A Westcountry council was banned from accessing the Driver Vehicle and Licensing Agency database after misusing it, it has been revealed.
The DVLA withdrew permission for it to be used by Teignbridge Council for more than a year from December 2010 after a spot check revealed "audit issues".
Usually councils can access the database to look for vehicle owners to find the addresses of motorists who have not paid fines.
But the DVLA regularly checks for security and other breaches.
Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch unearthed a banned list after applying for a Freedom of Information request.
The district authority was one of 294 bodies who have been temporarily banned.
A Teignbridge Council spokesman said: "There was no suggestion that we had divulged the information to someone who should not have it.
"They noticed that when our officers found vehicles which appeared to be abandoned they were telephoning the office to get the details of the owners.
"This enabled them to react quickly to reports of abandoned vehicles.
"Very often the DVLA inquiry reveals that the vehicle is registered to someone living in the vicinity in which case the officer is able to call and speak to them and get the matter resolved immediately without a lengthy paper chase.
"The DVLA pointed out that technically this procedure was wrong and that the information should not have been given over the telephone. Temporarily the DVLA suspended our right of access.
"We are still able to deal with abandoned vehicles – it is just that the process takes a little longer."
A DVLA spokesman said: "DVLA takes its duties with regard to the use of its data very seriously.
"The agency operates a stringent system with regard to electronic access to its data by local authorities, including regular audits.
"Where the agency becomes aware of any issues relating to the use of its data, it will investigate and take swift action where appropriate."
Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said: "Concerns about the DVLA database have been voiced for several years, but it is remarkable that in just three years nearly half the country's councils have been suspended from looking at motorists' information."