by Armando Martinez

So you finally found a buyer for your car, and you're excited to get it off your hands. It's only natural that you feel relief once you close the deal, but then you realize there are some remaining steps to selling a car. One important consideration is what to do with the license plates

There is conflicting information out there, so you may wonder: What do I do with my old license plate? Do you keep license plates when selling a car, or remove them? If you have to remove them, what do you do with them? Learn what to do with your license plates once you sell to a private buyer.

Do You Have To Remove License Plates From a Car When Selling Privately?

Different states have different laws regarding removing license plates from a car when selling privately.

In some states, the vehicle or the owner retains the license plates. In other states, the vehicle owner removes the plates and returns them to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Other states may also have special exceptions, so it's important to know your state laws.

States Where Vehicle Retains License Plate

States where the vehicle may retain your license plate include:

States Where Owner Retains License Plates

Most states allow the vehicle owner to keep their license plates, such as:

States Where Owner Returns Plates to DMV

Returning old license plates to the DMV is required in three states:

  • Connecticut
  • North Carolina
  • Illinois

States Where Owner Has Options or Specialty Plate Exceptions

Indiana and New Hampshire allow the owner to retain ownership with the option to transfer.

Some states make exceptions to their laws for specialty plates, including:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Minnesota

Why You Might Consider Keeping Your License Plates

You may consider keeping your license plates if you're in a state that allows you to do so. There are several reasons this may be beneficial.

Avoid Potential Liability

License plates serve as a means of identification and protection. Your license plate number corresponds to your registration number to identify you as the legal owner. This means that license plates determine responsibility for any action involving your car.

You'll be held liable if a vehicle registered in your name is involved in an accident, crime, or fraud. Making your buyer complete registration at the time of sale helps you avoid liability for anything involving the car once it's sold.

Prevent Fraud Use

Scammers and fraudsters can use your license plate number to create duplicate fake license plates for other vehicles. So if they incur any fees under the license number, you may end up having fines to your name.

Some states collect sales tax at the time of vehicle registration. Some buyers may try to use the current license plate. That way, they only pay the sale price and avoid paying registration fees. The vehicle is still registered in your name, but the buyer fraudulently continues to drive the car.

Keeping your license plate prevents these frauds and protects you from having to deal with the fallout.

Sentimental Value

Your license plate may be a keepsake, especially if you had it personalized or passed down from a family member. So you may consider keeping your license plates if they have sentimental value.

How To Transfer Your License Plate Number

You can choose to keep your license plate number and transfer it to a new vehicle or to transfer your license plate number to the buyer. The steps are slightly different for both processes.

Transferring Your License Plate Number To a New Vehicle

You can transfer your license plate number to your new vehicle in six simple steps:

  1. Gather vehicle registration papers for your current vehicle.
  2. Contact your insurance company to transfer liability insurance from your current vehicle to the new vehicle.
  3. Get your new vehicle inspected by a mechanic and ask for a certificate of inspection (if required by your state).
  4. Gather paperwork for your new vehicle, including the certificate of title, proof of insurance, and certificate of inspection (if required by your state).
  5. Bring your paperwork to the DMV for the transfer. Make sure your name is spelled exactly the same on both registrations.
  6. Pay the plate transfer fee.

Transferring Your License Plate Number To The Buyer

If you're in a state that requires a complete ownership transfer, you don't need to know how to remove a license plate. You can leave the plates on the vehicle.

To prevent fraud, you can meet the buyer at the DMV to complete all the transfer paperwork and ensure they register the license plates in their name before you give them the title.

How To Get a Temporary License Plate

You may need a temporary license plate if your vehicle must be inspected before registration or you have not yet received the complete registration.

The process to get a temporary license can differ in each state, but there are some basic steps to follow.

Provide important documents, such as:

  • Certificate of title
  • Valid driver's license
  • Proof of car insurance coverage
  • Certificate of inspection, if required by your state
  • Loan documentation or release, if applicable

Then you go to the DMV and fill out the temporary license plate application and pay any applicable fees. It's that simple!

How To Cancel a License Plate

You can cancel your license plate, and thereby your registration, quite easily. Most states allow you to cancel your license plate online or at the DMV.

You simply complete a license plate cancellation form and send it via your DMV's requested method. Many documents will ask for your registration information, including your vehicle identification number (VIN), so it is best to have your original vehicle registration forms ready before you begin.

Unique Considerations for Specialty and Vintage Cars

Specialty cars can receive an antique vehicle registration that declares their vehicle as a collector's item. This registration is used for cars that are considered:

  • Classic
  • Antique
  • Historic
  • Vintage

The defining criteria for these categories differ from state to state, so it's always best to check with your local DMV to see if your vehicle qualifies.

Antique vehicle registration often comes with certain privileges, such as exemption from vehicle inspection, lowered or waived registration fees, and specialty license plates. Antique plates are much cheaper than regular plates because of the reduced fees.

However, they may also have certain limitations. For example, most drivers can only drive the vehicle to and from car exhibitions or shows. They can not use them for transportation.

You may use the original tags the car came with, but the date has to be the same year the car was manufactured. These are important considerations if you sell an antique vehicle or buy a new one.

This article was written by Armando Martinez. Armando Martinez is among the nation’s experts on automotive titling, registration, DMV services and document operations. With nearly two decades of experience across a broad range of financial services functions and some of the largest names in auto, from Wells Fargo to Uber, Armando combines vision and ingenuity with a wealth of information so auto shoppers and sellers can learn from his experience.

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