What to Do With License Plates When Selling a Car [50 states Epic Guide]

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Edgar Moulton.

28.04.2021

Edgar Moulton. Car Expert

Table of contents

The Division of Motor Vehicles issues vehicle registration plates, also known as license plates in the United States. 

Each state requires these plates for official identification and security reasons, and they must be attached to all vehicles. There are 50 different license plates available, ranging from standard to personalized plates, depending on the state. They also have different rules and regulations in place when it comes to keeping or discarding license plates when you sell a car.

Planning to sell your car? This guide is for you if you’re looking for answers to these questions:

  • What should I do if I sold my car with license plates on?
  • How can I turn in old license plates?
  • What would happen if I sold a car and left my license plate on?
  • What should I do with a license plate when selling cars?
  • If you left a license plate accidentally and the car was used in a crime, what would happen?

Ready to find out what’s legal and illegal or what law applies to your state regarding plate transfer? Read on.

What to Do With License Plates When Selling a Car

So what are you supposed to do with old license plates when you sell your car? Notifying your state that you've sold your car or transferred your license plates is critical because it informs them that you're no longer responsible for or associated with your old vehicle. Before handing over the car to the new owner, you should remove the plates, according to most state laws. In some states, the plates must be kept with the vehicle. Some will allow you to keep the plates and then transfer them to a new car. 

Generally, depending on the state, the DMV will either let you keep the old plates, mandate you to return the plates, or advise you to destroy them.

Here’s an example of three states with differing rules on old license plates.

What to Do With Old License Plates Florida

You must remove the license plates before transferring them to your new vehicle. If you aren’t using the plates, return them to Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Keep in mind that failing to return it could result in your driver's license being suspended.

Please remember that license plates belong to the state and must be returned. Florida license plates should be disposed of by returning them to a motor vehicle service center with a request to cancel and recycle the plate.

What to Do With Old License Plates in Ohio

License plates belong to the person who owns them, and they can be kept, destroyed, or transferred to another vehicle. The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles can help you transfer them to a new vehicle.

You can transfer a license plate to a new car if it is in the same class as your old one, but be sure to remove your old plates first. You can also contact the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles to cancel your registration and surrender your license plates.

What to Do With Old License Plates in Illinois

The Secretary of State does not require the old and unused license plates to be returned. However, the Illinois Secretary of State's office has launched a program to recycle expired or obsolete license plates. Residents can recycle their old license plates by bringing them to a Secretary of State location and depositing them in tamper-proof bins.

How to Get Rid of License Plates

Specific instructions on how to recycle license plates should be available from your state's vehicle licensing department or DMV. In essence, you have three choices.

First, you can personally go to your local DMV to return old license plates.

Second, you can send the old plates to your vehicle licensing office via mail. A mailing address for returning old license plates should be included on each state's website.

Third, place them in the aluminum recycling bin at your local recycling center. When disposing of old license plates, be sure to remove all the month and year decals. It is also recommended to bend and cut your plates to make them unusable. Keep in mind that if someone steals your license plate and puts it on their vehicle, the police will contact you if the vehicle is involved in a crime.

When I Sell a Car, Do the License Plates Go With It, or Should I Remove Them?

Most states mandate that when you sell your car, you must remove the license plates before the deal is done. You then have the option to turn in license plates to unregister a car or to destroy it when not needed.

While a few states treat license plates as part of the car, it should remain even after selling. Here’s a list that can serve as your quick reference on what to do with your car’s plates after selling it.

So let’s look at one state as an example.

Should I Remove License Plates When Selling Cars in Texas?

When selling a car in Texas, you must remove the license plates from the vehicle. Before handing over the keys, remove the plates and the registration sticker. The license plate can be transferred to another vehicle you own for free. The County Clerk will issue you a new registration sticker after you transfer your plates. If you are no longer going to use the plates, you must surrender them to your local Texas tax assessor or collector.

Ok, let’s look at the rest of the field and see which state requires removing plates.

You should remove license plates when selling your car if you sell it in these states. Note that we’ve included the Federal District of Columbia.

