A license plate is more than a way to identify the registered owner of a particular vehicle. It also shows that the car is legally registered in its state and has the proper insurance. The website for each state’s Department of Motor Vehicles has information regarding license plates, and what to do with plates that are no longer in use.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
If a vehicle owner does not turn in or destroy old license plates and the plates fall into the wrong hands, the owner can be held responsible for any crime committed in or with a car using those plates. It's always in the car owner's best interests to surrender or destroy old license plates.
What to Do With Old License Plates by States
Certain states require automobile owners to turn in their old license plates. These states include Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Wyoming and Washington D.C.
Residents of other states don't have to surrender their plates, but should take other steps to render those plates useless.
Do I Need to Turn in My License Plates?
Each state's DMV has information about license plates on its website. Residents can also call their local DMV for information on surrendering or destroying old plates.
Some states require automobile owners to surrender plates after moving to another state, or when transferring a vehicle’s ownership. Other situations in which a car owner might have to turn in old plates is if the owner of the car no longer holds insurance for that vehicle or if the owner is taking that vehicle off the road for an extended period of time.
There are several options for people who live in states where it’s not a requirement to turn in license plates. Residents can still turn in the plates according to their DMV’s guidelines. Another option is to recycle them at a local recycling center, taking care to remove all insurance and registration stickers. Vehicle owners can also deface license plates so the numbers and letters are obscured. Damaged plates can go in the trash or recycling bin.
It’s in a person’s best interest to turn in or destroy old license plates. If old, unused license plates fall into the wrong hands and are used to commit a crime, it can create a problem for the plates’ original owner.
What Does it Mean to Surrender Your License?
Surrendering a license is different from surrendering license plates. Surrendering plates means turning them into the DMV after expiration when they’re no longer in use. Surrendering your license means you have to give up your driver’s license because it's not valid anymore.
There are a variety of reasons why an individual must voluntarily surrender a driver’s license. Individuals who have erroneous information on a license or are unable to drive anymore can surrender their license to the DMV. Also, if a state revokes a driver’s license in the event of a crime or other infraction, the driver can surrender her license based on the terms of the revocation. If it's only a temporary loss of license, the license holder can renew after a designated period of time.