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How To Return License Plates

How To Return License Plates

All 50 states and the District of Columbia (DC) have a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or a Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA). This means there are 51 different policies governing the way vehicle owners will handle the return, or non-return, of license plates. This website contains state-by-state informational assistance on which the official department oversees license plate management. While the majority of states require that car owners return the vehicle’s license plates if any registration information changes or expires, some states let the car owner determine how to dispose of the plates. All 51 entities have working cooperation with automobile insurance companies and will inform the insurers when license plates have expired, been transferred to another vehicle or ownership, or have been returned.


The most common reasons for returning license plates are:

  • When the vehicle is sold
  • Change in the insurance carrier
  • Plates have been expired and not been renewed
  • The vehicle has moved out of state
  • The vehicle has been placed in storage
  • The insurance carrier canceled the policy
  • If a vehicle has been destroyed

When a state requires the return of license plates, the two methods for surrendering the plates are in person and by mail. As an example, Maryland does require the return of license plates while Virginia does not.


When returning license plates to a DMV or MVA office, the vehicle owner needs to bring the plates, the vehicle registration card, and any decals or stickers. Before surrendering the plates, fill out a license plate return form, pay any processing fees and get a receipt as proof that the plates were surrendered. If the state offers a pro-rated refund for returned plates, fill out the required form and give it to the clerk with all the other materials.

By Mail

When returning license plates by mail the package needs to contain the plates, the registration card, decals or stickers, a license plate return form, a check for any processing fees, and, if appropriate, the form to request a pro-rated refund of the license plate fees.

Write the motor vehicle street address on the outside of the envelope. As a measure of security, mail the package with a return receipt request.

License Plates

How Do You Look up License Plate Numbers?


Some states will not accept the return of license plates. As an example, in California, the plates stay with the vehicle as long as it remains within the state.

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