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What Do You Do With Old License Plates?

When you sell your car, most states require you to remove the license plates before passing the car to the buyer. Here's what to do with your old license plates.

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Disposal of vehicle plates

How to sell your plates online?

Are there refunds for surrendered plates?

What are license plates made of?

For safety reasons, you should always remove and dispose of license plates in accordance with your state's laws before selling or otherwise transferring ownership of a vehicle.

Of course, if you live in a state that mandates that the license plates stay with your sold vehicle and pass to the new buyer, do that.

Every state has a different law regulating the proper disposal of old license plates when they are no longer being used on a car. Check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or your state’s equivalent organization to learn your local regulations.

Disposal of Vehicle Plates

When seeking to dispose of your old license plates, it is very important for you to bring yourself up to speed regarding local laws and regulations about securely disposing of old license plates.

Some states require you to turn in your license plates after selling or retiring a car. These states include Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Wyoming, and Washington D.C.

A situation in which you might have to return the plates is when you cancel your liability insurance so you don’t face financial penalties or even have your driver’s license suspended.

Defacing your license plates by yourself or returning them to the DMV when you no longer need them can help protect you from identity theft and fraud. If a scammer obtains your license plate number, they can attach it to their own vehicle and be involved in criminal activity. Because the registered owner's information is associated with the plate number, all of this activity will show up on your record. As a result, you may receive fines or other penalties that you are not responsible for.

You can recycle your license plates at a local recycling center while taking care to remove the registration sticker and the insurance sticker.

Returning your license plate can save you money. When you dispose of a plate by turning it into a tax collector’s office you will receive a receipt showing that the plate was surrendered. Many states will give you a credit towards your next vehicle registration if you turn in your old plate.

Some of these regulations vary from state to state and should be taken into consideration. One of the best sources of information on how to cancel your license plate and dispose of it in the best manner is your local Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV).

Recycle License Plates

License plates should be recycled if your state permits it.

Black recycle symbol on a cardboard box

Your state’s vehicle licensing department should provide specific instructions on acceptable ways to recycle license plates. Generally, drivers have several options to choose from:

  • Return old license plates to a vehicle licensing office in person.
  • Mail them to a vehicle licensing office. Each state should have a mailing address for returning old license plates on its DMV website.
  • Contact your local curbside recycling program to see if they accept license plates, put them in an aluminum recycling bin, and take them to your local recycling center. Most centers recycle aluminum license plates, as long as you remove any tags or screws and chop them up into smaller pieces.

Destroy Old License Plates Yourself

The best way to dispose of old license plates is to destroy them so they can't be used again. This can be done by bending them, scratching them up, or cutting them into pieces. Be sure to remove all the month and year decals from the plate before you destroy it so that it can't be traced back to you.

Deface Plates and Remove Stickers

Regardless of how you dispose of your plates, you should always deface or remove the stickers.The month and year tabs are a common target for thieves.

Defacing your plates ensures nobody will attempt to use them illegally. The best way to deface your plates is with a permanent marker. Alternatively, scratch the decals with a sharp object like a knife or a screwdriver.

Cut Or Bend The Plates Out Of Shape

License plates are made of lightweight aluminum, which means they can be easily bent or cut with your hands. If you have an older plate made of iron or galvanized steel, you may need to use a hammer or a pair of pliers. Once the plate is cut or bent, you can throw it in the trash or recycle it.

Send Old Plates Back To The DMV

Each state has different requirements when it comes to returning your old license plates to the DMV licensing department. The DMV needs to keep track of who owns which plates.

The following states require drivers to return license plates.

Besides Maryland and Washington, several other states require their drivers to return license plates as well. This is the case in:




New Jersey


New York




Rhode Island


South Carolina





While drivers in other states aren’t obligated to return their plates, they should render them illegible or useless.

Return Vehicle License Plates In-Person At a Motor Vehicle Service Center

Some states encourage you to return your unwanted plates to a Motor Vehicle Service Center, where they will be recycled or disposed of according to state regulations.

