Washington D.C. License Plate Lookup

License Plate Lookup in the District of Columbia

A District of Columbia license plate lookup uses a vehicle's license plate number to acquire vehicle-specific information and reveal the driver's criminal driving history. This lookup may be performed by DC residents or law enforcement personnel. Before approaching vehicles and their drivers, law enforcement officers may carry out license plate lookups to see whether there are outstanding warrants for the owners, parking fines, or other concerns they need to know.

There are various reasons why conducting a license plate lookup can be helpful. For instance, you may be intrigued by the results returned when you look up your own license plate number. You may wish to check if you have any outstanding parking or speeding tickets that might threaten your ability to renew your license. If you hit a parked vehicle, you may want to look up the license plate number to contact the owner and negotiate compensation. A license plate lookup is also helpful in obtaining information about a vehicle's history when purchasing a secondhand car.

You may perform a license plate lookup online using a free or paid service from third-party vendors or contact the DC Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and request a lookup request. Third-party sites that perform license plate lookups for free often provide only basic vehicle information such as the model of the vehicle, the engine type and year, as well as the car's mileage and registration status. If you prefer more comprehensive and accurate data on a vehicle, it is recommended that you contact the DC DMV or use a paid license plate lookup service online. A complete license plate search result will often include District of Columbia traffic records and related information such as:

  • Driver criminal history
  • Vehicle registration
  • Mileage and odometer readings
  • Title Information
  • Recent vehicle inspection information
  • Vehicle's registration details
  • Vehicle information and description
  • Accident history
  • Repossession history
  • Weather/natural damage
  • Maintenance history

What is a District of Columbia License Plate?

District of Columbia license plates are vehicle tags issued to vehicles registered in DC for identification purposes. Vehicles registered in DC must display both rear and front license plates. However, motorcycles, trailers, and mopeds are only required to display license plates on the rear of the vehicles. DMV license plates issued by the District of Columbia must be affixed only to the vehicles to which they are issued. They must be firmly fixed horizontally to prevent them from falling off and allow for easy reading. License plates must be visible and unobstructed or covered by any material, such as plastic, glass, spray, and license tag holders.

The Department of Vehicles issues license Plates in DC. The DMV issues regular tags, specialty tags, and personalized tags. Specialty tags include veterans, breast cancer awareness, and Anacostia River Commemorative license tags. Specialty veteran tags in DC can only be used on passenger cars, vans, and pickup trucks.

The District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issues Disabled American Veteran (DAV) license plates to veterans who own a passenger motor vehicle and are certified as members of the District of Columbia Disabled American Veterans by the District of Columbia Disabled American Veterans Commander.

The DMV offers personalized vehicle tags in three forms:

  • Standard: These are issued to automobiles and may contain up to 7 letters, the numbers 1-9, and spaces.
  • Motorcycle: This type may contain up to 5 letters, the numbers 1-9, and spaces.
  • Disability: The disability personalized license type may contain up to 5 letters, the numbers 1-9, and spaces.

No punctuation or symbols are allowed by the DMV on personalized vehicle tags.

Passenger License Plates vs. Commercial License Plates

Commercial license plates distinguish vehicles used for commercial or business purposes and those used for personal purposes. The District of Columbia DMV issues passenger license plates to regular vehicles used for private purposes. The license plate application process for commercial and passenger vehicles is similar, except that commercial vehicles are differentiated in weight class; hence, registration fees vary.

How Do I Get a License Plate in the District of Columbia?

District of Columbia regular license plates are issued to persons who have completed the vehicle title and registration process with the DMV. Note that prior to titling and registering a car, you must pay any outstanding fines, dishonored check(s) fees, late child support payments, or any other obligation owed to the District of Columbia Government. To complete a new or used vehicle registration, visit a DC DMV service center and complete these steps:

  • If the vehicle is owned by more than one person, each owner's name must be on the vehicle title. The primary owner is required to be a District resident with a valid DC DMV license. Additionally, vehicle registrations will require information on other owners, including picture identification. You may find more information on residency documentation, DMV driver licenses and ID cards, and registration requirements for other automobiles on the DC DMV website.
  • Provide evidence that the vehicle has passed inspection.
  • Provide proof of insurance.
  • Provide proof that you hold the title and are listed at the time of processing.
  • Provide proof of completing title and registration fees. You can find more information on DMV fees on the DMV website. You can also use the DMV vehicle registration and title fee estimator tool to obtain fee estimates.

If you relocate to the District and have valid registration from another jurisdiction but are not eligible for reciprocity, you have up to 60 calendar days from the day you begin to reside in the District to register your vehicle with the DC DMV. Prior to converting your out-of-state driver's license to a District of Columbia driver's license or non-driver identity card, you must first convert your out-of-state driver's license to a District of Columbia driver license or non-driver identification card. If you are eligible for reciprocity with your home state or jurisdiction as a student, diplomat, active military member, part-time resident, member of Congress, or presidential appointee and wish to obtain District of Columbia tags, you must first obtain a DC DMV driver license or identification card.

You can make requests for personalized tags in person, by mail, or online. Online requests can be completed through the online personalized tag request system. The system also allows requesters to find out immediately if the preferred tag is available. To make payment on the system, you will be required to provide your DC DMV driver's license or ID card number and a credit card to pay the fee.

