How to Find a Car You Previously Owned (With or Without the VIN)

Last Updated on August 20, 2020

Regardless of why you want to find your old car, you’ll be happy to know it’s not an impossible task. That said, the speed and efficiency of your search depends on whether or not you have the vehicle identification number (VIN).

We’ll tell you how to find a car you previously owned by using the VIN, as well as how to search when you don’t have it.

OPTION 1: With the VIN

car VIN number

Like social security numbers, each vehicle has a unique VIN that allows you to access all sorts of information about it. You also need the VIN to register a vehicle in any state and get car insurance.

To use the VIN to find your old car, perform a vehicle history check using an online VIN decoder. These tools are mainly used for when you’re buying a used car but are great in locating previous cars as well. While there are some free ones, they will only tell you basic information such as make, model, and vehicle options.

To get more detailed information including: mileage, accidents, service records, owners, and general location of the vehicle, you’ll need to pay for a report using a service like CarVertical or CarFax. You can use this information to help figure out where the vehicle currently is.

CarFax is the older and more well-known service but CarVertical is a newer kid on the block and often provides more detailed information and at a much lower cost ($19.99 vs $39.99) for a single report. For outside the US, CarVertical is usually the best option.

While the vehicle history report won’t state the specific location of your vehicle, it will narrow down your search to its current city and state. Since the report will contain the name of the current owner, you can trace and contact them on social media to discuss seeing the car.

In addition to using a premium VIN decoder site, you can use various search engines to find your old vehicle. Enter the VIN (with parenthesis around it) into every search engine you know (Google, Bing, Yahoo, Duck Duck Go, and others) and click the search button.

You may get a search result that brings you a step closer to finding your old vehicle. Even if you don’t get useful results on your first try, keep trying periodically until you do.

Can’t the DMV website tell me who owns my car and where it is?

department of motor vehicles

The DMV database does have that information, but you can’t legally access it without proper authorization due to the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) of 1994. While this restriction might seem inconvenient, it protects you and everyone else from unwanted persons accessing sensitive information.

But if you REALLY want to get around this, you can hire a licensed private investigator which may be exempt from the DPPA. The investigator will usually be able to obtain this information from the DMV when requested under certain well-defined purposes. See The Lost Car Registry for more info.

What if I can’t remember the VIN?

If you don’t remember your old vehicle’s VIN, there are ways to find it, such as:

#1 – Old Documents

When you owned the vehicle, you handled several documents that had the VIN on it, like registration papers, loan documents, insurance cards, and others. You might still have one of these documents at home, work, or even with your mechanic.

If you were ever in an accident with the vehicle, you’ll likely have a police report that contains the VIN. Once you find a document that contains your old VIN, you’re one step closer to locating your car or truck.

#2 – Old License Plate Number

With the license plate number of your old vehicle, you can get its VIN from your state DMV. The DMV will use the plate number to find the vehicle in their database and provide you with the VIN upon your request.

#3 – Driver’s License Number

The DMV keeps record of every vehicle you’ve registered under your license number, even if you’ve moved out of state and have a new driver’s license. They’ll be able to provide you the VIN number by showing your license.

#4 – Contact Your Auto Insurer

The auto insurer for your old car can give you its VIN. Before you can get the information, you’ll need to provide identification and some personal details. After proving your identity, the company should provide you with the VIN.

#5 – Bill of Sale

Whenever you sell a vehicle, a simple bill of sale document is created and signed by both parties. In it, the vehicle VIN is almost always noted. Check your files at home for a copy of this document.

If you can’t find the VIN anywhere, then you can try option two.

OPTION 2: Without the VIN

lost car

Without your old vehicle’s vehicle identification number, you can’t run any database checks. In this case, you have to find the car or ask the person you sold it to or someone who knows the current owner to reveal the vehicle’s location.

How can you find a car you previously owned without a VIN?

#1 – Post Advertisements

You can post ads online and offline to get the attention of the vehicle’s current owner or someone else who’s seen the car. The ad must contain as many details as possible, such as the vehicle make, model, year, color, engine type, and other distinctive features.

