How do you obtain the prior owner information for a vehicle? Well, vehicle owner information is protected under a federal law called the DPPA, which stands for the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, and we’ll bring up the form in a second for how to request that information and what you have to fill out to get that from the government. So vehicle owner information is protected, and it protects your privacy, so you wouldn’t want somebody just to write down your license plate or even your VIN number from your car windshield and find out where you live. What could happen is that if somebody didn’t like the speed you were driving at and cut you off and wanted to find out where you lived, they could write down your license plate, find out who the owner of the car is and the address, and come knocking on your door, and that wouldn’t be good. 

So the information is protected under federal law, but there are exceptions to the protection where you can use it to get information for certain circumstances, like to protect against fraud or for insurance information, or if you’re the new owner and you need to somehow get a title. And here is an example: and now, remember, vehicle information is kept at the state level. Every state has a DMV, and every state has a department of licensing. So that’s where the information is, so you have to apply for it in the state where the last record was.

Here’s an example of one state: This happens to be the state of Washington. It’s called the vehicle record request. And if you request this and are a business, it costs $2; you get it for free if you’re a member of the public or a government agency. A lot of processing usually takes more than 10 days. As I’ll have to tell you, even though it says 10 days, you have to. You can email it in or send it by postal mail. You have to put in your information. The name, address, and phone number provide information about the vehicle and then questions: 

  • Is the vehicle in your possession? 
  • How did you obtain it? 
  • What information do you need from the current owner? 
  • What else do you need? How will you use the records? 

This is important because you have to swear in an affidavit that it’s yours. You’re using it for the valid purpose of getting a title for the vehicle or contacting the owner. If you make a false statement, that’s subject to federal fines. It’s a federal law that protects them, and you have to sign it and follow these instructions for businesses and organizations; you have to put down who you’re going to allow to use it in your company. You also have to swear that you’re not going to use it for stocking purposes or for any other invalid purposes. If it turns out that you get this information and use it improperly, there are serious fines that go along with it.

In addition, many requests are rejected by the state because it doesn’t feel that their purpose is necessary. So be aware that every state has what’s called a DPPA request. And you have the file there with the instructions. Most of the time, you’re going to be required to mail it in, and the wait time is going to be pretty long. This says 10 days; our experience in Washington state is two to three weeks. We just did one for the state of Pennsylvania. It actually took six weeks to come back from Pennsylvania. And remember that the information in those records, especially for vehicles that have been off the road or that we sold, may not be current. You know what it says: Joe Schmo lives on 12 Main Street, while Joe Schmo may have long since moved from Main Street. Because that’s going to be the address that was on the title when that person bought the car. Suppose that person bought the car brand new in 2000. And they had it for 10 years and sold it, or even 15 years and sold it in 2015, so he may have moved three or four times; it’s not the address that was on their registration.

It’s on the address that was on the title at the time of purchase, so it may be old. So be aware that you may have to do some other searching to find out where they are now. Remember, you can’t use this for improper purposes, and if you do something to notify or contact that person that maybe freaks them out, they might say that this person is harassing me. They don’t necessarily want to be contacted by you. So be aware that your contact with them should be very unobtrusive. We recommend sending them by postal mail, and you can find information on our website about the best way to do that by contacting the prior owners. Is there a very important step to do properly so you don’t have problems getting the information and also run into problems with how you use it?