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North Carolina License Plate Lookup

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License Plate Lookup in North Carolina

Before an entity purchases a used vehicle, a license plate lookup is necessary to ascertain the state of the vehicle. A North Carolina license plate lookup works like a background check on a vehicle. It involves inputting a vehicle's license plate information on a license plate lookup tool. The information derived from a license plate lookup in North Carolina varies depending on whether it was a paid or free license lookup. While a paid license lookup online tool will provide a more comprehensive search result, a free license lookup may only return limited information.

The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (NC DMV) manages vehicle registration and license plate issuance and renewal in the state. Hence, North Carolina residents also can conduct a license lookup at the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles. The state does not have any special requirements that a person applying to conduct a license plate look-up must fulfill. Some of the search results an individual may find after performing a license plate lookup include selected North Carolina traffic records as well as:

  • Registration details of the vehicle
  • Vehicle information and description
  • Title Information
  • Market value
  • Mileage and odometer readings
  • Driver criminal history
  • Accident history
  • Repossession history
  • Equipment details
  • Inspection checklist
  • Maintenance history
  • Weather/natural damage

What is a North Carolina License Plate?

A North Carolina license plate is a rectangular sheet of aluminum bearing an alphanumeric code issued by the NC Division of Motor Vehicles under the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). Since 1956, North Carolina has only required rear license plates; front license plates are not required. A North Carolina license plate features red, green, white, and black colors. The license plate type determines the features a North Carolina license plate carries. The North Carolina license plate is issued after a vehicle has been registered and titled. The various types of license plates in North Carolina are:

  • Standard passenger plates: These license plates are issued to all motor vehicles registered in North Carolina. The NC DMV issues standard license plates in any of the following three designs for private passenger and private hauler vehicles:
    • "First in Flight" - It commemorates the Wright Brothers' first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.
    • "First in Freedom" - It acknowledges two main North Carolina milestones in the American Revolution.
    • National and state motto - It features both the United States motto ("In God We Trust") and North Carolina motto ("To Be Rather Than to Seem").
  • Specialty plates: The NC DMV issues specialty license plates constituting more than 100 causes and interest groups.
  • Personalized plates: Individuals can personalize their standard and special license plates for an additional fee. It may take up to eight weeks for an individual to get their personalized plate after application.

How Do I Get a License Plate in North Carolina?

An adult looking to get a North Carolina license plate for their vehicle must ensure that the vehicle is titled and registered with the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles. The vehicle must also pass a safety inspection, and if applicable, an emissions inspection. A resident getting a license plate for the first time must visit an NC DMV license plate agency. Before visiting, they must schedule an appointment online at their local NC DMV driver's license office.

The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles requires that a title be obtained before a vehicle is registered in the state. The title serves as proper proof of ownership. The manufacturer's certificate of origin will be used as the official transfer document if the vehicle is new. However, new North Carolina residents or state residents who have purchased a vehicle already registered in North Carolina must submit the certificate of title accurately assigned by the former owner. Follow the steps below to title and register a vehicle in person or by mail to an NCDMV license plate agency:

  1. Fulfill the requirements and present the proper documentation, including proof of liability insurance. The general requirements include:
    1. The person titling the vehicle must provide a valid North Carolina driver's license or ID. New North Carolina residents must present a valid out-of-state driver's license and their North Carolina Temporary Driving Certificate.
    2. If more than one individual owns a vehicle, all signatures on required documents must be notarized and submitted together with a black-and-white copy of the other owner's valid driver's license or ID.
      Otherwise, a Power of Attorney can sign for the co-owner(s). If a Power of Attorney signs the paperwork, a black-and-white copy of the owner's valid driver's license is required when paperwork is submitted.
    3. For mail-in applications, the person titling the vehicle must provide a black-and-white copy of their valid North Carolina driver's license alongside their title information.
    4. Property taxes for the vehicle being registered must be paid.
    5. North Carolina law requires constant liability insurance (provided by a North Carolina licensed provider) on all vehicles titled and registered in North Carolina. This must be done before titling a vehicle.
      Additional requirements may apply to other vehicles such as antiques, replicas, mobile homes, mopeds, motorcycles, and trailers. Additional requirements may also apply for special cases such as leased, abandoned, and salvaged vehicles, and cases where an owner does not have proof of ownership or the vehicle is in a trust.
      A new or non-North Carolina resident applying to title their vehicle must, in addition to their driver's license, provide any of these:
    • A Form MVR-614 showing that the vehicle is garaged in North Carolina for at least six months each year
    • A military ID (for active-duty military personnel based in North Carolina)
    • A student ID (displaying enrollment in a North Carolina university or college)
    • A court-ordered sale of the vehicle
    • Registration for a motorhome
  2. Complete the appropriate forms.
  3. Pay the relevant fees.

Title applications are processed within 10-15 business days. However, the NC DMV provides an expedited titling service in which titles are processed and issued the same day or the next business day.

Residents can have their standard and special license plates personalized for an additional fee. They may download and complete a Specialized License Plate or a Personalized Plate Form and submit it together with the application fee to:

N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles
Specialized & Personalized Plates
3155 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27697-3155

You can also complete this procedure online or at a North Carolina DMV license plate agency. A personalized plate's processing and delivery time may take up to eight weeks.

For any inquiries, use the Contact NC DMV page.

