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VIN Vehicle History Search Instructions – Full Access

So how can you run a VIN search or vehicle history on a motor vehicle in the United States? There are several different methods to do this, and each one of them has some pros and cons. You want to make sure that the type of search you’re doing matches the kind of records you need. For example, you may want to know about liens, salvage, back taxes, or stolen vehicles, and each one of these is going to be searched in a different way.

Legal Restrictions and Exemptions
First of all, be aware that some vehicle information is protected under federal law called the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), so some information you’re not going to get unless you run a certain type of search that bypasses the DPPA using an exemption that you can apply for. Depending upon if you’re looking to find out the history of the vehicle, the last owner’s name, things about liens, or things about salvage, there are a couple of ways to go about doing it, and we’ll look at both of them.

National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS)
First of all, there’s a federal database called the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). You can get a link to that from our website, where you can actually do a search directly through the NMVTIS through our website and get the results from that search. Those results come instantly when you perform that search; it’s online. You’ll get a printout of that vehicle history. It’ll have information about the last titled states, the dates, and the registration. Many times it’ll show where the vehicle was sold last if it was a retail transaction. It’ll, in many cases, have information about any claims against the vehicle like insurance claims or salvage prior repairs. It might even show things like lien holders. In some cases, you’re going to find recalls on the vehicle and repairs, which is important to know.

Limitations of NMVTIS
So NMVTIS (National Motor Vehicle Title Information System) is a good place to start. Now keep in mind that there are many online VIN checker, VIN report type services that might run some electronic search, but it might not be much more than just a Google search. You want to make sure that whatever search you’re doing uses the NMVTIS as the source because any other source of records is not going to necessarily have all the information you need. Now, remember that there’s some information that’s not allowed to be sent from the NMVTIS, like the name of the prior owner. In some states, liens aren’t even recorded on the NMVTIS, so if you want to know about liens, you have to run a different type of search, and we’ll look at that momentarily.

Checking for Liens
You’ll see that on the NMVTIS search report there will be a section that will say liens, and most of the time, it’ll say no liens. However, if you look at the bottom in the small print, it’ll tell you that liens aren’t always reported; it’s not 100%. So you could buy a vehicle and have an NMVTIS printout from the internet, from online, it’ll say no liens, and you can find out later that there’s a lien. So if you want to get 100%, now you’re going to use the DPPA driver’s request form.

DPPA Driver’s Request Form
Let’s take a look at that. This is a different process where you’re actually submitting a request directly to the titling authority in the state to get an actual vehicle history report. This is the actual records on that vehicle that are held by the government. It’s not an electronic database push-a-button Google search type thing. It’s done using actual paper documents. Every state has a different form to request this. The form you’re looking at happens to be from the state of Wisconsin. It really doesn’t matter which one we’re looking at because the information is going to be the same, and here’s why. The requirements for the DMV or titling authority or in this case Department of Transportation in Wisconsin to release that information all come from the federal law, the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. So every state has to abide by that act, and we’ll take a look at what those requirements are.

Requesting Vehicle Records
Here’s the authorization section, section C. We’ll get to that in a minute, but the form itself is going to have some basic info. It’s going to have the name of the requester, that’s you, who’s requesting this information. Here’s why: you cannot do this anonymously. You can’t just do an anonymous search for the record. They have to know who’s receiving these records because they consider this to be very private and protected information, so they want to know who’s getting it. They’re going to keep a record of that. They’re going to get your driver’s license number; that’s how important this is, your address, mailing address, and then it’s going to ask you about what vehicle records you want.

Form Details and Costs
This form allows you to put in three vehicles: year, make, VIN number goes here in this section. If you know the plate number, you put it there. If you want to know about the current owner, you check this box. If you want to know about the history of owners, you check this other box. So look how powerful this is. Not only will it tell you about the current ownership records, it’ll give you a records history on the vehicle, very powerful. What does it cost? Well, you can get a non-certified copy for five dollars, pretty cheap. Most states have a fee of anywhere between five or ten or fifteen dollars depending on the state. If you want it certified, it’s only ten dollars, right, so it’s not that much more.

