Find the Owner of a Vehicle

There may be a variety of reasons that you would need to identify and locate the owner of a vehicle. Perhaps you witnessed or were the victim of a hit-and-run accident. Maybe it’s a car that you have recently sold and have some need to look up the new owner. Or maybe you just saw a car go by and you thought the driver was a long-lost friend. How can you track down the owner in any of these cases? If you’re a little creative, there are several ways available to you.


Notifying the Authorities to Find the Owner of a Car From an Accident

  1. Call the police. Particularly if you witnessed any kind of accident, illegal behavior, or if your car was the victim of a hit-and-run incident, you should not attempt to locate the other driver on your own. Your best option is to notify the police with whatever information you can provide. If possible, you should try to provide them with:
    • The make and model of the car.
    • The car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). If you have an opportunity to get close enough to the car, you can find the VIN on most cars by looking through the windshield at the bottom corner of the dashboard on the driver’s side.
    • The license plate number.
    • Any particular distinguishing features, such as unusual accessories, paint job, or damage to the car.
  2. Check with your insurance company. Your insurance company has resources available that you may not. If you are filing a claim, or even just investigating the possibility of a future claim, the insurance company may be able to identify the owner of the other car.
  3. Contact the Registry of Motor Vehicles or your country's corresponding agency. If you can provide the Registry of Motor Vehicles with the license plate or VIN for a car, they will be able to use that information to identify the owner. They will probably not be allowed to give that information to you directly, but depending on why you need the information, they may be able to provide the information to some other appropriate person (your insurance agent, for example).

Using Online Resources to Help Locate a Car's Prior Owner

  1. Find the car’s VIN. If you have an opportunity to get close enough to the car, you can find the VIN on most cars by looking through the windshield at the bottom corner of the dashboard on the driver’s side.[1]
  2. Search the Internet for companies that will identify owners. There are several sources online that will perform VIN reference checks. Most of these sources, particularly the ones that offer a free search, exist to help buyers of used cars check the history of the vehicle or to ensure that the vehicle has not been stolen.[2] However, if you are willing to pay for the service, you may find some online search engines that will provide you with personal identification information, such as name, address and phone number.
  3. Be cautious about using the results you get. For privacy concerns, many online search sites are unlikely to provide you with as much information as you may want. Most VIN searches, especially the ones that are free, will let you know if a car has a history of being reported stolen or reported damaged, but they will not give you personal names or contact information. For an additional fee, you may be able to receive names of prior owners, but even then you need to be wary of the results. These search engines are only as accurate as information that is fed into public databases, and the ones that claim to be able to give you personal information about prior owners are usually less reputable.[3] In fact, in the "small print" on some search sites, the search company itself warns that you should "independently verify" any information that you recover.

Using Available Documents to Find the Seller or Buyer of Your Car

  1. Check the title. If you are either the current owner and trying to find the person who sold you the car, or if you recently sold it and you are trying to find the new owner, you should have some paperwork that will help. As part of selling a car, the Certificate of Title should contain information that identifies both the seller and buyer of the car. If you kept a copy of this document (you should!), then you may be able to find the information you need quite easily.[4]
  2. Check the bill of sale. Another document that should be part of a vehicle sale is the bill of sale. In some states, the bill of sale is optional, and in some it is required. This would identify both the owner and seller.[5] The bill of sale is not generally recorded with the registry. It is simply one of the documents that you may have kept if you were a party to the previous sale, and it might help you out in tracking down the buyer's name.
  3. Consider using any available accident or insurance reports. If the car is one that you previously owned, and you are looking for a current owner, you may be able to dig up old records of any accident or insurance claims you may have filed in the past. These records, if you’re lucky, would probably contain the car’s VIN, which you can then search online.
    • Contact your insurance company for help locating any insurance related documents. If you don't have the records yourself, their record system may include information that can help you.

Working with Car Clubs to Find the Owner of a Special Type of Car

  1. Identify the type of car. Suppose you see a really cool Camaro, Mustang or some other collectible car drive by. Make a note of as much descriptive information as you can get.
  2. Look up car clubs online. With a simple Internet search for “car clubs,” you will be able to find listings of clubs dedicated to car enthusiasts.
  3. Narrow your search by the style or year of the car. If you have this additional information, you will have a better chance of finding the particular car and owner you are looking for.
  4. Look for owners in your area. Some car club sites will list owners by name and include contact information. With a little luck, you’ll find the person you want.

Advertising to Reach Out and Find a Car Owner

  1. Place a newspaper ad to find someone local. This is not the most effective way to reach out to someone, but if you’re really serious about trying to find someone, and if you believe that person may be local to you, you could just run an ad in a local newspaper. Describe the type of car, the reason you are trying to find the person, and a safe way for him or her to contact you.
  2. Place a classified ad in a car magazine. If you are looking for the owner of a car that is likely to be a collectible item, or an antique, then you may wish to try this option. There are numerous magazines dedicated to car enthusiasts, and they would likely have a broader circulation than a local newspaper. Try placing a classified ad with a description of the car and driver you are hoping to locate, and include a safe way for him or her to contact you.
    • Be careful not to post too much private information about yourself. If you set up a meeting with the person you contact, keep it in an open, public location where you will be safe.
  3. Post on social media. The Internet reaches all over the world. Consider using sites like Facebook, CraigsList, or similar resources to make your search truly wide-reaching. Again, be careful not to put out too much personal information about yourself, and only arrange meetings in safe locations.
    • If available, you might consider posting a photo of the car in question. For example, suppose a car is illegally parked in your neighborhood, and you're trying to reach out to the owner. Posting a photo of the car on a neighborhood Facebook group might just catch someone's eye.

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