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The Top 3 Things to do With Your License Plates When You Sell Your Car

There is a lot of information about what you need to do to sell a car. But what do you do with the license plates? Should you keep them? Dispose of them? Leave them with the car?

Registration requirements vary from state to state. Keep in mind that your options might be limited, depending on where you live. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the federal agency that regulates how each state develops and enforces laws regarding traffic safety. They are a great resource for determining your license plates options. 

Should You Remove Your License Plates Before Selling Your Car?

Regardless of the state requirements for your license plates, car owners are often concerned with leaving the tags on the car when they sell, with good reason. People can use an online info tracker to find out the owner’s name, contact information published online and in public records, and titling information like your address.

To feel more secure, remove the plates before you sell your vehicle. You can turn your license plates into your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Some states even offer recycling options for your license plates.    

what to do with license plates when selling a car

3 Things to do With Your License Plates When You Sell Your Car

There are over 7.2 million vanity and specialty plates registered to vehicles in the United States. Vermont has the highest percentage, at 16% of total personalized license plates. The laws in all 50 states allow specialty license plates to remain with the owner.

But what if you don’t have a personalized license plate? Adhering to the law is best. The state will suspend your driving privileges if you violate the rules on your vehicle registration.  

However, you have a few choices on what to do with your license plates, regardless of the laws.  

1. Leave Them on the Vehicle 

You may choose to keep the plates on the car even after you sell. Who wants extra sheets of metal lying around the house? 

If you are selling your car to an unknown private party, there are some risks involved if you let them take the plates. Whatever agreement you make with the buyer regarding the license plates, make sure to document the exchange.   

2. Remove and Dispose of Them 

 You may decide that removing and disposing of the plates is the best choice. Some states offer programs for you to mail your tags back to the state to be recycled. These states include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon 
  • South Dakota
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

These state programs will recycle the metal to make entirely new license plates. Some recycling programs use that aluminum for general recycling. Others use the old one to strictly make new license plates.  

If you are simply disposing of the plates, do not just throw them in the trash. The metal is caustic to the environment. Even if you don't send in your plate to be recycled by the state, you can place them in any recycling receptacle that accepts aluminum.

3. Keep Them for Home Decor 

People will often use old license plates for home décor, or other artful projects. There are even those who collect them, like coins or sports memorabilia. Whatever artistic idea you may have, keeping your old plates for art and other designs is a creative use of them.

Vintage plates make great wall hangings. If you have ever gone to a place where someone displays old license plates, you know how fun it can be to see how standard plate designs have changed over time. 

If you have opted to keep your plates and live in a state that has strict regulations, there are forms you can file with the DMV.  

States Requirements About Your License Plates and Selling Your Car 

In the United States, everyone who operates a motor vehicle is mandated to pay licensing fees. For this reason, you can argue that you paid for your plates, so regardless of the law, you want to keep them. You bought them, right?

Unfortunately, that is not how the law works when it comes to vehicle registration. 

Here is a list of the states that require the plates to be returned to the DMV, by way of leaving them with the vehicle. Vanity and other specialty plates are the only exceptions. 

  • Alaska
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Vermont
  • Wyoming

Do keep in mind that there are exceptions, as mentioned. Contact the department in your state that manages driver’s vehicle licensing and registration for details regarding whether or not you can, or should, keep your license plates. 

should i remove license plate when selling car

Make the Best License Plate Decision for You

If you have decided to sell a junk car, the requirements regarding your license plates in your state may vary. Since the automobile is no longer operational, there is no need to register the vehicle for licensing purposes. This will mean your state may have alternative regulations regarding current registration.

All rules aside, what about if you want to keep your plates? Don’t get caught up in the volumes of laws in each state regarding your vehicle’s registration. If you feel you should keep your license plates, do so. Then contact your local DMV and let them know.