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License Plates & Placards in Washington

SUMMARY: Washington License Plates

Most vehicles in Washington must have license plates to be legally driven on public roads. You can apply for a license plate by registering your car. You'll renew your plates by renewing your vehicle registration, which can even be done online. If you already have WA tags, you can transfer your license plates when you buy a new car. You should replace plates and tabs that are lost, stolen, or damaged so that you have valid and legible plates on your vehicle.

Keep reading this page for more information about license plates in Washington.

Do you qualify for disabled parking? Visit our Disability Placards and License Plates page for more information.

Special plates and personalized plates are also available to WA car owners. Learn more about types of specialty plates available or how to apply for special plates.

Types of Washington License Plates

In Washington, most vehicles are required to have 2 license plates, one on the front and one on the rear of the vehicle. Trailers, semi-trailers, campers, mopeds, collector vehicles, horseless carriages, and motorcycles only have 1 license plate.

The Washington Department of Licensing (DOL) issues license plates and tabs that go in the upper right hand corner of the rear license plate and show the expiration date of your registration.

Other Types of License Plates

Several special license plates and personalized plates are available from the Washington DOL. See our pages about Types of Special Plates and Special Plate Applications for more details.

The WA DOL also issues disabled parking plates to qualifying individuals. Visit our Disability Plate and Placards page for guidelines.

Temporary Tags

When you buy a vehicle from a dealer, you can ask for a temporary tag that allows you to operate your vehicle on public roads until your registration and license plates are ready.

If you buy from a private seller, you must register your vehicle in order to drive it.

Apply for WA License Plates

To get Washington license plates, you must register your vehicle with the Washington DOL.

You're required to register your vehicle:

  • Within 30 days of bringing your car from another state to WA.
  • Within 15 days of buying a vehicle from a private party or getting a vehicle as a gift.
    • Dealers will handle the registration process for you.

Visit our Car Registration page for details, including how and where to register your vehicle.

Renew License Plates in Washington

To keep your plates valid, you'll have to renew your vehicle registration. You can renew your plates up to 6 months before they expire.

The DOL will no longer require replacements as long as you own your vehicle.

For more information, please visit our Registration Renewal page.

Replace License Plates & Tabs

If your license plates or tabs have been lost, stolen, or damaged, you will have to replace them:

  • Replace plates in person at a WA DOL office.
    • If your tags are stolen, you will NOT be able to get the same plate number.
  • Replace tabs in person or by mail.

You are NOT required to report the theft or loss to local law enforcement, but you may choose to do so in case your license plates are used illegally.

Before you apply for replacements, you need to confirm your address. You can:

To apply for replacements, you will need to submit:

  • A signed AND notarized Affidavit of Loss/Release of Interest/Gross Weight License (Form TD-420-040).
  • Your photo ID.
  • The appropriate fees are payable by cash or check. License plate fees depend on whether you have 2 license plates or 1 license plate. Fees also vary by several things: the type of vehicle, the vehicles weight, your resident address, and the type of license plate. You can find out what your fees are by using a fee calculator or by signing up with the Department of Licensing's License eXpress.
    • Other fees:
      • $5 service fee.
      • $20 additional fee to keep your current plate number.

Submit your application in person at your local WA DOL office or by mail to the address on the form. Your license plate may be free if they were lost in the mail and reported within 90 days.

If you request tabs by mail, you should receive them within 90 days.

Transfer or Surrender WA Tags

You can transfer your license plate to another car that has been titled and registered in your name.

Before you apply for a transfer, you MUST confirm that your address is correct:

You can then submit your license plate transfer materials:

  • By mail.
    OR
  • In person.

You will need:

  • The registration of the vehicle that the plates will be transferred to.
  • A check or money order for registration and transfer fees.
  • If applying by mail, a letter indicating your intention to transfer the plate that includes:
    • Your license plate number.
    • Your current mailing and residence address.

If you are not planning to transfer your plates, you can:

  • Bring them to your local vehicle licensing office.
  • Mail them to the Department of Licensing at:
    1125 Washington St. SE
    Olympia, WA 98504
  • Recycle or keep them.
    • Be sure to invalidate the license plates by removing the month and year tabs and bending the plates.

Fees for Washington License Plates

ALERT: Fees Changing January 1, 2015

In 2015, the Washington DOL will be collecting standard service fees at all of their offices. For more information, visit the DOL website.

License plate and registration fees vary by vehicle type and the county you reside in. The fees below DO NOT include other registration fees, taxes, or service fees that you must pay annually.

New, renewal, replacement and transfer of standard plates will vary by vehicle weight, type of vehicle, where you reside and whether you have 2 license plates or 1 license plate. The Department of Licensing makes it easy to estimate the fees for your vehicle by using their fee calculator and the Regional Authority Excise Tax calculator. If you would like to know the exact fees, as well as be able to perform other transactions, you can sign up for a License eXpress account. Additional fees you may pay:

  • $20: Fee to keep your plate number.
  • $12: Title service fee
  • $5: Registration service fee

You can use the WA DOL personalized license plate lookup to see if the number you want is available to order. The DOL provides specific guidelines for vanity plate letter and number combinations.

As a member of the general public, you are not permitted to run license plate numbers or otherwise search for a registered vehicle owner. You can however, report a concern about a vehicle to the local police.

For information about a vehicle, you can order a vehicle history report based on the vehicle identification number (VIN).

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