Authorization Process
But what is the process? Well, here is your authorization. Please check the statement below that allows you authorization to obtain personal information, and you’re going to notice there are 13 authorized uses or permissible uses. Some forms you’ll see seven, some you’ll see 12 or 13. The language for these authorized uses comes exactly from the federal law, the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. So you can look at Wisconsin or Alaska or Alabama or Michigan, these wordings will all be the same, and they’ll even be in the same order usually. So you have to pick out what gives you the right to get this information. Now, your scenario may be different; there’s almost always going to be one on here that will give you the right to get this information, and we’ll look at each one individually and what they mean and why they might apply to you momentarily. But you want to make sure you’re picking the right one because if you pick the wrong one and you’re not authorized, you’re not going to get the records, okay, because they consider this private information.

Privacy Considerations
Car ownership is not public records. It’s not open records like even real estate or open records. They consider this to be just as private as things like your bank account or your credit report. Ownership records are very, very private. Why is that? Well, think about it. If you’re driving down the street and somebody doesn’t like the way you drive, and they follow you to a parking lot, they write down your license plate or your VIN number, which is right in the dashboard, and they want to find out where you live because they didn’t like the way you cut them off. They could just ask for the information, come knock on your door, and who knows what’s going to happen. So there were some very high-profile cases of stalking and other things where they passed this law back in the 90s, so it’s good that it’s private. So you have to jump through a few hoops to get it.

Authorized Uses for DPPA Information
So let’s look at the reasons that allow you to get this information and which ones apply to you. Authorized for use if they have demonstrated they have the written consent from the owner. So if you have written consent from the owner to get the information, then you can get the information. If you had that, they would probably just give it to you, so that may not apply to you, but it’s good if you are requesting your own record or a minor child and you’re the parent or another person, and you have their consent. Maybe you’re an insurance company or an employer that’s getting this, so that’s number one, that doesn’t apply to most people.

Specific Uses and Scenarios
For use in connection with matters of motor vehicle safety, emissions, and alterations. This is where the factory needs to contact owners because of a recall or because of some other purpose of vehicle ownership. So if, let’s say, some car manufacturer, let’s say Ford, finds out that, you know, a couple hundred thousand Ford F-150s are missing a bolt, they can contact those people by looking up the VIN numbers. Number three is if you’re a government agency, for the purpose of government agency to carry out its functions. Well, if you’re a government agency and you need the records for something, you can get it. A federal court for the purpose of the court to carry out its functions. Well, that’s probably not you either. A law enforcement agency for the purpose of law enforcement to carry out its functions. Well, you’re probably not police either, but look at what it says, for the purpose of carrying out its functions. What that means is if you’re a police officer, you can’t just pull up a VIN number for anybody on your own on a whim. You have to declare that you’re using it for law enforcement purposes, and FYI, there’s been many police officers that have used this power that they have improperly, gotten a record for some other reason, personal reason, dating, whatnot, and gotten in trouble, so that’s the thing to keep in mind.

Employment and Legal Uses
So let’s talk about number six, an authorized representative employed by a company that’s getting a driving record to verify the accuracy of information by a person, so to correct information. So if you are a company and you have drivers that are applying for a job or that are on the road, you can use this information to fix that. Now, number seven works in a lot of cases, authorized for use in connection with any civil, criminal, administrative, or arbitral, like arbitration, proceeding in any local court or before any self-regulatory body, including service of process, investigation in anticipation of litigation, in the execution of enforcement of judgment. So if you are anticipating litigation or doing investigation, this may apply to you, number seven. So read that carefully. Remember, we’re not attorneys, we’re not giving you legal advice, we’re just reading what’s on the form and how it might apply to different people.

