How to Transfer a License Plate

Co-authored by wikiHow Staff

Updated: December 19, 2019

If you’re planning to sell an older vehicle and replace it with a new one, you can transfer the license plates to your new vehicle. To do this, both vehicles must be registered in your name and both must have the same registration code. Under certain circumstances, you can also transfer the license plates to the individual you’re selling the vehicle to. While the process for transferring plates from one vehicle to another can vary widely from one U.S. state to another, there are several basic steps that you can follow regardless of where you live.

Method 1 of 2:
Transferring Plates between Vehicles

  1. 1
    Find a copy of your current vehicle registration paperwork. When you first registered the vehicle under your name (e.g., when you purchased the car or moved to a new state), a state official probably gave you a copy of the registration paperwork. This single sheet of paper contains your name, the vehicle’s tag number, and the registration number. You’ll need this document to transfer your plates.[1]
    • If you’ve lost your registration paperwork, you may be able to request a new copy at the motor vehicle office.
  2. 2
    Gather the title to the newer vehicle you’re transferring plates to. The title shows ownership of the vehicle. Since you won’t have registered this vehicle in your name yet, you will have its title but not its registration. (You’ll receive the registration when you transfer the plates.) So, before you transfer plates to the new vehicle, you must show ownership by presenting the title.[2]
    • If you’ve applied to transfer the vehicle but haven’t yet received the new title itself, that’s okay. Just bring in the title of the copy application that you’ve filled out and submitted.
  3. 3
    Collect proof that the vehicle you’re transferring the plates to is insured. Transfer your car insurance from your older vehicle (that currently has the plates on it) to the newer vehicle before visiting the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office or tag office. Before transferring the plates, a clerk will request to see proof that the vehicle is insured. Documents that prove insurance include your insurance card or a paper copy of the form you received from the insurance company upon purchasing your insurance.[3]
    • This may not apply in all states. In various states, you do not to show prove that you have car insurance unless you have changed insurance companies since the last time you registered a vehicle.
  4. 4
    Have your new vehicle inspected if your state requires it. Some states require that vehicles (whether new or used) undergo an inspection before they are registered and plated. In this case, take the vehicle to a reputable car mechanic. Ask them to test drive the car and look under the hood (and under the chassis) to confirm that it’s in good shape. Also ask for a certificate of inspection to prove that the car passed.[4]
    • In some cases, you may need to get an emissions test as well to make sure that the car isn’t emitting legal limits of toxic gasses.
    • Not all states require a vehicle inspection prior to transferring license plates. To find out if your state requires it, visit the website for the state’s motor-vehicle agency.
  5. 5
    Visit your local motor vehicle agency to begin the transfer process. Different states use different titles for their motor vehicle agencies. Some agencies are managed by the state’s DMV, while others are referred to as “tag offices.” If you’re not sure where the nearest office is located, search online for “motor vehicle office near me.”[5]
  6. 6
    Keep your name consistent across the 2 vehicles’ registrations. When you complete the registration paperwork for the newer vehicle, spell your name (and include the same parts of your name) the same as you did on the older vehicle’s registration. If you register the new vehicle under a different name than the old vehicle was registered under (e.g., if you were married and changed your last name), you won’t be able to transfer your license plates between vehicles.[6]
    • This rule may not hold in every state. If you’re not sure if this applies in your state, ask a clerk at the tag office.
  7. 7
    Pay the mandatory fee to complete the plate-transfer process. To finalize the plate transfer, the clerk will ask you to pay a small fee. The amount that you’re required to pay will differ from state to state, but is usually under $10 USD. For instance, in Arkansas it costs $10 to transfer plates, but it only costs $1 in Colorado.[7]
    • Pay the fee with a credit or debit card, or by writing out a check to your state’s motor vehicle division.

Method 2 of 2:
Transferring Plates to Another Individual

  1. 1
    Leave the plates on the vehicle if you’re selling it to a family member. If you are selling a vehicle to a member of your immediate family (e.g., a sibling, child, or parent), you may leave the license plates on. Visit the DMV or tag office with your family member, and bring proof of your relationship (such as birth certificates or state-issued identification). Sign over both the vehicle’s title and the license plates to your family member by filling out any paperwork provided by a DMV staff member.[8]
    • Your family member can then register the vehicle in their name using the license plates still on the car.
    • If you sell the car to a family member who isn’t part of your immediate family, you must remove the plates prior to the sale.
    • Likewise, if you sell the vehicle to someone you’re not at all related to, remove the plates from the car before finalizing the sale.
  2. 2
    Give the plates to the new owner if they’re a resident of the same state. In a few states (e.g., Delaware), you are legally permitted to leave the license plates on your car when you sell it as long as the vehicle’s new owner is a resident of the same state. The new owner must then register the vehicle in their name. Check at your local tag office to make sure this is permitted before leaving your plates on the car when you sell it.[9]
    • If you’re not sure whether or not you can transfer plates in your state, check the website of your state’s motor vehicle agency. Or, ask a staff member at the DMV or tag office.
    • Keep in mind that this may not be advantageous to you if you’re replacing an older car with a newer one. Without plates to transfer to the new vehicle, you’ll have to pay for new plates during registration.
  3. 3
    Return the plates to the motor vehicles office in states that require it. In certain states (e.g., Arizona), license plates are owned by the state government. Vehicle owners must return the plates to the state when they sell the car that the plates had been registered to. The simplest way to do this is to surrender the plates at the tag office. If you don’t live near a tag office, you could also return the plates by mail.[10]
    • To find out if your state requires drivers to return their plates, check online with the state’s motor vehicle agency. Or, ask a clerk at the tag office.
    • Alternately, find your state in AAA’s online listing and see if drivers are required to return plates to the state. Check online at:

Community Q&A

Add New Question
  • Question
    Is it cheaper to transfer license plates or get new ones?
    wikiHow Staff Editor
    Staff Answer
    It’s highly variable from one place to another. However, in many states in the U.S., it’s ultimately cheaper to pay the fee for a transfer if you have vanity plates or other specialty plates.
  • Question
    Can I transfer my car registration online?
    wikiHow Staff Editor
    Staff Answer
    In many states, you can begin the process online, but you must ultimately print out the paperwork and bring it or mail it to your local DMV or Secretary of State’s office. Some third-party companies may partner with your local DMV and allow you to complete the process online through them for a fee.
  • Question
    How do I change my name on my vehicle registration?
    wikiHow Staff Editor
    Staff Answer
    Your local DMV or Secretary of State’s office should provide a form to allow you to correct your title and registration card in case of a name change. You’ll also need to provide a legal document verifying your name change. You may have to pay a small fee for the corrected paperwork.
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      • Some of the particularities of transferring a license plate will differ slightly from state to state. If you’re ever confused or not sure what the next step should be, talk to a staff member at your local DMV or tag office.
      • In most states, when you sell a vehicle to a new owner (as long as they live in the same state as you), they can keep the same plates on the vehicle. The new owner will still need register the vehicle under their name, though.[11]
      • In most states (e.g., North Carolina), the plate-transfer fee will be waived if the vehicle’s owner dies and the title and registration are passed to the owner’s spouse.[12]


      About This Article

      Co-Authored By:
      wikiHow Staff Editor
      This article was co-authored by our trained team of editors and researchers who validated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness. Together, they cited information from 12 references.
      3 votes - 67%
      Co-authors: 4
      Updated: December 19, 2019
      Thanks to all authors for creating a page that has been read 8,453 times.

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