Dispose Of Vehicle License Plates Via Mail

The easiest way to recycle your vehicle license plate is by mailing it to one of your state DMV office locations.  When sending your plates via mail, be sure to include your name, address, and driver's license number so they can update their records. Once they receive your plates, the DMV will cancel them and send you a confirmation letter.

Dispose Of Old Plates Using a Tag Drop Box

Vehicle owners in some states have an option to recycle their license plates by dropping them off at a tag drop box. Tag drop box locations are available at most tax collector offices and DMV service centers. When using the tag drop box service you need to complete a license plate disposal form. You can download the license plate disposal form on your state DMV website.

When dropping off the license plate, be sure to include the confirmation number from the license plate disposal form.

Sell Your Plates Online

License plates can be interesting and unique collector’s items. While their resale value may not always be high, antique store owners and some hobbyists are willing to pay for hard-to-find license plates.

Person with a laptop selling online

Be sure to investigate your state’s restrictions on selling license plates before listing them online or taking them to an antique shop.

While older license plates are likely to sell for more money, it is sometimes possible to sell newer plates. For example, some collectors are interested in gathering a plate from every county in a state. Artists may need plates with certain colors for a crafting project.

eBay is a great place to sell old license plates, but not recent ones. If you want to dispose of newer plates you may need to give them to friends or network with local artists and collectors.

Refunds And Transfer Credits For Surrendered Plates

If you've surrendered your vehicle plates to the DMV licensing department, you may be wondering if you're eligible for a refund or transfer credit for the remaining registration. The good news is that you may be able to get a refund or transfer the car registration to another vehicle.

However, there are some fees that are not eligible for a refund, such as a vehicle plate fee, vehicle title certificate fee, or any other tax you paid when you registered the vehicle.

So, if you're looking to get a refund or transfer your registration, be sure to check with the DMV to see if you qualify.

Registration Return Refund Eligibility

You may be eligible for a refund of your vehicle registration fee if you return your license plates to the DMV licensing department.

  • Unused plates with no sticker affixed are eligible for a full refund
  • Plates with one year or less remaining are eligible for a partial refund
  • If you have already received substitute plates or stickers, you are not eligible for a refund.

To apply for a refund, simply return your license plate to the DMV along with a completed Application for Refund of Vehicle Registration Fee form. Refunds will be processed within 4-6 weeks.

What Are License Plates Made Of?

Modern license plates are made of aluminum, which is easy to recycle. Manufacturers simply melt the metal down and cast it into new items.

Until the 1940s, drivers got a new set of license plates with the date stamped into the metal every year. Georgia was the first state to add decals with the year so plates could be used over and over again.

There are two types of license plates:

  • Flat steel dies are made by taking a sheet of steel and stamping out the desired design. This type of plate is usually used for passenger vehicles and is comparatively inexpensive to produce.
  • Stamped steel dies are made by taking a sheet of steel and then cutting it into individual pieces that are formed into the desired shape. This type of plate is typically used for commercial vehicles and can be more expensive to produce.

In the United States, all car license plates measure 6” X 12”.

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License Plate FAQ

What should I do with my license plate after I donate my car?

If you’re wondering what to do with your old plates, one option is to simply send the old plates back to the DMV.

In the states of Arizona, California, Illinois, Minnesota, and Washington, you must also turn in a release of liability to the DMV licensing department.

In Washington, Illinois, and Minnesota, this form is called a Report of Sale.

In Alaska and Hawaii, you need to complete and return a Notice of Vehicle Sale, the transfer form that is attached to the bottom of your title.

Do you have to surrender plates in PA?

No, you don’t have to surrender plates in Pennsylvania. When you sell a used car in Pennsylvania, you’ll take the plates off before passing the car to the buyer. You then have the option to use the plates on a different vehicle you own, or may return them to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

One of the traffic safety requirements in the state of Pennsylvania is that every vehicle must have a valid registration. If you cancel your registration, you must also return your license plate to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). You will also need to surrender any disabled parking placards or parking plates that are associated with the vehicle.

Do you have to return your license plate in Georgia?

You are not required to return your license plates in the state of Georgia. If you want to return them, you can mail them or bring them in person to your local DMV office.

