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How to Locate the Prior Owner of a Vehicle

  • 3 min read

When getting your new vehicle titled in your name, you may need to contact the prior owner before transferring the title. However, if you don’t already know the prior owner, it can be more difficult to obtain this information. You will have to have a valid reason to contact the previous owner as per regulations set forth by the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA).

Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994

The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) is a federal statute that protects driver information from being public records. According to the DPPA, to obtain personal driving information, an individual or organization must submit an official form to the state DMV requesting specific information. To obtain information protected by the DPPA, you must disclose your reasoning in your official request. Just because the DMV receives your official request form doesn’t mean they will give out the information. The information you obtain from the DPPA request can help you locate the prior owner and will assist in the title or removal process. Not all states allow for this information to be requested. Arkansas and Wyoming do not allow for DPPA information to be provided about other individuals, in these states you can only request your own driving and vehicle records.

Why is driver information so protected by the DMV?

The main reason for driver information being kept private is to keep vehicle owners safe from abusive drivers on the road. The beginning of the DPPA was sparked by the 1989 murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer. In 1989, a man named Robert Bardo obtained the address of 21-year-old actress Rebecca Schaeffer through the California DMV. He then used this information to stalk her and ultimately took her life. Sadly, this is one of many cases that lead to the enactment of the DPPA.

How to request prior owner information

In order to request the prior owner information from the DMV, you must first have a legally valid reason to obtain such information.

Every state, aside from Arkansas and Wyoming, has a DPPA request form to formally request private driver information. To request this information, locate your state’s DPPA request form, ensure you have a valid reason to obtain the information and submit it to your state’s DMV agency. Keep in mind that these processes take longer to validate and process so it may take a month or more to obtain the protected information.

The ability to obtain information protected by the DPPA is a powerful tool, but also one that should be taken seriously. Those who are authorized to obtain this information on behalf of vehicle owners are obligated to abide by the DPPA regulations and to keep private information safe. If you need to obtain prior owner information, submitting your state’s DPPA request form is the first step. For assistance finding and contacting the prior owner of your vehicle, click here to learn how can do it for you!