What Happens If You Don’t Return License Plates?

Last Updated on July 11, 2021

If you’re getting rid of an old car, then you may need to surrender your license plates.

License plate rules vary by state.

In some states, drivers face serious consequences for not surrendering their license plates. In other states, you’re free to keep the plates without penalty.

What Happens If You Don’t Return License Plates?

In almost all states, you need to return your license plates if you cancel your liability insurance. In this situation, your insurer will notify the DMV that you no longer have insurance, which means your registration and license plate are no longer valid. If you want to avoid surrendering your license plates, then you need to cancel your registration before canceling your insurance.

If you are selling a car or disposing of a vehicle, however, then rules vary. Some states require you to destroy or surrender old license plates, while others allow you to transfer license plates to a new vehicle.

What happens if you don’t return license plates? Do I need to return my license plates to my state? Keep reading to discover a state-by-state breakdown of each state’s license plate surrender laws.

Alabama

In Alabama, you must remove your license plates from your vehicle when you sell it. You may be able to transfer the license plate to a new vehicle of the same class if you have previously paid for vehicle registration. If buying a vehicle through a private sale in Alabama, you have 20 days to title and register the vehicle and obtain a new license plate.

Alaska

Drivers in Alaska can transfer personalized or specialty plates to another vehicle in their name. Standard license plates, however, are not transferable and must remain with the vehicle. All private vehicle sales must be reported within 10 days. If you buy a replacement vehicle, you must register that vehicle within 30 days.

Arizona

Arizona allows drivers to transfer license plates between vehicles, assuming both vehicles are registered in your name. Or, you can return the license plate to the DMV or destroy it. You may receive a refund on the unexpired part of your vehicle registration when returning the license plate.

Arkansas

When selling your vehicle in Arkansas, you keep the license plate. You can transfer the license plate to your new vehicle. Or, you can return it to the Arkansas DMV if you don’t plan to use the license plate. You can transfer the license plate to a vehicle with a higher weight class, although you need to pay the difference in fees.

California

In California, license plates stay with the vehicle after the sale. However, you can carry personalized or specialty license plates to another vehicle. To transfer the license plate to a new vehicle, complete the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability form online with the California DMV within 5 days of the sale.

Colorado

Colorado allows drivers to keep their license plates when selling a vehicle. If you buy a new vehicle, then you can transfer your old license plate to that new vehicle for a fee. Contact the Colorado DMV and complete the Release of Liability form within 5 days.

Connecticut

Connecticut allows drivers to keep their license plates. You can also transfer your license plate to a new vehicle for a fee. If you have vehicle registration time remaining on your old vehicle, then you can transfer that registration to your new vehicle’s registration as a credit.

Delaware

License plates stay with the vehicle in Delaware. However, you can transfer a license plate to another vehicle if you like. You can also trade plates with another vehicle owner by paying a small fee. Delaware is one of the few states where drivers trade license plates with rare or unique numbers. If you have a low number Delaware license plate or a license plate with a trendy number, then you may want to check the value of the license plate on the market before canceling your registration.

District of Columbia

You must surrender your vehicle tags and license plate to the Washington, D.C. DMV or cancel them. However, if you’re getting a new vehicle, you can transfer the tags and license plate to that new vehicle. Whatever the situation, you remove your tags and license plates from the vehicle during the process.

Florida

Florida requires drivers to keep their license plates. If you are not transferring your license plate to a new vehicle, then you must return your license plate to the DMV. The Florida DMV can suspend your driver’s license if you do not surrender your license plate. The Florida DMV also charges a significant fee when obtaining a new license plate, which is why most drivers transfer their old license plate to a new vehicle.

Georgia

In Georgia, the license plate does not transfer to the new owner of a vehicle during a sale. You can transfer your license plate to a new vehicle. If you are not transferring your license plate to a new vehicle, then you must cancel your vehicle registration by contacting the Georgia DMV. You must also cancel vehicle registration before you cancel insurance on the sold vehicle.

Hawaii

License plates remain with the vehicle during a sale in Hawaii. License plate registration is done by the county. Contact the county to switch license plate registration between owners.

Idaho

Idaho requires drivers to keep their license plates during a sale – they don’t follow the vehicle. You can transfer your license plate to a new vehicle. If you have previously paid for vehicle registration and still have time remaining, then you can get credit for your new vehicle. If you have black and white restricted vehicle plates in Idaho, then these rules do not apply to you, and you must contact the Idaho DMV for specific license plate surrender information.

