Dear PoP – DMV Question

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoP,

I sold my car that was registered in D.C. to someone out of state. I have the tags, but I’d like to keep them for my personal collection (who doesn’t?)…

On the D.C. DMV site, they imply that while they’d really like the tags, it’s still optional to surrender them (see this line at the bottom of this page:

“You are responsible for any infractions incurred on the tags if you do not surrender them to DMV.”)

However, I just got a notice that my car is due to be inspected again. How do I tell the DMV I need to cancel the car’s registration without surrendering the tags?

If I don’t tell them somehow, then I’m going to get charged late fees, etc.

Any ideas? I’ve tried calling and e-mailing, but I never get to a real person, and there’s no additional information on the site.”

Hmm, I thought when you sell your car and the new owner registers the car then your registration automatically is canceled. Isn’t that how it works? Anyone sell their car and keep the plates? Did you face similar problems?

47 Comment

  • I recently sold my car that was registered in DC. I kept the plates, but my insurance company, Geico, would not cancel my car insurance until I mailed my plates back to the DC DMV. Needless to say, I mailed them back, and Geico refunded the rest of my insurance premium. I don’t know if this is the same with other insurance companies.

    • Same here with Geico.

    • Geico sucks, seriously. When I finally had enough of their nonsense and switched insurance companies, they reported my policy as being cancelled earlier than the date I authorized them to cancel it. So, thanks to them, the DMV saw a gap in my coverage and suspended my license. I didn’t even know unti la week later when I got a letter in the mail…

  • Hah! Funny photo to use for this post. 🙂
    Here’s the original in case anyone wants to reference it:

    And yes, I think the OP’s only recourse is to turn in those licence plates. Some people may keep them, but I wouldn’t tempt the DMV gods by doing anything remotely out of the ordinary here.

  • I’m the original question asker…

    Of course right after I submitted my question to PoP, the DMV wrote back with this: “In order to cancel the vehicle registration, you must surrender the tags. DC law requires that if you discontinue use of, sell, donate, store/garage your vehicle, or relocate to another state, etc., you must immediately surrender your tags to DMV.”

    I’m not entirely sure I believe them that’s in the law, so I started searching the D.C. code and found this: “The Mayor may charge an additional fine of $100 for any motor vehicle whose inspection or registration is not renewed by the expiration date, unless the owner surrenders the tags on or before that date.”

    But it still doesn’t say that that you legally must turn in your tags in order to cancel your registration. I guess they only codified charging the fees so it’s maybe a moot point, but I’m feeling stubborn.

    (Geico, by the way, canceled my other insurance on my old car with no problem or proof, though maybe because I paid more in insurance with them when I bought the new car?)

    • Any car insurer doing biz in the District is required (by DC) to send a letter to the DMV any time an insurance policy is cancelled. Its mandatory to have car insurance on cars registered in DC, so you’ll rack up fines if there is no insurance or a lapse in your coverage. GEICO doesn’t care if you cancel, the fine’s on you.

      I can’t speak to whether you can cancel your registration w/o surrendering your plates. BUT, if you do surrender them, make sure to send them w/ signature confirmation if you don’t personally take them to the DMV.

      I recently did this and had a nice conversation with the woman at the post office about how DMV employees are gov employees and so don’t work very hard, the irony was lost on her (I’m also a gov employee). haha.

      • Oh yeah, and dial *311 to talk to a live person at the DMV

      • Thought this through – I didn’t cancel insurance; I just switched it to another car. So they must not have notified the DMV since I am still an insured driver in D.C.

        I am now convinced I need to turn in the plates, and I guess I might try to do it in person… Any service center will do, I guess?

  • In DC you have to send the plates back. There isnt an option. If you let your insurance lapse on a sold car and havent turned in the plates you will owe LOTS of money. I know people who have racked up thousands in fees that way.

    If you want decorative DC plates, I recommend looking on Ebay.

  • ah

    I do not encourage lying on government forms but you may sign an affidavit for lost/stolen plates and file that with the DMV instead of returning the plates.