To complete personalized license plate requests by mail or in person, mail or take a completed personalized tag application to the Division of Motor Vehicles 95 M Street SW service center. Persons who have their requests rejected will be refunded the application fee. To pick up the personalized tag at the DMV office, you must take along a DC DMV driver license, learner permit, or ID card, DC vehicle registration card, and current vehicle tags.

The process for obtaining specialty tags is also similar to personalized tags. For more information on obtaining specialty tags, visit the specialty vehicle tags page of the DC DMV website.

Third-party aggregate sites are a reliable alternative for obtaining license plate information. These sites are maintained by independent establishments which collate the information from government-run repositories. Obtaining records from these sites often proves substantially easier than government alternatives. However, requestors may be required to provide any information required to facilitate the record search and pay any required fees to access the record of interest.

How Can I Find the Owner of a License Plate in the District of Columbia?

You can begin the search for the owner of a DC number plate if you use any of the various public record websites to perform a search by entering the license number into the search bar. Typically, you are unlikely to obtain the identity of the license plate owner straightway from the license plate lookup as the DC abides by the federal Driver Privacy Protection Act (DPPA). The federal DPPA forbids DMVs and public record websites from releasing sensitive identifying information in license plate lookup results.

However, by using the information obtained from the result to cross-reference other public databases such as phone directories, you may be able to find the owner of a DC license plate.

District of Columbia License Plate Renewal

You may renew your license plates in DC when you renew your vehicle registrations. DC motorists typically receive notices from the DC DMV 60 calendar days before the expiration dates of the current vehicle registrations. If you have provided the DC DMV with your email address, you will receive your renewal notification through email. To renew your vehicle registration, you must have a valid inspection sticker. In addition, any outstanding debts to the District of Columbia must be paid in order to renew your vehicle registration.

Vehicle registrations renewals may be completed by mail or online. You may complete renewals online if you have:

  • A vehicle registration expiring 60 days from the date on the registration sticker, or vehicle registration that has not expired for more than 90 days.
  • A valid vehicle inspection. Motorists with vehicle inspections that have expired must pass inspection before renewing their registration. If both your registration and inspection have expired, visit a DC DMV service location for a no-fee 5-day registration to take the vehicle through inspection.
  • A valid DC driver license or ID card.
  • Your current name on file with the DC DMV.
  • Your current address on file with the DC DMV.
  • A valid DC vehicle insurance policy.
  • A valid credit card. MasterCard and Visa are accepted. American Express and Discover are not accepted.

In addition to the conditions listed above, you must have not recently changed your name without updating your DC DMV information. The vehicle for which registration must be renewed must also not be a vehicle with a commercial tag or a for-hire tag.

Follow these steps to complete your vehicle registration renewal:

  • Visit the DC DMV online system.
  • Enter the details for your vehicle's registration renewal (tag number, last four characters of the VIN, registration renewal term, and your email address).
  • Review your vehicle renewal information and update your insurance information.
  • Tick the RPP box if you are qualified and need a residential parking permit.
  • Use a valid credit card to pay for the online vehicle registration renewal.
  • Review all of the information you have entered.
  • Print the receipt page and, if applicable, the 45-day temporary registration certificate.

Your renewal application will be processed within 7–10 business days after it is received. You may have to wait up to 15 business days for your items to arrive before contacting DC DMV.

To complete the renewal process by mail, follow the instructions received in the renewal notice in the mail. The notice will include a list of all applicable registration-related fees and a return envelope. Enclose a completed application with a check or money order made out to the DC Treasurer and any applicable inspection and ticket fees. Note that the DMV does not accept cash by mail. Envelopes should be returned to:

DC DMV
Vehicle Services Administration
P.O. Box 90120
Washington, DC 20090

If you wish to renew your vehicle registration by mail but do not have the registration renewal notice, you may do so but must supply the following to the DC DMV:

  • DC driver license number or ID card number.
  • Purpose of payments (vehicle registration renewal).
  • DC vehicle tag number.
  • Current address.
  • Telephone number.
  • The exact payment amount for the applicable renewal fees made by check or money order made payable to the DC Treasurer. If you are not sure about the amount for your renewal payment, contact 311 or (202) 737-4404.

Motorists who have had a name change or a change of address cannot renew their vehicle registrations by mail. Such persons must visit DC DMV service center locations with the appropriate documentation to verify the changes if their driver licenses or ID cards were issued before May 1, 2014. The DC DMV provides further information on name changes and address changes on its website.

Can You Look Up License Plates with VIN?

Yes, you can look up a vehicle’s license plate with its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), if known. The VIN and the license plate number are linked in the DC DMV vehicle registration database. You may visit any DC DMV service center locations to perform a license plate lookup with a VIN if you have a legitimate cause to do so.

VIN Number Lookup

A VIN number lookup involves inputting the VIN number in a VIN number lookup tool to obtain information about a vehicle. A Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is a 17-digit code made up of numbers and characters assigned to each vehicle by the manufacturer. A VIN may provide a ton of information about a vehicle, such as the kind of airbag, the country of origin, engine size, model year, vehicle type, trim level, and manufacturer. The vehicle identification number is often inscribed on a plate on the dashboard near the windshield or the driver's side doorjamb. You may also find it inscribed on the engine's firewall.

There are several reasons why a VIN search may be done. For instance, if you plan on purchasing a vehicle, it is helpful to check for a clean title through a license plate lookup before you pay. A clean title signifies that there are no liens against the car. A VIN search may also assist in determining whether or not a vehicle was stolen.