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South Carolina Public Records
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License Plate Lookup

License Plate Lookup in South Carolina

A South Carolina license plate is a set of alphanumeric characters that uniquely identifies a vehicle within a territory. A license plate lookup involves searching for the details of a vehicle by entering the license plate number in a license plate search tool. Details that can be gotten from a license plate lookup include selected South Carolina traffic records, the vehicle's history, vehicle identification number (VIN), date of last renewal, odometer readings, features of the vehicle, and any associated lien. When purchasing a pre-owned vehicle, It is essential to do a license plate lookup to get details about the car.

The South Carolina Division of Motor Vehicle (SCDMV) regulates and issues vehicle license plates. Any interested person can look up a license plate in South Carolina.

There are several other free and paid license plate lookup websites in the state to get basic information about a vehicle. While free license plate lookup tools provide basic information about a vehicle, paid lookup tools often give more detailed information, such as the driver's criminal history and accident history.

What is a South Carolina License Plate?

A South Carolina license plate is a metal plate tag showing the registration characters (numbers and alphabets) assigned to a vehicle. The South Carolina Motor Vehicle Code mandates the issuance of a single license plate affixed to the rear of all vehicles in the state. The license plate cannot be transferred with the vehicle to other persons. However, it can be reused by the vehicle owner on another vehicle provided they re-register it at the DMV with another vehicle within 30 days of its removal from the previous vehicle; otherwise, the owner must return it to the DMV.

The standard license plate has a white and indigo background with a palmetto tree and the state crescent. It carries the inscription "While I breathe, I hope." All regular license plates have color-coded decals signifying the registration expiry year. The decal color codes alternate from white to yellow to green in succession. The standard license plate characters are a combination of three alphabets followed by three numbers.

There are four types of license plates in South Carolina, namely:

  1. Standard license plate - this is the regular license plate issued to vehicle owners by default.
  2. Specialty license plate - the following are the subgroups under the specialty license plates:
    1. Sports license plate
    2. Charitable license plate
    3. Occupational license plate
    4. Military license plate
    5. Collegiate license plate
    6. Classic car license plate
  3. Disability license plate - this is for those with permanent or temporary disabilities. Vehicle owners with the disability license plate can park in special parking spots.
  4. Temporary license plate - this is issued to vehicle owners while the original license plates are being processed. It has an expiry date of 45 days.

Furthermore, a vehicle owner can request a personalized license plate at an extra cost. The following rules apply:

  • The plates must include both alphabets and numbers
  • Not more than seven characters
  • The numbers must be unique
  • Symbols are not allowed
  • Vulgar language is prohibited
  • Motorcycles can have a maximum of six characters

An applicant for a personalized license plate must submit three choices in order of preference to the DMV. The DMV will issue the first available option within two to six weeks.

How Do I Get a License Plate in South Carolina?

A license plate is obtained in South Carolina when a vehicle is registered and titled. Vehicle owners have 45 days to register and title a vehicle in the state. If a vehicle is purchased from a South Carolina dealer, the dealer will do the registration and titling of the vehicle. A vehicle can be registered either by mail or in person. Non-South Carolina residents do not need to register their vehicle if:

  1. It is registered in another state.
  2. Their stay in the state is less than 150 days.
  3. They do not have a permanent shelter in the state.

To register the vehicle in person, the owner must go to the nearest South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicle Office with the following:

  • Completed Title Application form (SCDMV Form 400)
  • South Carolina Drivers license or ID
  • Completed Statement of Vehicle Operation in South Carolina (SCDMV Form TI-006), if Drivers license or ID is not available
  • Paid property tax receipt in owner's name
  • Vehicle's initial title with the following information
    • Buyer's name and address
    • Odometer reading
    • Lienholder's information where applicable
    • Sales price
    • Date of sales
    • Buyer and seller's signatures
    • Bill of sale if the sales price is not indicated
  • Infrastructure maintenance fee (5% of purchase price but not more than $500)
  • Title and registration fee
    • Passenger cars - $40
    • Motorcycles and mopeds - $10
    • Title - $15
    • People who are 64 years - $38
    • People with a disability or are 65 years and above - $36
    • Permanent trailer plate - $87
    • Electric vehicles - $120 + registration fee
    • Hybrid vehicles - $60 + registration fee

The registration fees for commercial motor vehicles are as follows:

  • 1- 4000 pounds - $30
  • 4001 - 4000 pounds - $40
  • 5001 - 6000 pounds - $60
  • 6001 - 7000 pounds - $70
  • 7001 - 8000 pounds - $80
  • 8001 - 9000 pounds - $90
  • 9001 - 10000 pounds - $100

To register the vehicle by mail, the vehicle owner must send the certified copies of the required documents and the appropriate fees (made out to SCDMV) to the address below:

SCDMV
Titles and Registration
P.O. Box 1498
Blythewood, SC 29016-0024

The DMV will send the license plate or decal via mail within 14 working days. Vehicle registration is valid for two years, while the license plate decal must be renewed annually. An applicant can make in-person payments via cash, check, debit, or credit cards. The credit or debit cards must be in the vehicle owner's name. A mail application must be accompanied by a check or money order written in favor of SCDMV. Online payment must be made with either a credit or debit card. Discover, MasterCard or Visa are acceptable cards.

