There are many reasons that you might not want to return your license plates. Maybe you have decided to sell or scrap your car, maybe it has broken down and you cannot afford the cost of repairs, or maybe you just do not know where they are.

If you do not return your license plates you could be fined by your local state council.

But if you try to get away with not returning them there are consequences for doing so. Each state in America has its own set of laws governing license plate return, but all of them share one common penalty: fines.

How Much Will I Get Fined For Not Returning License Plates?

Picture of council fine on a vehicle

It is true that many people get away with not returning their license plates. But if they are caught, the state has the right to fine them. Although you will not be sent to jail for not returning your plates, it can cost you up to $200 in some cities.

There are also legal consequences of not returning license plates which can follow you around long after you have disappeared from the roads. For instance, insurance companies tend to check your driving record when determining rates on policies or renewals, and another conviction for car theft might make an insurer think twice about offering a policy at all.

Also, some states will keep adding on fines for perpetual failure to return license plates until they recoup their losses through payment – which means that this fine can range from a few hundred dollars up into the thousands depending on the severity of the crime.

It is likely that you will never receive a fine for not returning your license plates, however, it can still be a possibility.

Should I Return My License Plates?

Picture of license plate return box outside DMV

If you do not have your license plates because you have decided to sell or scrap your car then you should go ahead and return them before doing anything else. If you cannot afford the cost of repairs then it is best just to return them as well.

If for some reason you know where your plates are but do not want to spend the time required to find them, take heart in knowing that this crime will eventually be forgiven if they are never returned. However, if they are ever found again after being missing for so long, there will likely be severe fines attached making it not worthwhile in the long run.

If all else fails and you simply cannot bring yourself to return your license plates then do the right thing and dispose of them properly.

Take them off your car, destroy them with a saw or other metal cutting tool, and discard them appropriately. This way they will not end up as loose change for someone else to find and use fraudulently without repercussion against you or your driving record.

Remember if you have expired license plates to return them immediately so that you avoid fines and legal consequences associated with not returning license plates.

What States Require License Plates To Be Returned?

The following list of states require that you return your license plates to a local DMV branch or other location in order to avoid fines and legal consequences for not returning your license plates:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Nebraska (note the law only applies if you have moved within the state)
  • Nevada (note the law only applies if you have moved from this state)
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee (the owner must notify Department of Motor Vehicles that their plates are missing or no longer on vehicle within 10 days of noticing they are gone)
  • Texas (plates must be returned if ownership of vehicle is transferred to new owner or after a two year period of non-use)
  • Utah
  • Virginia (must be returned within 20 days of moving out of state and/or registering in another state), and West Virginia