Illinois

License plates remain with the driver in Illinois – not the vehicle. You keep your old license plate when selling a vehicle. You can transfer that license plate to your new vehicle by contacting the Illinois Secretary of State (the Illinois equivalent of the DMV).

Indiana

License plates remain with the driver in Indiana – not the vehicle. You keep your plate when selling a vehicle, and you can transfer that plate to another vehicle by contacting the Indiana BMV.

Iowa

Iowa allows drivers to keep their license plates. If you have previously paid for vehicle registration and have time remaining, then you can get a refund or credit towards a new vehicle’s registration.

Kansas

Kansas allows drivers to keep their license plates. You can transfer your license plate to a new vehicle by contacting the Kansas DOV. Your new vehicle will be added to your old registration.

Kentucky

Kentucky requires drivers to return old license plates to the Kentucky County Clerk’s office. You must surrender old license plates when getting rid of an old vehicle or selling a vehicle to an out-of-state buyer.

Louisiana

Louisiana asks sellers to destroy their license plates when selling a vehicle. Alternatively, drivers can return old license plates to the Louisiana OMV. If you have a prestige plate or a specialty plate, then you can keep your license plate even after selling the vehicle.

Maine

Maine allows drivers to keep their license plates when getting rid of an old vehicle. You can transfer your license plate to a new vehicle within one year in exchange for a small fee. If you don’t plan to register a new vehicle within one year, then cancel your registration and surrender the license plate. Contact the Maine BMV for more information.

Maryland

Drivers can keep their license plates in Maryland. You can also transfer your license plate to a new vehicle by contacting Maryland’s MVA. You can transfer the license plate to a new vehicle as long as the new vehicle has the same classification, you no longer own the original vehicle, and you have not changed addresses. If you don’t meet these requirements, you may need to pay a fee to transfer the license plate to a new vehicle.

Massachusetts

Drivers can keep their license plates in Massachusetts. You can transfer license plates to a new vehicle within 7 days of getting rid of an old vehicle. Contact the Massachusetts RMV within 7 days to transfer the license plate to a new vehicle.

Michigan

Michigan requires drivers to keep their license plates when selling a vehicle. Contact the Michigan Secretary of State to transfer the license plate to a new vehicle. If selling the vehicle to a family member, then you can transfer the license plate and ownership together without removing the plate.

Minnesota

License plates stay with the vehicle in Minnesota. If you have previously paid vehicle registration fees, then those registration fees transfer to the new owner. If you have specialty or personalized license plates, then you can transfer those plates to a new vehicle by contacting Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services.

Mississippi

You must remove your license plate when getting rid of an old vehicle. You cannot transfer a license plate to a new vehicle, and you must surrender the license plate at your county’s Tax Collector office.

Missouri

Missouri allows drivers to keep their license plates. License plates do not transfer to a new buyer. You can transfer your old license plate to a new vehicle. If you have previously paid for vehicle registration, then that registration can transfer to a new vehicle.

Montana

You can keep your license plates in Montana, then transfer the plate to a new vehicle by contacting the Montana MVD.

Nebraska

You must remove your license plate when getting rid of an old car or selling your car. You cannot transfer your license plate to a new vehicle. However, you may be able to obtain a refund or credit on your vehicle registration record by returning your old license plate to the Nebraska DMV.

Nevada

Nevada allows drivers to keep their license plates. Plates follow drivers – not vehicles. If you have bought or are planning to buy a new vehicle, then you can transfer the plates to a new vehicle through the Nevada DMV within 30 days. If you have a personalized plate, then you can transfer the plate to a new vehicle within 60 days. If you are not planning to buy a new vehicle, or if you did not register a new vehicle within 30 to 60 days, then you must return the plates to the Nevada DMV.

New Hampshire

You keep your license plates when getting rid of an old vehicle or selling a vehicle in New Hampshire. The New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles allows drivers to transfer plates to a new vehicle. If the owner is the same on both vehicle registrations, then any registration credit will transfer to the new vehicle.

New Jersey

Keep your license plates when selling a vehicle or getting rid of an old vehicle in New Jersey. If you are planning to transfer the plates to a new vehicle, then contact the New Jersey MVA to do so. If you’re not planning to transfer the plates, then you must surrender your plates to the MVA.

