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How to Find a Vehicle by VIN Number

Updated on July 12, 2010

How to Find a Vehicle by VIN Number

A vehicle’s VIN number is a unique, 17-digit numerical that serves as identification -- the auto equivalent of fingerprints or a Social Security number. A VIN number can uncover a great deal of information about a vehicle, including the vehicle’s make, model, engine and interior. VIN numbers can also reveal the current owner of the vehicle, all previous owners, and information about prior accidents, title statuses, even the address where the vehicle is currently registered. If you need to find a vehicle, the VIN number is definitely the best way to start your search.

Find the VIN number for the vehicle you wish to research. As mentioned above, this is the unique 17-digit numerical identifier attached to every vehicle. If you have access to the actual vehicle, you can find the vehicle’s VIN number yourself. If not, you will need the vehicle’s title or registration card, on which the VIN number is printed towards the top of the document.

If you are trying to find a vehicle by VIN number because you are considering it as a purchase, ask the dealer or seller to provide you with the vehicle’s VIN number. If the seller is unwilling to provide you with the VIN number, take this as a sign the vehicle has a bad history and pass on the offer to buy.

Visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Motor Vehicle Services (MVS). Request a blank Request for Public Records form. If your local DMV agency does not offer request forms, draft your own request using a sample Request for Public Records form as your guide. Be sure to provide the vehicle’s VIN number as it appears on the vehicle itself or its records. Provide a detailed reason for your request; if you are requesting the information consequent to a crime -- such as a hit-and-run accident or grand theft auto -- attach a copy of the police report and any other evidence you have to the back of your completed request. Sign the bottom when you are finished.

Visit the DMV office and submit your completed request form, along with any attachments, if applicable. Bring along photo identification, such as a valid driver’s license, to verify your identity. The DMV may charge you a nominal to find the vehicle by VIN number, per your request; you must pay this before a representative can conduct a VIN number search. The DMV may also charge you a fee for duplicating the records. Be sure to inquire about these costs prior to leaving the office.

It can take in upwards of six to eight weeks before you receive a response to your request, so wait patiently. You will receive the information in one of two ways: via mail or in person. If you must pick up the records for the vehicle in person, be prepared to show photo identification to verify your identity once again. Also, be aware that not all DMV agencies allow their records to leave the office, so if the DMV does not have a copy machine on-site, you will have to review the VIN number records in person.

Look specifically for the vehicle registration and a copy of the vehicle title. Compare the VIN number on the documents to the VIN number you have for the vehicle. Then, locate the make, model, year and color of the vehicle. Ensure this matches the information you already have for the vehicle, just to ensure the VIN number you have is correct. Then, locate the owner/registrant’s name and address; this is the address where the vehicle should be located.

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