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What is a Temporary License Plate?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 23, 2024
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Temporary license plates are placards issued for use with various types of motor vehicles. They are intended for use until the government entity that oversees the assessment and collection of taxes and registration fees associated with cars, trucks and other road equipment issues permanent license plates. In many instances, the temporary plate is a simple cardboard placard that is mounted on the rear window of the vehicle or in another location on the equipment that is in keeping with local laws.

The detail on an automobile temporary license plate will vary, depending on the requirements of local law. In most cases, there is some type of information that identifies the issuing entity, the date of the issue, and a plate number that is associated with the vehicle until the permanent plate or tag is received and installed on the vehicle. Many jurisdictions choose to use a thick cardstock in a bright background color, featuring larger black characters. This makes the temporary plate easy to see when the vehicle is on the road and in operation.

In the United States, the issuance of license plates is a function that is handled by state level Motor Vehicle departments. DMV temporary plates are normally issued when the owner registers a new vehicle with the local agency, although in some cases, the dealer who sold the vehicle handles the process of obtaining the temporary tag. As in several other countries, new vehicle owners in the United States must display the placard in the rear window of the car or truck until the permanent license is assigned to the registration and presented to the new owner.

In most instances, the temporary plate must carry the date on which it was issued. This is because many jurisdictions have specific time periods related to how long the temporary tag may be displayed. Most states in the US require that the new owner apply for and attach a permanent tag to the vehicle within 30 calendar days after the temporary tag is issued. Some countries around the world require as little as ten days from the date noted on the temporary plate to the installation of the permanent one. Failure to do so normally incurs a fine of some type, but may lead to more serious repercussions if the owner fails to obtain the permanent plate after the first fine is incurred.

While at one time it was necessary to visit a local office to register a vehicle and obtain a temporary license plate, that is no longer the case. Increasingly, there are some jurisdictions allow new owners to register used and new vehicles online shortly after the purchase. The ability to print a temporary tag is also rapidly becoming a viable option in many cases. Many jurisdictions still require the owner to present the vehicle for an inspection before any type of license plate is approved and issued, however.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WikiMotors, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon332833 — On May 01, 2013

I am possibly buying a truck in PA and I am in NY. Can I use the existing plates and put insurance on this truck to drive home?

By amypollick — On Aug 14, 2012

@anon285082: I don't live in North Carolina, but I'm betting you're just going to have to make a trip back to Wayne County. In Alabama, you have 30 days to get a tag, and then there's a fine, but I've never fooled with a temporary tag before. The only other thing you might want to do is to contact the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles and see what they have to say. It may be that you can register online if you have all the paperwork from your seller to do so, but I don't know. It's worth a shot.

By anon285082 — On Aug 13, 2012

Over a month ago, I purchased a new 2012 Honda in Goldsboro N.C. A temporary paper license was attached to the car. The tag expired three days ago and the Honda's parked. I have contacted dealer for another temporary tag, but they said they cannot supply one (no help).

I went to the North Carolina license plate office in Harnett County, and they said I must return to the county where car was purchased to get an extension for the paper license.

I called the Wayne County license plate office, but the person is only there 1 1/2 hours a day.

Be sure to purchase a vehicle in the county where you live! Is there any help out there?

By anon169490 — On Apr 21, 2011

Am I able to haul placarded hazardous materials on my truck with a temporary plate?

By Moldova — On Oct 23, 2010

SurfNturf-Ouch- that must have hurt. The only time that I have had a temporary license plate was whenever I bought a new car.

I recently did this because my other car was a lease and I did not transfer the plate over and just got a new one. I always get my tags within two weeks of my car purchase.

By surfNturf — On Oct 23, 2010

Suntan12-The license plate renewal is done every year around your birthday, or the birthday of the person who the car is registered with. Usually all you have to do is pay the auto license plate renewal fee and the department of motor vehicles will send you an updated sticker showing the new renewal year.

This will alert police officers that you have renewed your vehicle license plate. One time, I forgot to renew my registration because I did not remember receiving any notice in the mail.

I got a $50 ticket because I needed to renew my license tags. The best thing to do is to mark your calendar so that you won’t forget.

By suntan12 — On Oct 23, 2010

Dean911- I believe that you do because have to pay the ticket because it gets charged against your driver’s license.

How to get a temporary license plate is easy. When you buy a new car the dealer will issue you a temporary car license plate, if you do not want to transfer the old one or the old one was for a leased car and you no longer have one.

You will get the permanent vehicle license plate in the mail before the thirty day expiration date, so that you do not drive with an expired temporary license plate.

By dean911 — On May 22, 2009

Do I have to pay a parking ticket if my license plate is temporary?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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