Research and Insurance Uses
Number eight is authorized for use in research activities for statistics as long as the personal information is not published. So this is more for finding out how many red Honda Accords are in this ZIP code. This isn’t really what most people are looking for. If you’re an authorized representative by an insurer or an insurance company, so insurance companies many times need to look up driving records or accident records on a vehicle in order to give you an insurance policy, that makes sense. Authorized for use to provide notice for towed or impounded vehicles. Well, maybe that applies to you. Maybe you have an abandoned vehicle on your property or an impounded vehicle that you need to notify the owner or contact the owner.

Private Investigator and Employer Uses
Number 10 may apply in your case, authorized representative or owner of a licensed private investigative agency or security agency requested for the purpose permitted under the DPPA. So if you’re a licensed private investigator, you can look this up if you use it properly. Employer or agent to verify information of a commercial driver’s license. Again, if you’re a trucking company, you need to make sure your drivers are not sketchy, you can do that. Or private toll facility for operating the facility. You know, you’ve seen a lot of toll companies that charge you automatically if you go through a gate or parking or that kind of thing, and that allows them to look up the owner if you don’t pay your toll.

Legal Implications and Enforcement
So those are the reasons. If you do not meet one of those reasons, you cannot get the records. In fact, it says right here the Driver Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) is enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). It’s no joke. That’s a very serious organization which may seek civil and criminal penalties for improperly obtaining, disclosing, or using information from a motor vehicle record for purposes not permitted by the DPPA. In addition, private citizens may seek civil damages. So if you use the information improperly and you harass somebody, they can sue you. Please be specific in describing your request and attach additional pages if needed. So this is Wisconsin, but remember, every state is going to have almost exactly the same wording because this wording, one through seven or one through thirteen, comes directly from the DPPA, the federal law.

Comparing NMVTIS and DPPA Searches
So why would you want to do this instead of doing just an NMVTIS online database? Well, go ahead and do one of these online databases. Go to our website. You can order one of these NMVTIS reports, and what you’ll find is you’ll have some information, but it’s not going to have the name of the owner, it’s not going to have the name of the lien holder, or have their address. Some states don’t report everything to NMVTIS, so you might find that, you know, if the car was last in Alabama, it might not be there, or it might not go back far enough. It’s a basic electronic database report. This DPPA is a full documented report.

Summary and Final Recommendations
So the downside to this is it takes longer. This you can get instantly, push a button, pops up on your screen. This you have to sign this form with the fee and either mail it in or bring it to the DMV, and they normally don’t give it to you on the spot. They might have to mail it to you in a week, so it’s not instant, and it’s also not 100% that you’re going to get it. They might reject it. So how do you go about doing this? Well, run this first, run the NMVTIS first, and at the same time get this form. And for all of our clients, we provide this form for you to access this for any vehicle that if you order from us, we provide the form for you. If you fill out this form and send it in, if you bring it in person, you might be able to get it on the spot. If not, they may have to mail it to you. You’ll get the different additional information later. So use both of them for the purpose that you might need it: to contact prior owners, to clear liens, to find lien holders, to look for other records that may not be available. Maybe it was titled in one state and registered in another. Maybe there’s additional owners. You might want to run this in advance of buying a vehicle to make sure you know who you’re buying it from.

But the full vehicle title search process is sometimes hidden because you’ll see this online NMVTIS. There’s a million companies that say, “Hey, give us five bucks, we’ll give you a title report. Give us 15 bucks,” like Carfax or other ones, and it’s online, and the way they describe it makes it sound like you’re going to get the name of the prior owner, but you’re not. You’re only going to get maybe the state that it was from, basic information. It’s helpful, maybe worth it, but if you need more detailed information, do this NMVTIS. And again, this is just Wisconsin. Every state has a similar form. Now, if you have additional questions, you want to ask more questions, visit our website You can even email our help desk at [email protected] is the email, and you can ask more questions. Hopefully, this clears up and goes into detail about what it is to run a VIN or VIN number title history report or title search on a motor vehicle in the U.S.

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