If you move to Georgia from another state, you will need to return your out-of-state license plate and register your vehicle with the Georgia Department of Revenue (DOR). You will also need to return your old license plate if you are moving within Georgia and changing your address. To do this, you can either mail in your license plate or surrender it in person at a DOR office. There is no fee to surrender your license plate in Georgia.

How long do you have to turn in your license plates in SC?

You have 15 days to return your license plates in South Carolina. Drivers have 10 days from the date of their vehicle registration to exchange their out-of-state license plates for South Carolina plates. The process is simple: you just need to return your old license plate to your local DMV office and surrender it. You will then be issued a new South Carolina license plate. There is no fee for this transaction. Once a driver has received their new license plates, they should put them on their vehicle as soon as possible. Failure to do so may result in a traffic citation.

Do I need to return license plates in MA?

In most cases, you don’t have to return license plates in MA. You can destroy them by yourself, or recycle them.

If you are a Massachusetts resident and you cancel your car insurance, you must return your old license plates to the DMV. You can do this either by mail or in person. If you choose to return the plates by mail, you will need to include a note explaining why you are returning them. You should also include your name, address, and plate number. Make sure to sign the note. If you return the plates in person, you will need to bring a valid photo ID. You may be asked to surrender your registration certificate as well.

What to do with old license plates in Florida?

The state of Florida offers a few options for what to do with old license plates. You can either recycle them, turn them in at a deputy registrar's office, or donate them to a charitable organization.

  • License plates that are turned in at a deputy registrar's office will be destroyed and the number will be recycled into new license plates.
  • Donating your old license plates to charity is a great way to give back to the community and help support important causes. There are many different charities that accept donated license plates, so you're sure to find one that resonates with you.
  • Recycling your old license plates is another environmentally friendly option that helps keep our planet clean. By recycling your old license plates, you're preventing them from ending up in a landfill where they would take years to decompose.

What do you do with old license plates in Michigan?

In Michigan, there are a few options for disposing of old license plates. One option is to recycle them. Another option is to return the license plate to the Secretary of State office. There is no fee to return a license plate, and doing so ensures that the plate will be properly disposed of. Finally, you can also choose to keep the license plate as a souvenir.

What to do with old license plates in Ohio?

When you sell a car in Ohio, you're required to remove the license plates before transferring the title to the buyer. You have the option of transferring the plates to another vehicle you own. You can also keep them or destroy them.

You can send your old license plates to a local Bureau of Motor Vehicles office if you are not transferring them to another vehicle. There, they will be destroyed and recycled.

Another option is to sell them as collector's items. Some people are willing to pay good money for old license plates, especially if they are from a rare or unique series.

Finally, some scrap yards will also accept license plates as long as they are made of metal. Whichever option you choose, recycling your old license plate is a great way to help the environment.

Where to drop off old license plates?

Most states require that license plates be returned to the DMV when they are no longer in use. This helps to ensure that plates are not reused without the proper paperwork being filed. In some cases, you may be able to drop off the plates at your local DMV office. However, if you no longer have the registration paperwork, you'll need to mail the plates back to the DMV. Make sure to include your contact information and a brief note explaining why you're returning the plates.

How to dispose of old license plates in Tennessee?

License plates in Tennessee must be disposed of once they are no longer valid. The best way to dispose of license plates is to recycle them at a local recycling center. License plates can also be recycled by mail.

To recycle license plates by mail, complete the form on the Tennessee Department of Revenue’s website and enclose the license plates in a sturdy envelope.

What to do with old Indiana license plates?

When you sell a car in Indiana, you are required to remove the vehicle's license plates before the buyer takes possession. You can then:

  • Return the plates to the local Bureau Of Motor Vehicles (BMV)
  • Put them on another vehicle
  • Keep the plates as a souvenir
  • Recycle the plates
  • Repurpose the plates into art or another project.

If you decide to return the plates to the BMV, you can do so either in person or by mail. If you choose to mail them in, be sure to include a note indicating that you would like the plates canceled.

