Surrendering License Plates: When to Hand Over Your Tags

By: Staff Writer June 5, 2012
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When to Surrender Your License Plates

Depending on the laws of your state, there are several scenarios that mandate surrendering your vehicle's license plates or tags:

  • Relocation to a new state.
  • Transferring vehicle ownership.
  • No longer carrying auto insurance.
  • New license plate design.
  • Placing the vehicle in storage or taking it off the road for repairs.

Moving to a New State

All states require registering your vehicle after establishing residency. How you dispose of your old plates depends on the policies of your former state.

Maryland, for example, requires you to send your plates back, while Virginia has no such law, preferring to merely encourage former residents to return the plates by mail. New residents can learn more in our guide to relocating.

Transferring Vehicle Ownership

Many states require removing the license plate or plates from a vehicle after selling it. Each state handles title transfers differently. Generally, you have the option to transfer them to another vehicle you own.

If you opt against transferring the plates, the cancellation process might require surrendering the plate or plates to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or any other state agency that handles motor vehicle registration matters.

Drop Vehicle Insurance

With the exception of New Hampshire, all states mandate carrying a minimum amount of car insurance, making it illegal to operate a vehicle without coverage.

Thus, if you willingly cancel your auto insurance policy you must immediately surrender the car's plates. Forget or ignore and you risk major legal and financial consequences.

New License Plate Design

If you decide to change from a standard design to a personalized license plate, your state might require you to surrender the old tags.

This also holds true for member or organization plates. For example, if you retire or quit the fire department, the state and/or organization may require surrendering the plates to the DMV.

Taking the Car Off the Road

If you place your vehicle in storage, or take it off the road for an extended period of time for repairs and don't want to pay car registration and auto insurance fees, the DMV will require turning in the plates.

If you own a personalized plate, inquire with your DMV about retaining the name or word for when you return the vehicle to the road.

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