Passenger License Plates vs Commercial License Plates

Passenger license plates are the standard license plates issued to residents with passenger vehicles. In contrast, commercial license plates are affixed to vehicles meant for commercial purposes, such as buses, taxis, and commercial trailers. In South Carolina, there is no evident physical difference in both license plates.

The same types of documents are required during license plate registrations of passenger and commercial vehicles. However, the only addition for commercial vehicles is the name, registration number, and type of business. The business name must be the same as printed on the South Carolina Secretary of State's website. The registration fees for commercial license plates also differ.

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

The South Carolina Driver Privacy Protection Act prohibits the disclosure of personal information from the motor vehicle record unless as permitted by law. The law limits access to the social security number, address, phone number, medical information, and emergency contact information of the vehicle owner. A license plate lookup request may only be made by applicants that provide any of these reasons for exemption as stated in the DPPA:

  • To verify the accuracy of vehicle owner's personal information
  • To investigate claims by an insurer
  • To be used by a governmental agency
  • To prevent fraud
  • For use by a licensed private investigator
  • To provide notice to the owners of towed, impounded, or abandoned vehicles
  • In civil, criminal, arbitral, or administrative proceedings
  • To verify or obtain information by an employer

The South Carolina DMV, in partnership with South Carolina Interactive, runs a subscription-based system for license plate inquiry. Authorized registered users can search for a vehicle's license plate number and obtain information about the vehicle through the SCDMV Inquiry Application page. The inquirer is required to complete and return the Driver Privacy Protection Act agreement (The Personal Information Release Agreement). Subscribers to the platform pay $75 annually as a subscription fee and are charged a $7.25 transaction fee for each license plate lookup.

Third-party businesses or websites also provide the license plate lookup service free of charge or for a fee. Anyone can use the information obtained from the lookup to find the vehicle owner through a phone number lookup.

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.

South Carolina License Plate Renewal

The South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicle (SCDMV) is responsible for renewing license plates in South Carolina. A renewal notice is sent to vehicle owners a few weeks (not later than 45 days) before the license's expiration. A vehicle owner must pay the personal vehicle property tax at the county's treasurer's office before a license plate renewal can be made.

To renew a vehicle's license plate or decal, a vehicle owner must provide the following:

  • License plate number
  • Driver's license
  • Vehicle insurance
  • The paid property tax receipt
  • Vehicle registration certificate
  • Payment of appropriate fees as indicated on the renewal notice

There are three options for renewing license plates in South Carolina: Mail, online, and in-person. Vehicle owners in Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Chester, Darlington, Dorchester, Georgetown, Greenville, Horry, Oconee, Pickens, Richland, Spartanburg, and York Counties can renew their license plate online. A vehicle owner must send all required documents and a valid Discover, MasterCard, or Visa to the SCDMV postal address to use the mail renewal option. A vehicle owner can visit the nearest SCDMV office for in-person renewal. The DMV will send the new registration decal or license plate by mail within 14 working days.

The following penalties are enforced for late renewal:

  • Less than 15 days - $10
  • 15 - 30 days - $25
  • 31 - 50 days - $50
  • Over 90 days - $75

Can You Look Up License Plates with VIN?

Yes, you can look up a vehicle's license plate with its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). The VIN and the license plate number are linked in the South Carolina vehicle registration database. The SCDMV Inquiry Application web page provides a platform for VIN lookup in the state. An inquirer must have an active subscription on the portal to use the service. The annual subscription fee is $75 and a charge of $7.25 for each transaction on the platform.

VIN Number Lookup

A VIN lookup involves using a VIN search tool to check for information on a vehicle. All registered vehicles in South Carolina have a 17-character identifying code that uniquely identifies the vehicle and its manufacturer. The VIN can be found on the doorpost of the driver's side door, the hood underside, the dashboard of the driver's side of the vehicle, or the engine block. The VIN reveals specific details about the vehicle, such as country of production, airbag types, engine size, plant name, safety recalls, insurance coverages, and claims.

To perform a VIN lookup, the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) provides a database of title information from all the states in the US. A VIN lookup using the NMVTIS resource will provide the following information:

  1. The current state and date of title
  2. Odometer reading
  3. Brand history indicating the vehicle's status, such as junk, flood, and salvage
  4. Total loss history
  5. Salvage history
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