If you keep the plates as a souvenir, be aware that you will need to destroy them so that they can no longer be used on a vehicle. If you decide to recycle them, take them to a local recycle center. And if you decide to repurpose them, there are a number of creative ways to do so.

How to dispose of old license plates in Illinois?

When selling a car in Illinois, you are required to remove the vehicle's license plates before the buyer takes possession.

Man holding an Illinois license plate

If you don’t want to use the license plate for another vehicle, there are a few different options you can use for disposing of the license plates.

One option is to take them to a scrap metal dealer. Many dealers will accept license plates as long as they are made of metal.

Another option is to mail them to the Secretary of State’s office. The address is: Secretary of State License Plate Return, 2701 S. Dirksen Pkwy, Springfield, IL 62723.

The third option is to drop them off at a state-run recycling center. For a list of recycling centers, visit the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency website. Before disposing of old license plates, be sure to remove or invalidate any sticker or decals that may be on the plate.

Finally, you can use the license plates for different art projects.

How do I change my license plate in Florida?

In the state of Florida, you can change your license plate by going to your local county tax collector's office and bringing in your current registration certificate, proof of insurance, and proof of identification. You will also need to pay a fee for the new plate.

If you have recently been in an accident in Florida, and your license plate was damaged, you will need to obtain a new one. You will need to bring your crash reports, as well as the required paperwork and payment, to the tax collector.

If you are changing your plate because it was stolen, damaged or lost, you may also need to provide a police report.

Once you have all of the required documents and payment, the tax collector will issue you a new registration certificate with the new plate number.

You can then dispose of the old vehicle tag by turning it into a Tag Agency or by mail.

How to get temporary license plates?

States can have different requirements for issuing temporary license plates (also known as a temporary tag), but commonly required documents include:

  • Certificate of Title
  • Temporary tag application
  • Proof of car insurance
  • A valid driver’s license
  • Results of inspections or emissions testing, if applicable
  • Loan documentation or release, if applicable

Some states require you to show multiple forms of identification. Typically, one must be a government-issued ID, while the other can be something like a bank statement or utility bill.

How to change the license plate frame?

For many car enthusiasts, buying a car is just the beginning. They often like to personalize their vehicles with unique license plate frames. While some choose frames that simply accent the look of the car, others use them to express their personality or make a statement.

The process of attaching a license plate to a car is relatively simple and can be done in a matter of minutes.

  1. You'll need to make sure that the frame you choose is compatible with your state's regulations. In some states, only certain materials or sizes are allowed.
  2. You'll need to decide how you want to attach the frame to your plate. Some frames screw into place, while others utilize clips or adhesive pads.
  3. You'll need to take care when attaching the frame so that you don't damage your license plate.

If you’re not sure how to change a license plate frame, the process is generally a fairly easy task that can be completed in just a few minutes.

First, remove the old frame by unscrewing the bolts or screws that hold it in place. Be careful not to lose any of the small fasteners.

Next, clean up the area around the license plate, removing any dirt or debris. This will help ensure that the new frame stays securely in place.

Finally, align the new frame and screw it into place.

With just a few simple steps, you can give your car a whole new look.

How much do license plates cost?

The license plate cost might be included in your registration, or billed separately. Some states allow you to transfer license plates from your old car to your new one, while others require brand-new plates. For more information on how much license plates cost in your state, you should contact your state’s DMV office.

How do I change my license plate in California?

If you move to California or get a new car, you'll need to register it with the California DMV and get a new license plate. You can do this either online or in person at your local DMV office.

To register online, you’ll need to provide your driver's license number, vehicle identification number (VIN), and current license plate number. You'll also need to pay the motor vehicle registration fee, which varies depending on the type of vehicle.

If you register in person, you'll need to fill out a registration application and show proof of insurance, as well as your current license plates and registration certificate, license or ID cards. You'll also need to pay the registration fee. Once you have a completed application and your vehicle is registered, you'll be issued a new license plate. You can choose a standard plate or a specialty plate, such as one that supports a charitable cause. You may also be able to personalize your license plate for an additional fee.