How to Dispose of Old Car License Plates – All You Need to Know!

Have you recently purchased a new car? Moved to a new state?

Perhaps you decided to personalize your existing license plate and get rid of your original.

There are many reasons why you may need to dispose of old license plates.

The next question becomes – how do you dispose of old car license plates and what’s the best way?

Research Your Local Requirements 

Every area has different standards regarding license plate disposal. Some are hands-off, while others require that you dispose of old plates in specific ways. 

For example, in certain states, like Maryland, you must turn in your old plates to the DMV, either by mail or in person, where they will destroy or recycle them for you. 

When dropping your plates off in person at the DMV, some materials are required alongside your license plates. Be sure to bring:

  • License plates
  • Vehicle registration card
  • Any stickers or decals 

If you have the option of mailing your plates, rather than in person, you are required to include:

  • License plates
  • Registration card
  • Any stickers or decals

In some areas, you may be required to destroy the plate stickers and/or complete a license plate surrender application before returning. 

Ultimately, it depends on where you live. So, before you do anything else with your old plates, be sure to check out your state or territory’s requirements.  

You can get the most up to date information by searching “DMV” and your state name. Once you have navigated to your local state’s DMV website, search for “return license plates.”

What if Your State Does Not Require the Return of Old Plates? 

Other states, like Texas, render old plates useless and leave the disposal process up to the owner.

In that case, you have several options for how to dispose of them.   

Recycle Your Old License Plates 

License plates are recyclable. They are almost entirely made of aluminum, which is one of the most recyclable materials around.

Recycle Your License Plates at the DMV

Even if your state does not require that you turn in your plates to the DMV, you may still be permitted to drop them off at your local DMV where they will recycle them for you. 

Even easier, your town or city may allow you to mail old license plates to a licensing office, rather than driving them in yourself. Some states require this method of return. 

Ask if your DMV provides a receipt upon return, as this can be used for tax purposes or, if necessary, for proof that you are no longer using that plate. 

Each state should have specific requirements, along with a mailing address, listed on their website. 

Dispose of the License Plates in Your Recycling Bin 

You might also be able to recycle your old license plate through your home recycling bin, if you have one. 

Always check in with your city’s recycling company before doing this. Some areas are not able to properly recycle aluminium if you simply place it in your curbside bins.

It’s important to note that there are exceptions to this option. Some states have specific recycling requirements for different types of plates- like veteran’s plates or plates for people with disabilities. 

In Washington, for example, some specialized plates must be turned into a local licensing office, while other license plates can be recycled normally. 

Once again, it is important to double-check with your local municipality to educate yourself on disposal regulations. 

Additional Recycling Options

You can also drop your old plates off at an aluminium recycling center near you, whether it is a center specifically for aluminum or a local center with an aluminum or mixed metals bin.

Scrap metal dealers might be able to accept old plates, as well, if nowhere else in your area deals with aluminum recycling. Though, the chances of this happening are extremely small. 

How Do You Prepare the License Plate for Recycling?

If you choose to recycle your car’s old license plates in any of these ways, remove the month and year tags first. 

Cut the license plate into smaller pieces before recycling and bend it out of shape before disposing of them. 

These steps can help avoid fraudulent use of your old plates. Someone could potentially use them illegally to tag their car. 

Many places require all these steps before the plates are submitted to prevent fraudulent use of the license plates and protect the prior owner’s identity. 

If your plates are especially dirty or grimy, you might also consider washing them off quickly with soap and water to help the recycling center process them. 

Scratches and dents don’t matter as the recycling center will ultimately melt the plate, which will take care of all visible damage. 

Check to See if it Has Value

Before throwing your old license plate in the recycling bin, you might want to do some research and see if the plate has any value. 

Some artists use old license plates or pieces of them in their work. 

Additionally, millions of hobbyists worldwide dedicate their time to looking for specific license plates like vanity plates or certain state plates. Much like stamps or coins, certain editions or versions hold different values. 

Associations like the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association (ALPCA) exist solely to promote license plate sharing among hobbyists and may be a good resource as you begin your initial research. 

The Automobile License Plate Collector Association (ALPCA), has a well-regarded grading outline, which is the recommended first step to take when selling your old plate before comparing prices to local ads. 

Generally speaking, the older a plate is and the better shape it is in, the more value it has. Factors like how big of a state the license plate is from can also determine its value. 

With a little investigation into the areas mentioned above, you may find that selling your plates, depending on their value, is the preferred way to go. 

How to Sell License Plates   

Once you determine the grade of your license plate, check with a local antique shop or do research online to compare how much similar license plates are selling for. 

Online sites like eBay, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace are often used to sell license plates, though there are some regulations around the age of the license plate.

Keep in mind that it’s essential that any sold plates are expired. 

eBay, for example, prohibits the sale of new plates, or “plates that look like current plates,” to avoid fraudulent use and protect the prior owner. 

Even if your plate is not necessarily rare, there may be a private collector interested in a plate from your specific area or a plate that has specific letters or numbers on it. 

Determining the Value of Your Plate

Remember, researching will give you an estimated value of the plate, but the way you choose to sell it may also impact what you walk away with.

For example, if you sell directly to someone who wants the plates, you will likely get more than if you sell to a “dealer” who will sell them to someone else. 

It is up to you to determine how much time you want to spend digging into the market. It may be easier to sell your old plate for slightly less to save yourself time and research. 

Donate Them

If making money off your old plates is not as important to you, you can always donate them. Perhaps you have an artist friend or know someone who is a collector. 

Check with your local antique shops, thrift shops, or art studios– they might welcome your donation! 

Upcycle Your Old License Plates 

If you choose not to recycle your license plates, upcycling is a great alternative. 

Sites like Pinterest offer dozens of examples with images and step-by-step instructions. 

Wall clocks, birdhouses, and even purses are popular ways to upcycle your old license plate. Many people like to cut and rearrange letters to create decorative signs. 

As with any craft project that works with metal, always use safety precautions and the right tools. Aluminum is easy to work with, but can have very sharp edges.

Always take the time to research ahead of time and have the right tools and gear on hand when starting your new project. 

Final Thoughts

You will likely end up with old car license plates on your hands at some point- whether after a move, following the purchase of a new car, or if you decided to get personalized plates. 

It’s easy to toss your old plates away or to put them in a box somewhere, but consider upcycling, recycling, or selling.

Overall, pay close attention to your municipality’s regulations, as that will inform what your options are when disposing of old car license plates.  

Always follow the local laws, and take the proper steps to protect your personal information when disposing of them.

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