’t, there’s a good chance that you will fall victim to sales copy that makes promises it can’t actually keep and even scams that were created solely to take your hard-earned money.
First things first, what kind of information SHOULD you get from a license plate lookup search?
Assuming the people doing it are legitimate, you can get up-to-date information about the vehicle’s registered owner — including his full name and address. You’ll also get the vehicle’s make, model, year and VIN. And, you’ll find out if the vehicle in question has any liens associated with it. All of this information will come from your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, so you can rest easy knowing that it’s correct and current.
But — and this is a big but — the only people who have access to these details are law enforcement and licensed private investigators, like us at Docusearch. Unless the license plate lookup service you choose is run by one of those two groups, you’re not going to get your hands on any current registration information.
Vehicle Ownership Info: What will scam sites give you?
They’ll make all kinds of great promises. Odds are, they’ll brag about being able to give you instant results. In many cases, they’ll even promise to give you free search results. Unfortunately, none of those promises are accurate. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And it definitely is in this case!
Let’s start with the “instant results” promise.
When you know exactly how the license plate search process works, you know that the word “instant” is no different than a neon sign that says, “Out-of-date!” Here’s why:
In order to spin out vehicle ownership details instantly, all of the information has to already exist on the website’s server. There’s no time to request the registration from the state when you’re promising instant information! As a result, it’s impossible for the information you get from one of these instant license plate searches to be current. For all you know, they haven’t updated their database in years!
And, remember, your searcher needs to either be a member of law enforcement or have a private investigator’s license to have access to current vehicle information in the first place. Since most of the license plate search websites out there AREN’T run by private investigators or law enforcement, they won’t be able to give you the important details that you need, no matter how recently they’ve updated their server. Because they don’t have direct access to the Department of Motor Vehicles’ records, they can’t give you any of the official details — instantly or not!
Need Car Owner Name & Address? Here’s what you’ll get instead
Talk to the Department of Motor Vehicles in ANY state, and they’ll tell you that the only thing they will sell a company without a PI license are old records that no longer contain accurate ownership names and addresses. That means your likely to receive a previous vehicle owner instead of the current registered vehicle owner assigned to that license plate.
Yes, these websites know they’ve got inaccurate information. However, they’ll work hard to make sure that YOU don’t find out!
Check for yourself, buried in their terms of service in teeny-tiny fine print, you’ll find something like this: “Please be aware that the information obtained using our site may not always be accurate and up to date as we do not create, verify, or guarantee the accuracy or the amount of information provided through our service.”
The only reason that we were able to find this information is because we knew to look for it. Most people who log onto these websites don’t know that they’re supposed to dig for the real story. Because they don’t know all of the ins and outs of a legitimate license plate lookup search, they don’t know that there’s a potential problem. They simply look at the fancy sales copy — and avoid the boring fine print — and assume that the information they’ve paid for is legitimate. They may then turn around and base important decisions off of information that’s wrong!
Unfortunately, a bogus license plate lookup service can get a whole lot scarier when your wallet gets involved. Most people don’t realize this until it’s too late, but those free search results aren’t really free after all.
The promise of free searches is simply another myth that these websites have created to grab your attention. But, again, if you read through the fine print, you’ll see the real story. In many cases, it’s free to type a license plate number into the search box. And, of course, you’ll instantly see a pop-up that says your report is ready. However, when it’s time to actually see the search results, you’ll be forced to pay a fee or sign up for a monthly subscription.
So how much should you expect to pay to find vehicle owner by plate or VIN?
The true professionals will have you pay a one-time fee, before any of the work is done. Legitimate licensed professionals won’t resort to the tricks and bogus promises that you see in big, bold letters elsewhere. They won’t surprise you with any hidden fees after the work has been done. Instead, they’ll explain everything simply and clearly, without you having to search through endless fine print to try and uncover the real story. The average cost at Docusearch is $39, however some states charge more.
Even better — they’ll do all of the searching by hand.
Instead of relying on servers, automated data aggregation tools, and instant promises, licensed professionals will go into the Department of Motor Vehicles’ current records and search for the most up-to-date information. Then, they’ll take what they find and put everything together in a comprehensive, easy-to-understand report for you. As a result, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve got details that are current and completely accurate.
How long does all of that take?
While a legitimate license plate search can’t be done instantly, it can be done quickly. At Docusearch, most results are searched and returned in less than an hour. Plus you can find vehicle ownership either by license plate number or by vehicle identification number. Our team is credentialed to run license plate lookups in 38 states or simply select a state below for detailed information and return times:
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
Bottom line — information is power. Now that you know what goes into a successful license plate lookup, you won’t be tricked into wasting your valuable time and money with the bogus services.
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.
Additional Docusearch Resources:
License Plate Lookup – How to Search License Plate Numbers Online
License Plate Lookup Scam Alert — Always Read the Fine Print!
License Plate Lookup Guide For Your State
Is It Legal To Run a License Plate?
Is There a Free License Plate Lookup?