New Mexico

Keep your license plates when selling a vehicle or getting rid of an old vehicle in New Mexico. You can transfer the license plate to a new vehicle within 30 days. If you don’t transfer the license plate to a new vehicle within 30 days, then you must surrender the plates to the New Mexico MVD (or destroy the plates yourself).

New York

New York allows drivers to keep their license plates and transfer them to a new vehicle. If you don’t transfer the plates to a new vehicle, then you must surrender the license plates to the New York DMV. Drivers may receive a refund on the registration time remaining.

North Carolina

License plates stay with the driver in North Carolina. You can transfer your old license plate to a new vehicle, as long as the vehicle is titled in your name.

North Dakota

License plates stay with the driver in North Dakota. You can transfer your old license plate to a new vehicle, and you may receive a refund or credit on any previously paid vehicle registration fees.

Ohio

License plates stay with the driver in Ohio, and you can transfer the license plates to a new vehicle through the Ohio BMV.

Oklahoma

License plates stay with the driver in Oklahoma. You can transfer the license plate to a new vehicle by contacting the Oklahoma MVD.

Oregon

License plates stay with the driver in Oregon, and you can transfer the license plate to a new vehicle by contacting the Oregon DMV. If you are the owner of both the old and new vehicles, then you can transfer any remaining registration time to the new vehicle as well.

Pennsylvania

Drivers in Pennsylvania keep their license plates when getting rid of an old vehicle or selling an old car. You can transfer the license plates to a new vehicle. If you don’t plan to transfer them, then the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recommends returning them.

Rhode Island

Drivers in Rhode Island keep their license plates when getting rid of an old vehicle or selling a car. You can transfer license plates to a new vehicle through the Rhode Island DMV. If you have previously paid for vehicle registration, then that registration carries over to your new vehicle.

South Carolina

License plates stay with the driver in South Carolina. Contact the South Carolina DMV to transfer registration and license plates to a new vehicle. You must notify the DMV when selling a vehicle in South Carolina by providing a Notice of Vehicle Sold form.

South Dakota

License plates stay with the driver in South Dakota. You can transfer license plates to a new vehicle by contacting the South Dakota Department of Revenue.

Tennessee

License plates stay with the driver in Tennessee. You can transfer your license plate to a new vehicle by contacting the Tennessee Department of Revenue.

Texas

Keep your license plate when selling a vehicle or getting rid of an old car in Texas. You can transfer the license plate to a new vehicle by contacting the Texas DMV, although the DMV will give you a new registration sticker.

Utah

License plates stay with the driver in Utah. Contact the Utah DMV to transfer the license plate to a new vehicle’s registration.

Vermont

License plates stay with the driver in Vermont. You can transfer the license plate to another vehicle through the Vermont DMV, assuming you own the other vehicle.

Virginia

License plates stay with you in Virginia, and you can transfer your license plate to another vehicle by contacting the Virginia DMV. If you have at least six months remaining on your vehicle registration, then you may be eligible for a refund if you return the license plates.

Washington

Washington allows drivers to keep their license plates when getting rid of an old vehicle or selling a car. You can transfer the license plate to another vehicle, as long as that vehicle is titled and registered in your name.

West Virginia

Keep your license plates if selling or disposing of a vehicle in West Virginia. You can transfer the license plate to a new vehicle, assuming that vehicle has the same owner linked to the old license plate.

Wisconsin

You remove your license plate from the vehicle in Wisconsin, and you can transfer the license plate to a new vehicle by contacting the Wisconsin DMV.

Wyoming

The license plate follows the owner of the vehicle in Wyoming. When selling or disposing of a vehicle, the registration immediately expires. Contact the County Treasurer’s Office to transfer the license plate to a new owner.

Final Word on the Consequences of not Returning Your Plates

If you don’t return your license plate, then you could face various penalties. If you have canceled your vehicle’s liability insurance for any reason, then you must surrender your license plates in most states. However, if you are selling or disposing of a vehicle, then you can keep your old license plate in most states – or even transfer license plates to a new vehicle.

James Shaffer
James Shaffer James Shaffer is a writer for InsurancePanda.com and a well-seasoned auto insurance industry veteran. He has a deep knowledge of insurance rules and regulations and is passionate about helping drivers save money on auto insurance. He is responsible for researching and writing about anything auto insurance-related. He holds a bachelor's degree from Bentley University and his work has been quoted by NBC News, CNN, and The Washington Post.
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