Who does the number plate belong to? These are your options

by Pramith

The police are not always the only ones who can find out who the licence plate belongs to and who the vehicle owner is. In this article we explain how you or other persons with a legitimate interest can legally find out the owner of the vehicle.

You can find out who the licence plate belongs to in the following cases

Section 39 of the Road Traffic Act describes exactly in which cases the Federal Motor Transport Authority or the competent registration authority can provide certain information about vehicle owners. Basically, this is only possible if you can show “legitimate interest”. These affected persons or authorised representatives can submit corresponding applications: Private individuals as injured parties or as tortfeasors, lawyers of private individuals as well as of companies and firms, representatives of insurance companies, car park operators and petrol station operators.

  • The following traffic issues provide compelling reasons for you or your designees, such as attorneys, to request a promising number plate search.
  • Your claim for damages may be the reason for a justified licence plate search. For example, an unknown motorist has damaged your vehicle or substantially soiled your clothing and then committed a hit-and-run.
  • If an unknown motorist caused a traffic accident and then committed a hit-and-run, you as the injured party also have a good reason to make a justified licence plate enquiry. Even if you yourself have caused a minor accident, for example, with only minor damage to a parked car, it makes sense for you to make a licence plate enquiry.
  • If a motorist blocks your parked car or your private exit or stands in your reserved parking space, the foreign car often has to be moved or towed away. To recover the costs, you need the information about the foreign owner.
  • Occasionally, a strange motorist drives away without paying after filling up. If you are the owner or lessee of a gas station in question, you can prove this fuel fraud with the help of the surveillance camera and claim damages after the owner enquiry.

How to request a licence plate search

You can obtain important information about the vehicle owner, the vehicle and the insurance company involved from the Federal Motor Transport Authority in Flensburg and, somewhat more quickly, from the responsible vehicle registration office. Because information on vehicle ownership is subject to strict data protection in Germany, you can obtain the desired information there under the following conditions:

  • To make your enquiry, first select the responsible vehicle registration office where the car is registered. For example, if a vehicle registered in Nuremberg had an accident in Munich, you must therefore send an informal written request for a holder query to the registration office in Nuremberg.
  • In order to obtain positive information, you should convincingly justify your request for a licence plate enquiry. The traffic problems presented in the first chapter provide important examples. You may send the application to all registration offices in a traditional letter by post.
  • More and more registration offices have a homepage on the Internet. There you can often download a suitable application form and send it by post after completing it.
  • The easiest and quickest way to get a response from the registration office is usually to fill out an appropriate application online and submit it directly by e-mail.
  • In the whole of Germany, you have to pay 5.10 euros for processing a licence plate enquiry. This fee is also due if your application is rejected.

Who owns the licence plates in Germany, Austria and Switzerland

In Germany, vehicle owners must have their two number plates produced at their own expense. In doing so, Germans are owners for an unlimited period of time and are allowed to keep their number plates even after deregistering their car. However, this regulation does not apply everywhere, as the regulations in Austria and Switzerland, for example, show.

  • The number plates in Austria are called “number plate panels” and are produced on behalf of the registration authority by licensed companies with great security requirements. The vehicle owners pay the production costs, but are not the owners of the number plates.
  • Strictly speaking, the vehicle owners in Austria merely buy the rights to use the number plates. The number plates remain with the owner even after a change of vehicle, but must be returned to the registration authority at the end of their use. Therefore, it is not possible to collect old number plates in Austria.
  • In Switzerland, the legal regulations are completely different. The number plate there is called a “control plate”, is produced on behalf of and at the expense of the competent road traffic office and is only allocated to the holder and not to the vehicle.
  • When a vehicle is changed, the old number plate is bolted to the new car. If the owner does not register a new vehicle, he can have his licence plate reserved on an annual basis for a fee. Without a reservation, he must return the licence plate to the competent road traffic office. This means that the canton and not the vehicle owner is the owner of the licence plates.
  • In Switzerland, the names and postal addresses of vehicle owners may be disclosed completely legally. In almost all Swiss cantons, residents can query the vehicle owners of a maximum of 5 car numbers daily online free of charge or at low cost via the Autoindex Schweiz. The fees are usually 1.00 Swiss francs per owner information.

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