Are you a Wisconsin resident looking to buy your first car? Or are you moving to the state and planning to buy a car there? The application process for a title and vehicle license plates goes through the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) under the state's Department of Transportation. Some procedures and requirements will differ depending on whether you're a resident in Wisconsin or are new to the state.
Having a vehicle title and license plates shows that you are the legal owner of the vehicle and that you have paid all registration fees due. You'll need to display the new license plates or a temporary plate within two business days from your purchase of the vehicle to operate it in Wisconsin legally.
If you're buying a car from a private party, be sure to receive the vehicle's title signed by the previous owner. You can also perform a license plate lookup of the Wisconsin vehicle you're eyeing; simply get a hold of its VIN and key it into the text field above. It's that easy!
Where to Find the Wisconsin License Plate Number
The easiest way to identify your Wisconsin license plate number is to refer to the license plate attached at the front and rear of your car. In cases where you do not have physical access to your car, you can refer to the certificate of vehicle registration issued by the state DMV.
How to Get License Plates in Wisconsin
If you're a new resident, you'll need to first apply for either a Wisconsin driver's license or ID. Interestingly, you cannot have both. For the former, you can use your out-of-state driver's license; getting a regular license requires you to apply for it within 60 days after establishing residence. As for the latter, head to any DMV branch to apply.
If you have an out-of-state REAL ID, you'll need to refer to this page on the DMV's website.
All applications are can be made via the DMV's online service. You'll need to consult the application's restrictions before applying, and mail (not e-mail) all required documents to the DMV's main office. For new applications, you'll need to submit:
- A copy of your Wisconsin driver's license or ID
- A copy of the vehicle title
- Payment information
You can obtain a 90-day temporary registration while you wait for the plates to arrive; just visit any DMV office and provide them with the completed application form and the payment for associated fees. You'll need to display the temporary plate within two business days of purchasing the car.
License plates are valid for a year, though specific vehicle types may have different validity periods. Further information can be found on the DMV's very informative website.
Types of Wisconsin License Plates
Wisconsin has a great deal of different license plates you can apply for. We'll illustrate a few in the following list.
Standard Plates: The standard license plate for most automobiles. The license plate format is comprised of 7 alphanumeric characters in the following format: ABC-1234.
Personalized Plates: Applicable to automobiles, motor homes, motorcycles and trucks. There is an additional $15 personalized plate fee on top of the regular annual registration fee. You may use 1-7 characters (capital letters or numbers); for motorcycles, you may use 1-5 characters.
You can apply for one online if you don't currently have license plates for your vehicle. Otherwise, all personalized plate applications need to be mailed to the state Department of Transporation (the DMV doesn't process these applications).
Collector Plates: Applicable to "[a]ll motor vehicles 20 years or older that the body has not been altered from the original vehicle." Owners of one or more vehicles registered with collector plates can also apply for collector special plates, applicable for "vehicles of any age used for general transportation."
Antique Plates: Similar to collector plates, these are issued to vehicles with model year 1945 or earlier, and "has not been altered or modified from the original manufacturer's specifications."
Special Plates: There's a large variety of other special plates you can choose from, such as conservation-related plates, organization-related plates, veteran plates, Wisconsin Salutes Veterans plates, and more.
Why Should I Get the License Plate Report?
Getting a license plate report isn't just about finding out more about a car that's linked to that plate. When it comes to buying a used car, especially, putting your security first is the logical step to making sure you're getting your money's worth. Unscrupulous sellers may try to trick you into thinking that the car you're eyeing is in working condition - but you might not know that its actually been branded as salvage, or worse, is actually a completely different car!
Obtaining a license plate lookup report is a crucial preventive measure that allows you to avoid falling for automotive scams. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, all you need is the license plate number, and you'll get your hands on a car's complete details - from specifications to accident records - in just a few seconds!
What Do I Get from the License Plate Report?
Using our license plate lookup service, you'll be able to check a car's complete historical records. Some of the things you'll find include:
Salvage and Junk Title Report: A salvage title car indicates that the vehicle has been damaged and is already considered a loss by the insurance company that paid the damaged vehicle's claim. This may be due to it being involved in a serious collision, had caught fire, or suffered flood damage.
A junk title, on the other hand, refers to a car that is no longer deemed roadworthy. It could be similar to a salvage title in that the car suffered serious damage, where the insurance company has concluded that repairing or restoring it would be far too costly. Either of these brands can indicate that you'd only end up wasting money trying to fix the car.
Previous Owner(s) Records: You'll be able to find out more about the vehicle's past owners and where it was purchased from. You can also get an idea as to how many times it has changed hands.
Detailed Usage and Service History: The report will also detail the vehicle's current state, including its most recent odometer reading prior to being sold to a dealership. With this, you can find out if the seller is attempting odometer fraud; you may be able to tell from inconsistent readings between dates, among other things.
Accident Reports: Any time a car was involved in an accident, details of it will be published here. This data is made available to the public for the benefit of concerned parties. While minor accidents may go unreported in some cases, having a historical record of past accidents can be useful, especially concerning its current condition and possible connections to salvage and/or junk titles associated with it (or otherwise).
Current Market Price: You can also determine a car's actual market value, allowing you to find out if you're being over- or undercharged for the car you're considering.
Lien Records: A lien on a car indicates that the car is legally "owned" by an auto insurance company until the loan is paid off. If you buy a second-hand car with a lien on it, you may be obligated to settle it in full, whether or not you didn't know it was there.
To avoid such a sticky situation if the seller doesn't inform you ahead of time (which is already considered a red flag), the license plate lookup report will reveal this info to you.
Is a Reverse License Plate Search Legal?
All data compiled in our reports is in compliance with the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA). Any personal information on a vehicle's current or past owners remains private and confidential. Our license plate lookup only does a reverse lookup to obtain a vehicle's VIN number and history reports.
Moreover, we source all information from government entities or other trusted organizations, such as the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). We also check car auction inventories from time to time to track a vehicle’s condition.
Additionally, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), members of the public are given permission to access any information collected by the government. We can assure you that our service is in adherence to federal laws.
Protecting Yourself from Automotive Fraud
According to the Insurance Information Institute, Wisconsin recorded 9,393 car thefts in 2020. While nowhere as numerous as some other states, it's entirely possible that stolen cars from other states are illegally sold at dealerships using cloned VINs to deceive buyers into thinking they're purchasing a particular car. The reality is that automotive fraud can happen anywhere and when you least expect it.
Get peace of mind with conducting a license plate check on whatever used cars you might be eyeing. Even if you don't buy them, having a lookup report in your hands provides you the information you need to prevent yourself from being scammed into a shoddy deal. It's always important to know your legal rights as a consumer. The more you know, the better you're able to spot potential red flags in a deal.
With VinFreeCheck, we can help you protect yourself from any kind of automotive fraud. Get your report today!
State Based Informational Guides
We have compiled a list of state specific guides for you. Feel free to check them out.