    With all the problems of DC plates showing up on other cars with the original owner getting tickets I’m glad DC is tight on this.

  • But before you turn in your plates – at least spray paint over them so they can’t be “misused.” Having had a bad experience many years ago I actually even break them in half. Hopefully things have changed, but if cops are selling stolen ipods . . .

    • how many times have you had to surrender your plates?

    • I just returned tags the other day and they actually black them out right in front of you with a marker so no need for a home spray paint job…

      • when my set was returned to get new custom tags, i got a parking ticket about 4 months later with my OLD tags on some other car. so i think it’s well advised to make sure they do this, or do it yourself. while i got the ticket dismissed, i had to produce a whole bunch of evidence to show that they were, in fact, no longer mine.

  • When I went to law school out of state and switched to new local ones, DC DMV got my new address and required me to send in my old plates. Surprisingly on the ball for DC govt.

  • Victoria — hmm… maybe I could keep two halves of each?

  • I’ve had experience with the DC DMV regarding lost plates. Basically I turned in my plates, the DMV lost them, never sent me any notice and then when I tried to renew my license 3 years later said I was responsible for over $3K in fines due to having lapsed insurance. After months of hassle I finally got the situation resolved after getting my local council member involved. My advice would be turn them in, it’s not worth the hassle if you ever need anything from the DMV again.

    • Ditto here. My wife left DC for year and sold her car. When we came back b/c the buyer of the car didn’t turn in the plates, my wife was faced with thousands in fines to get her license renewed. Unless you never intend to register a car or have a driver’s license in DC you’ll want to turn them in AND GET A RECEIPT. Yet another reason I’m happy not to pay anymore taxes to the dysfunctional DC government.

      • Sounds functional to me. If she didn’t turn in her plates she could have sold them to someone else to put on stolen cars. The fines are to deter criminal activity. Because your wife was lazy, she was fined. Though it does mean more money for DC to collect my trash, keep my streets clean, and subsidize my solar panels.

  • I’d consider the first line of the site you link to. Couldn’t be more direct, I think you should recheck what the word imply means:

    You must return your vehicle tags to the DMV if:

    * You move out of the District
    * Your insurance is cancelled (note that vehicle tags should be surrendered prior to canceling your insurance to avoid insurance lapse fees)
    * You sell your car or donate it to charity and do not transfer your vehicle tags to another vehicle
    * One of your tags has been stolen and you have obtained replacement tags
    * You cancel your registration
    * You change to disability, personalized or organizational tags
    * You replace worn tags

  • When I sold my car I kept the plates. I just didn’t renew them. I cancelled my insurance (USAA) with no problem. It was over 3 years ago and nothing has happened. I have even registered a new car with no problems.

    If you want your plates, I’d keep them.

    • Agreed – I did it in DC, MD, and FL, now I am back in DC with a different car and new plates.

      No issues here.

    • Same here with 2 personalized plate vehicles. No problem keeping the plates.

      1 sold while in DC. I just went online and took that vehicle off my insuarance (Geico) the day I sold it. I had another car, so I don’t think they refunded me anything–just applied that to future bill.

      1 moved to neighboring state…I went online and told Geico I moved (lowered my rate, I think). I don’t think they cared that my home address was in a different state than my plate.

      I came to the comments to boast about my cool personalized plates, but hearing about these people with difficulties, I’m going to keep quiet.

  • I got a random check in the mail one time from DC, and when I called to ask about it, they said it was probably some sort of refund for turning in my plates. I think it was for $35 or so. So you might get some money back if you turn in your plates.

    • ah

      That was probably the inspection fee you prepay for when you renew for two years. If you cancel registration in year one you get the imspection fee back.

  • I have geico and just canceled my insurance when I got rid of my car and they didn’t ask me single question about the plates and I did get a refund check about 10 days later. Not even bothering to send them back to DC either.

    • me

      Wow. I changed insurance companies, and the new company apparently didn’t notify the DMV quickly enough, because I got a letter in the mail telling me that I owed a s***-ton of money for lapsing in insurance. Maybe mine was just the one picked out of the files for checking that day or something, I don’t know. Easy enough fix, but still a bit of a scare when I got it in the mail!

