Automotive direct mail lists, sometimes known as “DMV mailing lists,” are available in the aftermarket, to reach vehicle owners for marketing purposes. Some of the most common types of vehicle owner lists that are available include:
- BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz owners
- Ford car or truck owners
- Chevrolet car or truck owners
- Honda, Acura, Toyota or Lexus owners
- Jeep, Chrysler or Dodge owners
Where auto mailing list data comes from
First, it’s important to understand the DPPA and Shelby Amendment: These types of lists may or may not come from state Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMVs). Vehicle owner lists are available in part because of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA). This enacted in 1994 by Congress as an amendment to 103 H.R. 3355, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The DPPA protects the privacy of drivers and was amended with the Shelby Amendment in 2000, which, in some cases, how vehicle owner mailing lists are possible today.
The Shelby Amendment requires states to obtain a driver’s consent before giving out any personal information whether for an individual or in bulk, although most vehicle owner mailing lists are not compiled from DMV records. In fact, most high-quality mailing lists today are compiled from multiple data sources, including automobile service chains and dealerships. These lists, sourced from multiple databases, tend to be more accurate.
Today, many automotive lists are usually compiled from multiple sources including self-reported data from websites, financial and insurance companies, dealerships, automotive service chains and national OEM ownership clubs and lists.
A note about “predictor” mailing lists
Modeled or predictor mailing lists use consumer data combined with statistical modeling to predict what may be in a consumer’s garage. In fact, these lists can sometimes be based on data that contains personally identifiable information (PII) but not allowed to be used as-is, so the purpose of some predictor lists is to actually add additional error to avoid regulations and data restrictions! It is important to ask questions when using a “predictor” list.
What makes auto mailing lists unique
Mailing lists of vehicle owners are different than other types of mailing lists, with the main difference being vehicle data.
When purchasing a direct mail list of vehicle owners, these fields should be included in a file as an absolute minimum requirement:
- Vehicle year, make and model, submodel if available
- Geographic select (state, county, radius around address)
- First and last name
- Street address, city, state, postal (ZIP) code including ZIP+4, formatted to comply with the USPS Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS™). CASS improves the accuracy of a mailing list by using software to match to 5-digit ZIP coding, ZIP + 4 delivery point (DP) coding, carrier route coding, DPV® or DSF2®, LACSLink®, SuiteLink®, eLOT® and RDI™
- Delivery Point Validation (DPV)
These fields or types of information should be available upon request and may be an additional charge. These additional fields are called “selects” and should be discussed with your mailing list vendor.
- Automotive do-it-yourself (DIY) activity
- Odometer reading
- Number of vehicles in the household
- Title of recipient if available (Dr., Mr., Mrs., etc.) or suffix (Jr., IV, II, Sr., etc.)
- VIN code of the vehicle
- Date of last National Change of Address (NCOA) processing
- Phone number when available
- Email address when available
- Demographic information of the household including ethnicity
- Type of fuel: gasoline, diesel, electric, etc.
- Vehicle body type
- Date a record was validated or added to the database
- Presence of children in the household
- Household income
There are other optional types of fields available, which can be discussed with your automotive mailing list service provider.
Automotive mailing list accuracy
Mailing lists on the market today typically range from 75% accuracy up to 98% accuracy depending on the sources of the data and how often the database is updated. Lists on the lower end of the accuracy range tend to rely on DMV data and are limited to certain states. These lists are often the cheapest, too. One clue is the automotive list provider’s website: does it list a street address, and can you verify in Google the street address exists? Is the list provider marketing to you using a generic email address and is there a street address listed in the email anywhere? Does the list provider specialize in automotive mailing lists or is it one of several dozen types of lists available? Is the mailing list provider a member of industry trade associations like SEMA, the Auto Care Association or AASA?
Lists on the higher end of the accuracy range tend to be compiled from multiple sources of consumer and vehicle data and are updated on a regular bases, usually weekly. Ask your list provider when their database is updated.
Directly related to accuracy is the deliverability rate. Ask your list provider if the deliverability is guaranteed. It is not unreasonable to have a postal mailing list with a deliverability guarantee of 95% to 98%, meaning 5% to 2% of the mailed pieces are not delivered to the recipient.
How to purchase mailing lists
First, look at our list of mailing list providers. Call them and ask questions about their data, like how often the data is updated or what the sources of automotive data are. The more questions you ask the more educated you’ll be when purchasing your mailing list.
Years ago, mailing lists used to be for rental only, and for a one-time use only. Today, many lists are purchased outright and can be used multiple times. Ask your list vendor if the list you are considering is available for rent, or for purchase.
Usually postal mailing lists are delivered as Excel files, .csv files or .txt files. If you are using a mailing list from an Excel file or .csv file, watch for the typical “leading zero” error. For example, a ZIP code from the east coast is likely to begin with a zero, like “02101” for Boston. If the field setting is not correct that ZIP code may be truncated to “2101” instead, which is an invalid ZIP code. The same can be true for other fields including Delivery Point Validation (DPV) or ZIP+4 fields if not included in the main ZIP code field. For example, some mailing lists may have the ZIP+4 in a separate field so in the case of a ZIP code like “44236-0102” if the “0102” is in a separate field and the setting is not correct to include a leading zero the field may be truncated to “102” which is an invalid ZIP+4 record.
Typical mailing list costs
Mailing lists are usually sold “per thousand” names, which can also look like “per M” or “$/M”. “M” is the traditional print shop way to abbreviate thousand and comes from the Roman numeral for 1,000. Lists can also be sold at cents per record. If a list is sold for $100 per thousand or $100/M, that is the same as ten cents per record or $0.10 per record.
When you add additional “selects” to a mailing list such as VIN codes, email, phone numbers, etc., the cost of a list can go up.
Mailing list costs for vehicle owner postal lists can range from $75 per thousand up to $125 per thousand, depending on the number of selects. Sometimes you get what you pay for and lists that are cheaper than that may have more undeliverable records, which means the printing and postage you paid for will be wasted and will make up for the cheap mailing list. Ask your mailing list provider about deliverability rates.
Email mailing lists can cost more and are usually not sold outright but are instead sold as a service: you pay an email company to send emails on your behalf. Emails can range from $100/M up to $300/M depending on how specialized the list can be. Be wary of lists that are sold outright for cheap because these lists can be compiled from poor sources and they have likely been overused by the time you get them. Email companies often limit direct access to email lists to prevent abuse and to maintain list hygiene by monitoring soft and hard bounces.
Aftermarket sources for automotive mailing lists
To see sources of lists, see our list of mailing list service providers, here.