At the federal level, the Driver's Privacy Protection Act prevents you from finding a vehicle owner's address without the owner's consent, but a combination of tools like the National Insurance Crime Bureau, VehicleHistory.gov and CarFax can put you on the right track to finding the owner.
If you've got a vehicle registration card in your hand, it's pretty easy to find the address of the car's registered keeper – it's usually printed right below the owner's name. However, tracking down the address of a vehicle's registered owner is substantially more difficult if you don't have that registration card (unless you happen to work for a law enforcement agency). Federal law dating back to the mid-1990s protects the privacy of vehicle owners, though you can sometimes legally find the location details of a vehicle's last registered owner if you're willing to go on a bit of a goose chase and employ a combination of crafty methods.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
The Driver's Privacy Protection Act keeps private registration information close to the vehicle owner's chest, but you may be able to find location info using a VIN number.
Driver's Privacy Protection Act
In 1994, the federal statute known as the Driver's Privacy Protection Act – Section 2721, Chapter 123 of U.S. Code Title 18 – was made law. In the big picture, the Driver's Privacy Protection Act helps ensure that the personal information of a vehicle owner isn't disclosed to anyone else without said person's consent. Exceptions apply to governmental agencies, court proceedings, insurance companies, private investigation agencies or employers, for providing notice to owners of towed vehicles and in some specific cases authorized by state law.
According to Section 2725 of U.S. Code Title 18, Chapter 123, "personal information" includes an individual's identifying info, such as a photograph, Social Security number, name, telephone number, medical details and, yes, an address. It does not include information regarding auto accidents, vehicle violations or the individual's status as a driver, which is why you'll often find that sort of information freely available.
Perform a VIN Check
Often, a vehicle identification number (VIN) is your most valuable tool for finding more information, including info that might lead you to the most recent owner's location, if not to a specific address (but you're not that creepy anyway, right?). Each vehicle's VIN is unique, like a human being's fingerprint. You can find this 17-digit code number on the driver's side of the dashboard, visible through the car's windshield.
At NICB.org, the National Insurance Crime Bureau's VINCheck system allows you to perform a free online search to determine if a vehicle has been reported as stolen or as a salvage vehicle. Similarly, free commercial sites like VehicleHistory.com provide additional details such as vehicle specifications, inspections, warranty and safety ratings. At VehicleHistory.gov, the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System will also issue a free vehicle history report, including the state of the car's title, its loss history, salvage history and more.
More Sources to Explore
For a fee of about $40 to $60, as of 2019 rates, CarFax.com's VIN check may provide a few breadcrumbs that will put you on the trail of the address you're after. Like the NICB and NMVTIS reports, CarFax reports check for accident and loss history, but go much deeper into recalls, service history, damage and mileage, warranty info and more. Of course, it's the registration history that may prove most useful.
Naturally, CarFax operates under the Driver's Privacy Protection Act, but is able to provide what it calls an "estimate of ownership information," which includes dates, duration and locations of ownership. A CarFax vehicle history report includes the states where each of the vehicle's previous and current owners reside and even provides the cities and phone numbers of auto service providers associated with the car's odometer readings and service histories. So, if the car was serviced at Bob's Motors of Fontana, California, last month, you'll have Bob's phone number and a pretty good idea of the registered owner's current location.
- Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute: 18 U.S. Code 2721 – Prohibition on Release and Use of Certain Personal Information from State Motor Vehicle Records
- State of California Department of Motor Vehicles: Sample Registration Card
- U.S. News and World Report: How Can I Get a Free VIN Check?
- National Motor Vehicle Title Information System: Understanding an NMVTIS Vehicle History Report
- CarFax: CarFax Vehicle History Reports
- CarFax: Does CarFax Have Ownership Information?
- CarFax: Sample Vehicle History Report