Lost or Damaged License Plates? Here’s What to Do

by Jim Thompson | Last Updated: January 11, 2021

Keeping your license plates securely attached to your car and free from damage is important as it is illegal to drive a vehicle without a license plate. Lost or damaged plates must be replaced as soon as possible. Keep in mind that, like other DMV transactions, the process to replace license plates varies by state and situation.

Apply for New Plates

If you need new plates, you will have to complete an application to begin the process.  The majority of states require an in-person visit to start the plate replacement process, while others allow completed applications to be mailed in. It is recommended that you check your state’s specific requirements by calling or checking online.

Your state’s DMV website will have lots of information concerning plate replacement. In your research, make sure to understand your state’s policies on the process, making sure to note:

Pay Any Required Fees

Typically, replacement fees for license plates don’t cost any more than the initial car registration process. Depending on the state, the cost may even be lower. Some states even offer replacement license plates for free if certain requirements are met. For example, West Virginia offers free replacement plates if the plates are requested during registration renewal. This option only applies if the loss or damage happened concurrently with the registration application window.

Inform Law Enforcement of Loss or Theft

In some states, the reporting of lost or stolen plates is mandatory and can be enforced with a fine. The threat of a violation should prove an incentive to get any license plate issues dealt with. There is no need to add the cost of a ticket to the cost of replacing the plates.

Even if your state has no requirements regarding the reporting of lost or stolen plates, it is a good idea to communicate with local law enforcement the conditions concerning your plates. If someone is using your plates on their car and get a ticket, commit a crime, or have an accident, having a police report on file keeps you in the clear.