What To Do With Old License Plates

Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team

If you own a car or have owned a car, then you will have also had a license plate to go with it, that is officially registered and in operation. After all, you can’t have a car that you drive, without having a valid license. That would absolutely get you in big trouble!

But, let’s say you have a license plate, but you sell the car, or you get rid of the car, or the car is just no longer in use. What do you do with the license plate? Do you just keep it? Do you throw it in the bin? Do you have to legally notify that it is no longer in use so that it is no longer registered as active?

If you’ve never had to deal with an old license plate, you might have no clue on what to do with one. It’s not like they teach this stuff in school, after all (although maybe they should).
But not to worry. We’re going to tell you everything you need to know about what to do with an old license plate, from the legal actions you should take, ideas on what to do with the physical license plate, and some tips and advice.

Does that sound good? Then let’s get right into it!

What Do You Legally Have to Do With An Old License Plate?

Legally speaking, if you have an old license plate that is no longer in use with your car, what you need to do is surrender it. Or in other words, you have to cancel its registration, so that it no longer shows up as active on the system.

This is important for many reasons, mainly, so that the license plate cannot be used by others, or in any way, that might then revert back to you in a damaging manner. If you are not using it, you have to make sure that the system knows, so that you’re safe from any implications.

But also, so that you can register a new license plate when needed, and not have the confusion on the system of having more than one when one isn’t needed.

The exact rules and regulations, surrounding the surrender of a license plate, and when you legally are obligated to do it, can depend on the state in which you live. So always check the local law. However, as a general rule, you are obligated to cancel your license plate registration in the following main scenarios:

  • If you drop the liability insurance for the vehicle the license plate is registered to. Ideally, you should be surrendering the license plate before you cancel the insurance!
  • If you sell the vehicle, or dispose of it, and are not going to use that license plate on a new vehicle. (if you do choose to use the license plate on a new vehicle, you have to notify the registry, so that they can make the necessary changes to the registration!)
  • If your vehicle is going to be stored away for a long period of time, and you are going to stop paying the liability insurance for that amount of time. (Basically, you should always surrender the license plate if you are not paying the liability insurance for any reason).

Essentially, if you are not using your car, or not paying the liability insurance, you have to surrender the license plate. That is unless you decide to use the license plate on a different vehicle, in which case you should also notify the necessary authorities so that they can change the information and have the correct registration.

But again, always check the local rules and regulations!

And as to how to go about canceling the registration, it can now be done quite easily, online, using your official account. Each state will have its own websites and processes, so make sure to inform yourself beforehand.

Things You Can Do With An Old License Plate

Once an old license plate is no longer in use, that means that it is no longer registered, and not in use with any vehicle whatsoever, what can you do with it?

There are a few different options. And ultimately, it depends on what you want to do with it. The license plate number will be useless, once it has been canceled officially, and the physical license plate itself is yours to do with as you wish!

The main most common things that are done with old license plates are the following:

  • Recycling the old license plate
  • Collecting the old license plate (yourself, or selling it to a collector)
  • Using the license plate for crafts, decoration, or similar

How to Recycle An Old License Plate

Using the license plate as a collector’s piece, or using it as a tool in a crafting project or decorative creation, is pretty easy to envision and imagine. There are endless possibilities, each of them unique.

But let’s talk about how to recycle an old license plate, because this one isn’t as intuitive, and there are specific ways in which you can do it.

Most vehicle licensing departments, in each state, will often provide very specific instructions on how to go about recycling your old license plate. It can vary from place to place, but these tend to be the most common options:

  • You can return your old license plate to a vehicle licensing office, in person. (The problem with this is getting an appointment and being served, as licensing departments are quite busy, to put it nicely).
  • You can return the old license plate to a vehicle licensing office via mail. If you check the website for your local vehicle licensing office, it should have information and a mailing address specifically for returning license plates.
  • Place your old license plate in an aluminum recycling bin, at the nearest recycling center. However, if you choose this option, it is best to remove the month and year decals, and to properly destroy or damage the plate, so that nobody decides to steal it from the bin and use it on their car! Especially because it can take a while for the license cancellation to go through, and in that time, if someone was to commit a crime in a vehicle wearing that license plate, you would be liable.

Final Thoughts

If you have an old license plate, from a car you have sold, no longer use, or have disposed of, you have two options: you either use the license plate with a new vehicle (and notify the change), or you surrender the license plate by canceling the registration.

If you surrender the license plate, this renders the number out of service, which is the safe thing to do. As to the physical license plate, you can then either recycle it (using the appropriate methods), sell it as a collector’s piece, or use it in a crafts or decor project!