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Some states, like Virginia, don’t obligate car owners to return their plates when removing them from the car. However, they must render them useless or in safekeeping for their own protection.

You don't need to remove license plates when selling your car if you sell it in these states:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Minnesota

Can I Use My Old License Plate on My New Car?

Personally, I would like to keep my license plate when I buy a new car, and I’m sure a lot of you would too. Thankfully, most states allow you to use your old license plates on new cars. 

As long as your new vehicle is of the same class, you should be able to transfer the plates. As a result, you won't be able to transfer your old car's license plate to your new pickup truck. You can even apply the remaining registration credit to your new vehicle. You can cancel the registration and surrender the plates to your state's DMV if you keep the plates but decide not to use them.

Here’s a breakdown of each state’s ruling on transferring plates.


State

STANDARD PLATES

SPECIAL / PERSONALIZED PLATES

Yes 

No

Yes

No

Alabama

✔️

✔️

Alaska

✔️

Arizona

✔️

✔️

Arkansas

✔️

✔️

California

✔️

Colorado

✔️

✔️

Connecticut

✔️

✔️

Delaware

✔️ 

But, if the new owner lives in Delaware, the plates stay on the car

✔️ 

But, if the new owner lives in Delaware, the plates stay on the car

District of Columbia

✔️

✔️

Florida

✔️

✔️

Georgia

✔️

✔️

Hawaii

Idaho

✔️

✔️

Illinois

✔️

✔️

Indiana

✔️

✔️

Iowa

✔️

✔️

Kansas

✔️

✔️

Kentucky**

✔️

✔️

Louisiana

✔️

Maine

✔️

✔️

Maryland

✔️

✔️

Massachusetts

✔️

✔️

Michigan

✔️

With an option to retain plates on an old car if a new owner is a family member

✔️

With an option to retain plates on an old car if a new owner is a family member

Minnesota

✔️

Mississippi

Missouri

✔️

✔️

Montana

✔️

✔️

Nebraska

Nevada

✔️

✔️

New Hampshire

✔️

✔️

New Jersey

✔️

✔️

New Mexico

✔️

✔️

New York

✔️

✔️

North Carolina

✔️

✔️

North Dakota

✔️

✔️

Ohio

✔️

✔️

Oklahoma

✔️

✔️

Oregon

✔️

✔️

Pennsylvania

✔️

✔️

Rhode Island

✔️

✔️

South Carolina

✔️

✔️

South Dakota

✔️

✔️

Tennessee

✔️

✔️

Texas

✔️

✔️

Utah

✔️

✔️

Vermont

✔️

✔️

Virginia

✔️

✔️

Washington

✔️

✔️

West Virginia

✔️

✔️

Wisconsin

✔️

✔️

Wyoming

✔️

✔️

How to Cancel License Plates 

Each state has a different process on how to unregister a car. This step is important when selling your car because it releases you from any obligations to the car.

But for most states, when it comes time to sell your car, all you have to do is take off your license plates. Then, immediately take them to the DMV, turn them in, and notify the DMV that your vehicle has been sold. The car will no longer be associated with you in the state's system, and your registration will be canceled.

If you sell your car, you may be required to surrender your license plate and cancel your registration in some states. This informs the DMV that you no longer own the vehicle, allowing you to avoid paying taxes and other fees associated with it. The next portion of this article shows which states require you to return license plates.

There are online services to make cancellation easier; for instance, these two states online portals for remote processing.

How to Cancel Car Registration California

The license plates stay with the car even after you sell it. Personalized plates can be transferred to a new car through the California DMV by filing a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability form. Both forms can be accomplished using the online services of the DMV.

You should cancel your registration if your car is not running anymore, and you have no wish to have it repaired or if you don’t have another car to transfer it to.

How to Cancel License Plates in Illinois

To cancel plates and unregister your car, you must complete the Illinois Secretary of State Vehicle Registration and/or Title Revocation Request form. Include important details such as vehicle identification number and other registration info. Create a copy of the form for reference and send the original letter via email or snail mail.

There’s no need to return the plates, but it is advised that you destroy and recycle them for your own protection.

What States Require You to Return Your License Plates?