Passenger License Plates vs Commercial License Plates

Passenger license plates in North Carolina refer to license plates affixed to passenger vehicles such as sport-utility vehicles, non-commercial cars, and pickup trucks used for personal purposes. Commercial license plates and passenger license plates look the same, but the distinguishing factor is the purpose for which they are used. While a passenger license plate is used on only passenger vehicles weighing less than 10,001 lbs, commercial license plates are used on commercial vehicles. Commercial vehicles in North Carolina refer to vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) more than 10,000 lbs, used as part of a business (non-profit organizations are not exempted), and cross state lines.

Both commercial and passenger license plates are issued after titling and vehicle registration. Vehicles owners are required to provide required documents like their valid North Carolina driver's licenses, liability insurance, proof of ownership, etc. License plate application fees vary depending on the weight of the vehicles.

How Can I Find the Owner of a License Plate in North Carolina

Finding a license plate owner in North Carolina requires conducting a license plate lookup on a license plate lookup tool. Services that offer paid or free license plate lookup in North Carolina provide the necessary information you need to find a license plate owner through a phone number lookup. The information gotten from a license plate lookup can also be used to search through the records of a North Carolina DMV license plate agency.

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.

North Carolina License Plate Renewal

In North Carolina, vehicle owners must renew their vehicle registrations and license plates annually. Before a registration and license plate renewal in North Carolina, a motor vehicle must pass an annual safety inspection and an emissions inspection conducted at the same time as the safety inspection. The safety inspection entails a licensed mechanic examining the vehicle's headlights, windows, brakes, steering, etc. The vehicle owner must ensure that the inspection is completed within 90 days of renewing the vehicle.

Approximately 60 days before your vehicle's registration expires, the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles will mail to your address a renewal notice that lists the vehicle's registration renewal fee and any vehicle property taxes due. The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles offers an online renewal platform through which individuals can renew their vehicle registrations and license plates in the state at a $3 fee per online transaction. You will need the following information to renew your vehicle registration online:

  • The last five digits of the vehicle title number
  • Your vehicle license plate number

If you would rather not pay the $3 transaction fee, you can renew your registration by mailing renewal requirements and fees to the address listed on the notice. Renewal can also be done in person at a local license plate agency. Fees are determined by how long your registration had expired before renewal:

  • Length of Plate Expiration - 1-2 months - $20
  • Length of Plate Expiration - Less than one month - $15
  • Length of Plate Expiration - Two or more months - $25

Can You Look Up License Plates with VIN?

Yes, it is possible to look up a license plate with a VIN in North Carolina. A VIN and license plate number are linked in the state's public vehicle record, implying that an individual can look up a license plate number with a VIN lookup tool that supports such a function.

VIN Number Lookup

A VIN number lookup involves conducting a VIN search with a VIN lookup tool. VIN is the acronym for vehicle identification number, referring to the distinctive serial number given to a vehicle upon manufacture. To perform a VIN lookup, use the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS), which has a database of title information from states across the country. Some information that a VIN lookup reveals are the vehicle's ownership history, market value, accident history, and sale history. A vehicle identification number can be found on the windshield on the driver-side dashboard or a sticker on the driver's side door or door jamb. A motorcycle's VIN may be found on the frame close to the motor or the steering neck below the handlebars.

Can Civilians Lookup License Plates in North Carolina?

Yes, civilians can execute license plate lookups in North Carolina. North Carolina law does not prevent the public from searching for or retrieving license plate information. However, the type of information released after an inquiry and how that information may be shared with others must be in line with state and federal regulations.

According to the Driver's Privacy Protection Act or DPPA - a federal law enacted to protect drivers' privacy in the United States - and North Carolina's G.S. 20-43.1, the personal information in motor vehicle records compiled by a state's DMV is closed to public inspection. Under these statutes, the North Carolina DMV can only release a registered vehicle owner's personal information for a "permissible purpose," such as for use in a court proceeding, to assist a law enforcement agency, or for investigating insurance claims.

What Do Police See When They Run Your Plates in North Carolina?

Running a person's license plate number unearths vital information about them. A member of the public who looks up someone's plate number can find related vehicle details, such as a vehicle's make and model, age, manufacturing year and state, VIN, insurance information, engine size, stolen vehicle reports, recalls, accidents, color, and salvage records.

However, when the inquirer is the police, they can find not only a vehicle's history but also information about its owner (which is ordinarily closed to the public under federal and state law). Personal data available to the police after a license plate number lookup includes the registered owner's name, address, telephone number, medical or disability information, and Social Security number. The police can also find out if any active warrants exist against the vehicle's owner or the vehicle itself.

Notably, an address's five-digit zip code number is not confidential information. Thus, members of the public can find that information upon a license plate search.

Free License Plate Lookup in North Carolina

Numerous third-party websites provide a free license plate lookup to the public. Thus, a person looking to find license plate information for free in North Carolina can access a reputable site with a license plate database/program. The researcher will require a license plate number and the plate's state to complete the search. However, some sites may only disseminate basic information for free and ask users to pay or register for detailed information.

How to Search for Ticket by License Plate in North Carolina

Individuals can search for a parking or other city ticket by license plate in North Carolina by accessing a city's ticket payment portal. Any city government's portal will have some options to find a ticket issued within city limits, including using a license plate number. For example, persons looking for an unpaid parking ticket in Raleigh, Asheville, or Wake Forest can access the respective city's ticket payment portal to search with a license plate number. One may also contact the city or use other search options (if the city does not have an online payment system) to find unpaid city tickets.

Regarding traffic (non-parking) tickets issued in North Carolina, the state government has a centralized database that the public can query for outstanding traffic tickets. However, one can only search the system with a citation number or a defendant's name.