  • I’ve donated three cars over the last 13 years in DC and have never returned my tags to the DMV. I simply called Geico and canceled my insurance with no questions asked and just 2 years ago registered/insured my current car with DC and have never had a problem. I didn’t particularly want to keep my plates, just didn’t want the hassle of going down to the DMV or dropping a package in the mail.

  • Registration fee is for the year (or two, if that’s what you paid for) and when you return the tags they prorate whatever is left in your term.

    But I’ve never heard of anyone being fined for keeping the tags. They’re only going to know you’ve got an expired or terminated registration if you keep the tags on a car that’s still on the street.

    You’re responsible if the tags are on a car that racks up tickets or is involved in a crime (let’s say vehicular manslaugter) so I can understand why they have the rule and I’m glad they do. But I have a hard time believing it’s vigorously enforced if you decide to hang the tags on your wall or something.

    • MichelleRD,

      But what of all of the threats of inspection/registration fees? I mean, they won’t be able to ticket my car since it’s not in D.C. and doesn’t have the tags, but I figured if they have my address, they’ll view the registration and inspection as lapsed as opposed to canceled and still be able to issue fines.

  • I moved to Maryland in June. Switched my insurance and the agent told me to make sure to return my tags. My registration in DC expired in August so I figured no big deal. Now I’m all paranoid. I knew I was supposed to return them but wanted to keep them. After 15 years of DC living, it’s hard enough to sell your soul and move to Maryland so I thought at least I would have my tags. But I don’t understand how DC can claim you owe thousands of dollars in fines for lapsed insurance. My car hasn’t been registered in DC since August. Do they actually try and charge you fees for not insuring a car that isn’t registered? That sure seems sketchy. I’d been thinking the worst that could happen was a fine on lapsed insurance for two months. But if I move back to DC in 30 years are they going to claim I owe millions in fines since that unregistered car should have been insured the entire time?

  • I find this amusing because I don’t really understand why someone would want to keep their old plates. Maybe I’ve just watched too many Hoarders episodes, though.

    • All numbers on the plates. Possibly borderline obsessive compulsive disorder. Thinking they look cool. All possible and probably irrational reasons. And of course I never got around to it and now it’s been 8 months. I have to admit my desire to go to the DMV as a non-resident was pretty much zero and I feel they are safer in my basement than going through the mail.

    • I had personalized plates that were the nickname of my partner (I know, corny!). After he died I sold the car. When I went to turn in the plates at DC DMV I asked if could keep one in his memory.

      The clerk looked around and then passed one back to me.

      I tend not to complain about DC DMV ever since…

  • I recommend you return the plates if you want to register another vehicle in DC. I sold my car, cancelled the insurance (USAA) and kept the plates. The insurance company notified DC that the insurance was cancelled, so then, according to DC, I had a registered and uninsured vehicle in my name. When I went to register a new vehicle about a year later, I was informed that I had over a $1000 in fines for lapsed insurance and had to pay this fine before I could register a new vehicle in my name. After talking to several different people at the DMV, I was eventually able to have the fine removed by showing proof of sale of the vehicle. I don’t think that keeping the tags is worth the hassle.

  • Herb, I think that’s a nice reason to keep one.

  • Yeah, if you keep your tags you have to maintain your car insurance. If you cancel your tags while your car is still registered, you WILL get a hefty fine.

  • For YEARS I got tax bills from Arlington County for a car that had long since left the state. Every year I’d call and explain to them that I moved to DC and my car is no longer registered in VA and could they please update their records? The clerk on the other end would assure me that yes, they would, but a year later I’d have to go through the same thing again. Now I wonder if it’s because I never turned in my tags…

  • My car was totaled in an accident and I kept my plates. I received a letter nearly a year and a half later to reregister it because the plates weren’t returned. I had to get Geico to send me a letter saying that the car had been totaled and then submit the letter to the DC DMV. Clearly I said the plates went with the car to the junkyard.

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