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.

 

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

  1. Use to own 1963 & 1/2 ford galaxie black exterior , red interior. 4 speed on the floor, bench set, 427 dual 4barrles, 4&1/2 in rear, traction bars, cragers all the way around, clean car in and out. I owned in the early 70’s. really miss the car. if anyone could help me out, would appreciate it. Thank-You

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  2. I’m trying to locate a 1955’ T-Bird that my dad and uncle rebuilt from the junkyard in the late 70s -80s’. My uncle was a mechanic and he did the majority of the work on the engine at the time. My dad was a well-known body and fender man in Stockton CA back in the day. He had the upholstery reconstructed and he did all the interior, body work, and painting of the car (in lacquer at the time). The car was in pristine condition when he sold it in the 80s. It was jet black and in showroom condition. I just would like to know who might have it. My dad passed away from COVID over a year ago and my brothers and I reminisce about those late nights when he worked on this car. It’s been so long that I have no VIN, but I do have pictures with my dad and the plate number. Any suggestions on how to locate the car’s whereabouts is appreciated. Thx

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  3. I bought a 69 firebird used from miller moters in 1978. had the car until the early 90s, then had to sell same for monetary reasons. car was expresso brown with a black vinal top, 350 v8, auto trans black interior hub caps no special rims. sold to darrel sears in southeast wisconsin. would like to find out fate of car. drove well at time of sale

    Reply
  4. Looking for my 1969 Chevelle SS.
    396 cu in
    350 HP
    400 Turbo Hydroelectric
    410 Posi 12 bolt rear end
    Power steering
    Glacier Blue
    Dark Blue fabric interior
    Bench seat
    Purchased at Huber Chevrolet Carrolton Ohio
    Sold in Lynchburg Virginia in early 1970’s

    Reply
  5. Looking for my father’s car which was last seen in 1980/81. Depending on which story I get from family members, it was either stolen or sold around the time my parents divorced. This would have taken place in Euclid, Cuyahoga County, Ohio.
    It’s a 1972 Pontiac Luxury LeMans Hardtop Coupe with an upgraded sport package. An automatic column shift with bucket seats. Dark green exterior with light green vinyl top and dark green interior with the previously mentioned sport interior bucket seats. At the time it had a huge whip antenna trunk mounted. I have a picture but not sure how or if I can put on this post. License plate in picture dates from 1979-1980 and as follows…
    (CR 4283) and would have been licensed and titled in Euclid, Ohio (Cuyahoga County).
    Any help would be greatly appreciated, thanks in advance.

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  6. Hi my name is Carrie and I am on a quest to find my husbands 1970 chevelle supersport 454 car silver with black stripes and a vinyl top. I don’t have a VIN my husband bought it when he was 16 in 1976 in Paola, Kansas. My husband drove it in highschool, the he moved away and let his younger brother use it. But his brother sold it to someone without permission. we lost track of the car after that. All this would have happened in the location around LaCygne, Ks. I am still looking for the VIN number, I hope I can find it. My goal is to get my husbands car back before he is too old to not be able to enjoy it once again. I know this is long shot but if anyone can help me out that would be greatly appreciated. thanks for your time.

    Reply
    • Sounds like a beautiful car. I would search Chevelle forums if you haven’t already. Facebook has a few Chevelle pages and you could ask on there as well. Good luck on your search.

      Reply
  7. I am looking for my very first car purchased in Tulsa Oklahoma probably around 1983 or 84? I bought it at a used car lot on 11th St. I believe it’s a 1976 brown Camaro but I had it had gold crager wheels and gold Maroso gasket covers it was registered in Tulsa Oklahoma under my name Patrick Hanlon or Susan Elizabeth Hanlon . If anyone can help me find this car it would be very appreciated I also had a 1965 red Mustang with the red interior in the same town I drove in high school my phone number is 254-458-5367

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  8. Looking for my high school sweetheart’s 1965 or 66? Ford Mustang. It was burnt orange with white interior and manual transmission. He died a few months after he got it and his parents tried to give it to me but my parents wouldn’t let me have it. I was only sixteen. The last owner I know of was Mike Watson? in Sweetwater Tennessee. I would love to have this car. Please email me if you have any information. Thanks!

    Reply

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