In some states, when you sell your car, you can transfer your license plate to another vehicle that you buy or already own. If you no longer need your plates, you can return them to your local DMV office.

Returning your old plates is mandatory in some states, while in others, they allow you to keep them as long as you make sure that it’s not used for crime. You also have the option to destroy your old license plates or have them recycled.

States that require you to return your license plates are Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

States that don’t require returning your license plate are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

How Long Do You Have to Turn in Your License Plates?

You may be required to surrender license plates to your local DMV if you no longer need them. Here’s a table to guide you on when to surrender your plates, depending on where you registered your vehicle.

State

# of Days

State

# of Days

Alabama

N.A. / Not required

Missouri

N.A. / Not required

Alaska

30

Montana

30

Arizona

N.A. / Not required

Nebraska

60

Arkansas

N.A. / Not required

Nevada

30

California

N.A. / Not required

New Hampshire

N.A. / Not required

Colorado

N.A. / Not required

New Jersey

Connecticut

30

New Mexico

30

Delaware

30

New York

90

District of Columbia

60

North Carolina

60

Florida

30

North Dakota

30

Georgia

N.A. / Not required

Ohio

N.A. / Not required

Hawaii

N.A. / Not required

Oklahoma

30

Idaho

N.A. / Not required

Oregon

N.A. / Not required

Illinois

N.A. / Not required

Pennsylvania

30

Indiana

N.A. / Not required

Rhode Island

90

Iowa

30

South Carolina

N.A. / Not required

Kansas

N.A. / Not required

South Dakota

90

Kentucky

90

Tennessee

N.A. / Not required

Louisiana

N.A. / Not required

Texas

N.A. / Not required

Maine

Utah

N.A. / Not required

Maryland

42

Vermont

N.A. / Not required

Massachusetts

N.A. / Not required

Virginia

60

Michigan

N.A. / Not required

Washington

N.A. / Not required

Minnesota

N.A. / Not required

West Virginia

30

Mississippi

30

Wisconsin

N.A. / Not required

Wyoming

45

What Happens If You Don't Return License Plates?

For states that don’t require you to return your plates, just make sure that the plates are expired, inactive, or canceled. You own the plates, so you have the freedom to do whatever you want as long as you take the necessary precaution.

You are required to surrender your plates when you sell your car in Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Failure to surrender your license plate when you sell your vehicle will result in a driver’s license suspension. When you surrender your plate, new vehicle registration will be printed, indicating that the old license plate is canceled.

When you surrender your plates, your local DMV receives a notice from insurance companies that your insurance has been canceled. As a result, you may be audited to provide proof of valid liability insurance from the date of cancellation. If it is determined that you were uninsured, you will be penalized. 

What to Do If You Forgot to Take License Plate Off Sold Car

Many states require you to remove your plates, and if it is a requirement, it’s imperative to do so. For example, Illinois is one of those states you are required to remove your plates. They will suspend your license if you fail to surrender your plates.

Lastly, title jumping is a felony, and it's something you could avoid by taking off your plates before selling. If you failed to remove the plates, ask the buyer to remove them for you and send them back.

You should also report this to the DMV as soon as you can. The DMV will cancel the plate if you provide the required information and proof.

Also, forgetting to remove your plate can lead to “title jumping” if the buyer brings the car to another state. When the title “jumps” from you to the buyer without updating the records, it’s a felony in all states.

Can I Actually Sell My Car License Plates?

For states that require you to return your old plates, it would be illegal to sell your old plates.

But if you are not required to surrender your plates, selling can be an option. Generally, the older the plate, the better the condition, and the smaller the population of the state or other issuing jurisdiction at the time the plate was issued, the more the plate will probably be worth. You should also make sure that you have successfully canceled or unregistered the plates. If a plate you sold was attached to a car used to commit a crime, you can be liable if the plates are still active.

If you’re going to post your plates on eBay, here’s their policy regarding the selling of license plates. “Collectible license plates are allowed as long as they are expired and at least 3 years old or as allowed by law”.

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Edgar Moulton.

28.04.2021

Edgar Moulton. Car Expert

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