November 2012 Bar Bulletin
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November 2012 Bar Bulletin

Dude, Where's My Car?

Tracking Personal Property Assets

By Kim Ositis
Reference Services Librarian


In keeping with this month's theme of "Property," I'd like to highlight some of my favorite, free online resources for doing research for personal property assets. These links are part of the free Skiptracing class that the Law Library offers on a regular basis. For a class schedule, visit

Personal property is loosely defined as moveable items such as cars, boats and planes. Purchases of such property don't typically require the recording of public documents, such as deeds and mortgages, and can therefore be more challenging to research. Here are several helpful sites for tracking down these potentially elusive assets.

Search for aircraft by "N" number and name (plus other searching parameters) via the Federal Aviation Administration's Aircraft Inquiry Registry - Want to know if someone is certified to fly his or her fancy new airplane? Check it out via the Certified Pilots Search from

You might find a picture of a boat on a social media profile and wonder if it belongs to your subject. Search by vessel name, registered owner, shipbuilder, ZIP code and more at Complete listings are available for a fee.

To get some of the same information for free, look up the owner's name at Boat Info World to get the vessel name and then look up that vessel name via through the Coast Guard's Vessel Documen­tation Search:

Tracking license plate numbers to owners' names can be tricky. Certain individuals or companies may request a copy of another person's driving record, though it is possible that the subject will be notified of the request:

If the subject lives or regularly drives in the Seattle area, consider using the Seattle Municipal Court's Public Information database. In addition to searching by defendant's name, citation or ticket number and attorney's name, the system also allows searching by vehicle plate. Enter the plate number and state, click on a case number and then the defendant's name to see a listing of all of his or her municipal court cases (and any aliases and a complete birth date, as an extra-special bonus):

To check if a vehicle has been reported stolen, try the National Insurance Crime Bureau's VINCheck database. This database contains vehicles that have been reported stolen by cooperating NICB members, but not recovered. To perform a search, a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is required. A maximum of 5 VINCheck searches can be conducted within a 24-hour period:

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