How To Lookup Washington License Plates
To look up a Washington license plate number for free, simply enter the plate number into a search bar on any public records website. The information you will see might include the vehicle's year, model, make, trim level, transmission type, brakes, steering, and MSRP. If you want more information like details about the owner (name, address, phone number, social security number, driver's license number, photographs, and sometimes medical information or disability details, you can search online but must obey strict privacy rules. Whenever you request motor vehicle records that contain personal driver details, you must comply with strict federal and state Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) laws, and provide your own contact details and the driver's name, date of birth and ID. If you violate DPPA laws, you may end up with steep fines and serious jail time.
Washington Motor Vehicle Laws
Washington State requires that all passenger vehicles have two license plates conspicuously displayed on the front and rear of the vehicle. RCW 46.16A.200 stipulates a laundry list of other requirements regarding Washington license plates.
When you move to Washington, you have 30 days to register your vehicle. When registering, you will need your title, your current out-of-state registration, lienholder information (if applicable), and payment of the fees.
Washington requires that motorists renew their vehicles every year. You can renew your Washington state vehicle registration online, by mail or in person. The state offers special rules for military personnel stationed out of state. You can receive renewal alerts via text or email based on your preference.
Washington Specialty License Plates
The state of Washington offers residents standard license plates and some specialty plates. You can also order personalized plates (also called vanity plates) where you get to choose the lettering and the design. Some of the specialty plate options available in Washington are:
- Central Washington University.
- Air Force.
- Coast Guard.
- Gold Star.
- Medal of Honor.
- Professional Firefighters.
- FFA Foundation.
- Keep Kids Safe.
- Endangered Wildlife: Orca.
- Washington State Park.
- Amateur Radio.
- Ski and Ride.
- State Flower.
- Horseless Carriage.
- Collector Vehicle.
What is the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) in Washington?
Washington follows the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) law and also has their own laws restricting the access and use of personal information contained in motor vehicle records. On their public records page on the Washington State Department of Licensing says:
- "The federal Driver Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), codified as 18 USC § 2721-2725, strictly limits the type of driver and vehicle records that may be released. The DPPA only permits the release of certain types of information to selected parties for limited and specific uses.
- In Washington, lists of individual names and addresses can never be used to contact people for commercial purposes" such as direct marketing."
Additionally, they explain: "We carefully evaluate requests for public records to determine if we can legally release the records for the reasons given. If we must deny your request, we will send you an explanation of why the request was denied and identify the specific law that exempts the records from disclosure."
Washington License Plate Search Frequently Asked Questions
Is it Legit to Lookup License Plate Numbers in Washington?
It is legal to lookup license plate numbers in Washington if you use the information to find vehicle details like the make, model, year, and trim level. But if you look up a license plate to find owner information, then it is not legal unless, of course, you follow strict DPPA laws. Violation of these laws involves steep fines and jail time, plus you may be subject to an expensive civil lawsuit from the person whose records you violated.
What Information Will I Need to Request Records?
When requesting records through the Washington Department of Licensing, you have to supply your name, address, phone number, and email address. You then must supply the driver's name, date of birth, and driver's license number to search from. In many cases, you may need the vehicle owner's signed consent. The state offers both an online portal to find records, and you can order them through the email.
How to Look Up a Washington License Plate Using the VIN?
The state of Washington does not allow you to look up a vehicle using the VIN through their online portal or mail-in form. However, there are other third-party options you can use. You can also look up a VIN on the NHTSA lookup tool or the national title registry to find crash reports, open recalls, and more.
Can I Look Up the Owner of a Washington License Plate?
Washington clearly states that it is unlawful to try to locate the owner of a license plate for the purpose of contacting them unless, however, you are one of the few types of people and businesses they allow to use motor vehicle records that contain personal details. Your best bet if you need to locate the owner of a motor vehicle is to contact the local police and ask them for help.
What is Permissible Use of License Plate Information?
Washington state cuts down the federal DPPA allowable uses to only a select few. For anyone who requests motor vehicle records with personal details, they must be one of the following:
- Law, justice, or other government agencies.
- Employers, prospective employers, or their agents.
- Insurance companies or their agents.
- Transit authorities or their agents.
- Volunteer organizations.
- School districts.
- State colleges, state universities, and local government.
How to Lookup Washington License Plates for Free?
It is super easy to look up a Washington license plate for free. The information you will see might include the vehicle's year, model, make, trim level, transmission type, brakes, steering, and MSRP.