To get results quickly, place the ad in the vehicle’s last known location. Even if the vehicle has moved, someone in the area might contact you with useful information. It also helps if your ad states why you are looking for the vehicle. Otherwise, people might be wary about responding.

#2 – Contact the Buyer

If you have the details of the person who bought the car, you can contact them to ask if they still have it or have details about who bought it from them. If you have a name, you can run an online search for a social media account or phone number to contact the person.

#3 – Use Online Forums

On platforms like The Lost Car Registry, you can post details and photos of your long lost vehicle. Members who have information about your old vehicle will share it.

In addition, many makes and models of cars have their own unofficial online forums for enthusiasts. Sites like BimmerForums.com, AudiWorld.com, Honda-Tech.com, and CorvetteForum.com are a few popular ones.

#4 – Facebook Groups

Like online forums, there are many private Facebook groups for automotive enthusiasts of a particular car manufacturer or model. You’ll usually have better results finding a less common car that’s popular with enthusiasts like an E30 BMW M3. If you’re looking for an old Toyota Corolla, your odds locating it through a group or forum will be pretty low. 

Do you have a search method we didn’t mention? Tell us about it in the comments.

 

56 thoughts on “How to Find a Car You Previously Owned (With or Without the VIN)”

  1. I’m looking for my dads old 68 Dodge Charger. My Grandpa sold it for him in 1973 in Seattle, when my dad moved to California. It was white with mag wheels. The driver had been replaced with a a red one that my dad had a friend repaint it, although the red was bleeding through when my dad left, he banged the door into a pole. It had a 383 with factory Exhaust headers, which he had to Jack up the car to change the plugs. A CB antenna. Unfortunately I don’t know much else as my dad doesn’t remember much else. No vin and no plate.

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  2. Have you every watched gone in 60 sec? Ok, so my question is. Is there a way to lookup say EVERY 1973 Camaro Currently registered in a state without VIN or Plates ?

    Reply
  3. I’m looking for a 1973 chevelle ss. Sold in the Denver Colorado 1997. Maroon with silver on the bottom and black interior. Please help!

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    • this is a really nice site…love the requests etc… michael in orcutt, calif.
      ps. a dark blue ’65 chevy van last seen in santa barbra. had a hot rod eng adn trans set up and the interior made it into Van and Truck Magazine back in aprox. 1975.
      thought about going down there adn just cruising the wrecking yards for the fun of it.

      Reply
  4. 1942 2 door Studebaker convertible back sometime in the middle 70s I owned this car it was someone’s idea of what they thought a 2 door convertible should look like if Studebaker had made one the car was all fiberglass and body was a bit ruff but it drove well with its 327 Chevy V8 and a 4 speed. I would like to find the car and possibly get it back in my possession in what ever conditions it’s in. Thank you. Scott in California

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  5. 1942 2 door Studebaker convertible was sold to a general man named Danny Gates in Palo Alto California. Back in the middle 1970s and I think he was going to be moving to somewhere in New York this car was someone’s idea of what Studebaker would have built. It’s all fiberglass and was in ruff shape but it ran at the time. If anyone has information on the car I would love to get it and try to bring it back to my family. But if it’s not for sale I would love to get a bunch of pictures of it thank you. I’ve been looking for this car for over 35 years

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  6. Looking for my dads old 1999 GMC Yukon Denali. Its on a 12 inch lift, 36’s, 2 tone paint (orange and silver) Orange on top and Silver on the bottom. Has Smoked Taillights. Custom interior as well, sorta a maroon color. Last seen in Howard City/Indiana area around 2012-14. If you have any details, my instagram is @gen1eclipse2.0

    Reply
  7. 1973 Dodge Charger · Coupe · Driven 7,777 miles
    Update the car could have been yellow before being spray painted black

    My dad passed away recently, he owned a Black 1973 Dodge Charger possibly with a white top about 30 years ago in Rayville, Louisiana. I would like to track down this car and restore it in his memory. I don’t have any information other than who he sold it to william or Bill Prince and he has passed away also. I dont know if this is allowed, but any information or ideas would be helpful.

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  8. I am looking for a 1973 Dodge Charger, my daddy had when he was a teenager. He passed away recently and i have no VIN and no information other than his Drivers License but the DMV won’t run it and see if the car shows up. Any ideas?

