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.

 

Comments

  1. Back in 1973 I had a dark blue 1964 Impala SS. And I lived in Spring Park minnesota. 2door 327 vette engine I bought it from Viking Chevrolet on Highway 65 in Fridley, which now is Friendly Chev.

    Reply
  2. in 1985 i was given a 1973 ss nova. bright yellow with a black stripe going down the side. sulphur springs texas is where i left it in 1989 with a black front driver side fender. would really love to locate this vehicle.

    Reply
  3. In 1973 I owned a 1964 Chevy II nova. I traded it in to a dealership in Fenton, MI. I was 18 years old. It was red and a 3-speed on the column. It was a 2-door and original color was light blue but my dad painted it bright red for me. He was a sprayer for Fisher Body. I’ve always regretted trading it in because I traded it for a 1973 AMC Gremlin 2-door brown 3 speed on the column. UGH!! I didn’t appreciate what I had. How can I find my car? I’d buy it now if I could find it.

    Reply
    • Back in the 60’s my dad gave me my grandfather’s 1951 chevy. It was a cream colored beige 4 dr sedan fleetline. I would love to buy it back. I traded it in at Sl Beets Pontiac dealer in Ottawa Ks….

      Reply
  4. Looking for my old Bright Red 2000 Chevy Cavalier. My mom bought this when I was a year old and sold it to a neighbor when I was 18. It has been around pretty much all my life and I would love to track it down and find it so I could maybe buy it back. The VIN is 1G1JC1242Y7304069 if anyone is able to find it pleass contact my gmail: chaseyoung2016@gmail.com. Thanks!

    Reply
  5. I bought a 1967 Camaro back in 1972 from Ryan Chevrolet sales in west memphis,ar. It was metallic blue with dark vynal top and hail damage on the hood.charles and Margie wards took my car and they’re the last ones that I seen with it.

    Reply
  6. We are all getting older and nostalgic about vehicles we had previously owned for sentimental reasons because it either reminds us of-
    our first date
    we had fun with it
    it was our first car
    we had our first experience in it, you know what I am talking about.
    reminded us of our youth we did not appreciate at the time
    there are countless reasons that we all have one.
    I am in the same boat.
    Good luck to you all.
    I had a 1973 silver gray hatchback chevy Vega that I customized with headers, air shocks, largest hood scoop if could find from the JC Whitney catalog and Flames painted around the front and rear wheel wells with the American flags around the bottom of the doors and around the rear hatch back. It looked like a street dragster but had the factory 4 Cylinder Engine..lol. Many guys wanted to race so I used to floor it for the 1st. 1/4 mile and then ease off to let them pass. Little did they know that it was all show and no go. The car was silver gray with the real wide black factory stripes that ran from the front to the back. I am sure this is hopeless to find that car. I was living in Richfield, Minnesota when I sold it it 1976.
    Please contact me at garyhemraj@hotmail.com if you have it or just want to shoot the breeze.

    Reply
  7. In 1978 I had a 1964 Plymouth 4 door Fury. White with a wrecked front left finder. It had a knock in the engine. Bad tinted job on back window. Large Plymouth letters on each side on back quarters.

    Reply
  8. Looking for my dads 1965 GTO 2 door hard top. Factory gold with black interior. Vin number is 237375k107187. Last seen Laketown Utah in late 1973. Finders fee paid

    Reply
  9. Sold my 79 dodge magnum XE GT. With the original 360 magnum engine. All white with red gt stripe that went down sides and over roof. Had gt lettering in stripe next to rear courtesy windows and red interior with wood grain console and gauge cluster. Whoever bought this car would have purchased it from RUSK AUTO SALES in Mansfield or Mahomet Illinois. I was told it went down south somewhere in Tennessee. Would love to hear from someone who knows about this car.

    Reply
  10. Looking for a 1968 Chevelle Malibu was second owner black on black vin 136378K168708 will pay a finders fee for the car. Car was in warsaw indiana at a dealers lot in 2001 or 2002 last time i saw it. Would like to buy it and if its not for sale at least look at it. thanks, appreciate any effort it finding this vehicle.

    Reply
  11. looking for my dads 1971 VW Square back yellow, he painted it himself. Lowered with a hood bra. He sold it about 15 years ago in California, he thinks in Rancho Cucamonga. Tinted windows with a glass pack on the exhaust. Please contact if you know anything. I should have the vin soon.

    Reply
  12. Looking for my 75 Camero. I traded it for a Jeep CJ7 back in around 1990-1992. I believe up north in PA. My Camero was all black with mag wheels, automatic and spoiler. If you still have it…please contact me.

    Reply
  13. 7/5/20
    In Mid 1964, I owned a 1963 Chevy Impala SS Black with Black
    Interior. It had a 425 h.p., 4speed
    with a 3:36 posi rear. I traded it in
    In Mid 1964 at Reedman Chevy in
    Langhorne, Pennsylvania.
    If any one knows it’s whereabouts
    or history, I would appreciate a
    an email.
    Thank You,
    Don G. Ledgard

    Reply
  14. Looking for my first car again, Some time back in 1979 I traded my citrus green 1970 camero in at Bob Lowry chevy in Mcconnellsburg, Pa. it had a 250ci. And 3 speed on the floor , green interior, love to get back , Thanks

    Reply
  15. I Graduated from college and bought a brand new 1974 Plymouth Satellite Sebring Sundance Axtec gold white top with sunroof my first new car. Purchased it from Cobb motors in Norfolk Nebraska would love to locate it if its still around

    Reply
  16. Looking for my dads old yellow 1979 ford f100 shortbox stepside it had a 302 v8. He sold it around Hutchinson Minnesota years ago.

    Reply
  17. looking for any info on a pink with black on the sides of a 1957 2 door Pontiac Chieftain that was sold from Picayune Mississippi. It had engine problems.

    Reply
  18. 1997 Ford Ranger · Red- XL 155,000 Current miles, manual transmission

    Hello everyone. I’m currently looking for a truck that I used to own. It’s a 1997 Ford Ranger (red) base model- gray interior, manual trans, no sliding rear window, no ac, with possibly a red grill (instead of gray). It recently sold to someone in the Salt Lake City, Utah area (South Salt Lake I believe). I bought the truck brand new when I was 18. I would love to see how it looks today. The vin # is: 1FTCR10A3VUC15812. If you’ve seen this truck, or know who owns it, please feel free to reach out to me. I would love to see a picture of it! The truck was previously in/around the Sacramento, CA area for the last 20 years until recently being sold to someone in Salt Lake. I can provide a lot more details about the truck if needed. Thank you!

    Craig a Farrell

    Reply
  19. Hi. I am trying to get the vin# of a vehicle I owned and traded for different vehicle in 2013. It was a Pontiac Vibe. I can’t remember the year.
    thanks

    Reply
    • Do you have any old insurance or registration documents? Those should have the VIN. You also may be able to call the DMV (or equivalent office). Perhaps they have a record they could share with you.

      Reply
  20. I am trying to find my grandpa’s red 1963 split-window Corvette. I think he sold it in the late ’60s or early ’70s. There is no information on it. The last time my family every heard of the corvette was when my grandparents got a speeding ticket in the mail that was from Cleburne, Texas which is about an hour south of were my grandparents live.(Keller, Texas)

    Reply

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