Planning to buy a used car in Washington? Make sure you perform an online license plate lookup first, so you'll know everything about a car you're thinking of purchasing. Own a car but forgot the VIN? Just search your license plate number with our free service, and you'll get the VIN's 17-character sequence in no time.
Be sure to have your car properly titled and registered before you drive it. The Washington State Department of Licensing handles all vehicle titling and registrations. For new registrations, you'll find your address located on the bottom with a dotted line indicating it can be cut out. This was introduced starting January 1st, 2023, as to "provide address privacy in case of theft."
Finding the Washington License Plate Number
Front and rear plates are required for most Washington-registered vehicles; motorcycles and trailers only need rear plates. In instances where you need your license plate but aren't with your car, you can look it up in the registration certificate or other car-related documents.
Getting your Washington License Plates
New to the state? You have 30 days after moving to get your new driver's license and register your vehicle. Note that you won't be able to get your license and register your vehicle at the same place. Contact any vehicle licensing office to find out what to pay and what you should do next.
Be sure to bring along the completed Vehicle Title Application form, the current vehicle's certificate of title, and cash for all required fee payments.
If you're buying a car in Washington from a licensed car dealership, they'll help you with all the paperwork. They'll need to transfer the vehicle's title "within 45 days of the date of delivery."
If you're buying from a local, you have 15 days to "transfer the ownership into your name" or risk paying hefty fines. You'll also need to submit the following:
- Vehicle/Vessel Bill of Sale,
- Vehicle Certificate of Ownership (Title) Application,
- The current vehicle title
- Payment of all fees
If you complete the application at any of their offices, you should be able to get them immediatly. Mail in applications will take up to 3 weeks from the date of your application.
You can find more information at the Department of Licensing's official website.
Types of License Plates in Washington State
Note that plates will need to be renewed every year.
Standard plates: These use the standard design with Mount Rainier in the background that was introduced in 1987 (with some minor design changes over the years).
Personalized plates: These feature a customized plate number combination that's up to 7 alphanumeric characters in length (6 for motorcycles and trailers). You're not allowed to use:
- special characters like # or &
- "invalid letter and number combinations"
- any "vulgar, racial, ethnic, or indecent messages"
Disabled plates: These plates are issued to persons with disabilities as certified by a licensed physician, physician assistant, or registered nurse practitioner.
Military plates: These plates are available for persons who have served, or are currently serving, any US military branch. There are also plates for veterans and recipients of various commendations (e.g., the Purple Heart).
Nonresident military personnel can also apply for a 45-day temporary plates while waiting for their out-of-state registration to be processed.
Special plates: These plates exist for people who want to identify with or show support to certain organizations, groups, interests, and charities. Plate options include:
- Collegiate plates
- Organization plates
- Conservation/park plates
- Special interest plates
Additional fees apply depending on the plate design.
What's Inside a License Plate Lookup Report?
Since the free license plate lookup tool has been merged with the VIN check report, the amount of information you can get from this report has become more detailed.
Any accidents a vehicle may have been involved in are listed in the report. You might be able to use this info to determine if a car might still have lingering problems that were not rectified after the accident.
Get some information on a vehicle's previous owners and how long they used the vehicle. The report can give you up-to-date information for both of those queries, but no private or personal information will be disclosed in accordance with the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA).
Branded title check
Determine if a car might have a junk/salvage title. Usually, such a brand may indicate that the car was written off as a total loss, either due to a lemon with a huge maintenance cost to keep it running optimally, or for some other reason. It's usually best to avoid such cars for safety reasons.
Last car inspection
Inspections are needed to make sure a car meets a state's pollution control goals and/or safety standards. The report will provide data on whether a car has passed, or failed, any prior inspections.
Vehicle theft records
Identify if the car might have been listed as stolen. It might mean that the dealer/seller may have stolen the car to sell it off, or if they failed to conduct due diligence before selling the car. Whatever the reasons may be, you'll need to inform the authorities if such a record does come up.
The report provides detailed odometer records of a vehicle, allowing you to look for signs of odometer tampering. This fraudulent activity deceives buyers into thinking the vehicle has been driven for less than it actually has.
The Legality of License Lookup Reports
All data in our reports come from various reputable sources, such as the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Additionally, all the information provided is in accordance with the law.
As mentioned earlier, we comply with the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA). As such, all reports don't disclose any personal information regarding the owners of a vehicle, only the vehicle's general usage and condition. Moreover, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) grants, individuals have a right to access information collected by the government.
When you need to lookup a used car's details before you purchase it, or if you have a nagging suspicion about a car lingering in your neighborhood, consider getting a license plate lookup done with our free service!
State Based Informational Guides
We have compiled a list of state specific guides for you. Feel free to check them out.