    Reply
  9. I am in search of any information that might lead to finding the 1966 Dodge Charger that my Dad bought for my oldest brother in March of 1981. They were fixing the charger up when my brother unexpectedly died in September of that year. The car stayed in the family for many years after my brothers death but my dad eventually had to sell it because of financial issues. I have a very little information about the car but was wandering if there is any help of where I need to start.

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  10. So I had a 1967 Ford Thunderbird that I owned for 12 years had my car in Jackson area and got it towed to cork ST. Auto to finish installing my 750 Holly carburetor i asked for a tune up and break repair as well as tires and ignition switch they where all up for the job but yet got to my car or even looked at it cuz I never got a call for cost so me and my wife found are selfs taking turns calling and leaving voice messages to the voice machine and to the the desk assistant as well as driving up there to check in on the car and they where closed when we did get in touch he says he’ll get to it after his vacation ok…. but he’s closed for almost through this hole covid-19 season then boom get a crazy call from a guy who works for road side saying they towed it all because vehicle has been abandoned…. yeah I said it I even came there and put a brand new car cover on it but im abandoning 12 years of hard work that’s @%@$$ and the worst part is that they had it towed and auction off so I’m trying to get my baby back a black, chrome trim 1967 Ford Thunderbird 390 block 427 Tork Black leather seats with a soft top that was only a 2 door car with a CD player in the glove box oh and it has a rust spot right on the front hood place it was auction from was Gramstowing off of lover’s lane in Portage Michigan can anyone help me in this new millennium thefts it will be truly grateful in these hard time’s Thank you and stay blessed

    Reply
    • I’m looking for my vehicle that my ex forced me to sell to Carmax at Maplewood, MN and they put up for auction at Brooklyn Park, MN. I want to know who bought it? Would love it back.
      It’s a 2012 Lexus CT200H White Pearl Modified with full body kit, 2 spoliers, downpipe twin exhaust, 18″ white rims with silver lip. Lowered. Thanks.

      Reply
  11. I’m looking for a green 1971 cutlass supreme convertible. Green leather interior. Automatic top, automatic transmission, air conditioned, am radio with an eight track tape player mounted on the floor. Sold in Kent Ohio approximately 15 years ago. My father was the original owner. It was sold after his death via eBay without my knowledge. It was original everything at the time of sale. Any suggestions on how to track it down would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
  12. I am looking for my dad’s Mitsubishi Eclipse GT 2000, my mom forcefully made him sell it and it was the only car my dad ever got to choose and he loved it. I’m trying to get it back for him and looking around. It has silver exterior, black interior, 3.0L v6 engine, 5 cylinder, manual, lowered about 2 inches, custom CEIKA GT/2 rims, red caliper, brake discs with holes, black rearview mirrors. It was last seen in 2014 in Orlando FL. Please help me find this beauty, my dad really misses this car and I want to see him happy again.

    Reply
  13. I am looking for my 1968 AMC Javelin. I purchased the vehicle new in December of 1967 in Des Moines Iowa. It was Matador Red with black interior. The engine is the 290 CID V8 with 4 speed manual transmission. The stock exhaust system was removed and Sidewinder pipes were mounted along the rocker panels. I had white AMC AMX stripes added. Creager SS Mag wheels, Racing hold down pins were added to the hood along with bullet shaped racing mirrors. I added an 8 track tape deck and an engraved tag on the dash that read RED BARON. I do not have the VIN or license numbers. I sold the car in 1970 to a used car dealership on East University in Des Moines Iowa.

    Reply
  14. Trying to locate a1979 Jeep Cherokee. Bought in 1979 and sold around 1991 in the North Phoenix. Az area. Was white with a mild lift, auxiliary gas tank and a rear tire rack with two jerry can holders. Our Son and I have lots of experiences with the car. He recently passed away and I would like to find the car as a memory of him. Thank you.

    Reply
  15. Looking for my dad’s 67 Camaro. Owned when he was attending San Marcos High School in San Marcos, TX (1967 possibly up to 1968). I believe my dad was the original owner. My grandfather made my father sell his car and I have always been curious about what happened to it. I don’t have a vin number or any paperwork.

    Reply

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