A traffic ticket isn't exactly a severe crime – your best bet for outrunning one is knowing the laws of the road and smartening up when it comes to fees and fines. The ins and outs of beating a traffic ticket for expired tags are ultimately the exclusive domain of you and your lawyer, but there are a few things you can do to ensure that you've got the right-of-way on the legal freeway.
Expired Tag Tickets: Preparation
Your golden ticket to beating a ticket for expired tags is to not have expired tags in the first place. Ensure that your registration is up to date and that you've affixed the license tag stickers to prove it by visiting your local DMV or applying online. Waiting to renew your registration can incur higher fees, and some states even charge an additional fee plus a penalty for expired tags, ultimately costing you hundreds more than renewing on time. If you've recently moved, you usually have 30 days or less to register your vehicle in your new state.
Depending on the decision of the officer who pulled you over or addressed your parked car, you may get a citation (i.e., a ticket for expired tags, usually considered a non-moving violation) or a simple warning. Best-case scenario, you'll get a warning without a citation; in either case, renew your registration as soon as possible – you may have only 30 days to do so if given a citation, anyway. Further, you're likely to get multiple citations, even if your car is simply parked on public streets without updated tags. Worst-case scenario, if your registration has been expired for over six months, you could be looking at getting your vehicle towed or impounded. In these cases, your lack of preparation can cost you upwards of $150 for towing and up to $80 a day for impound storage.
Your Ticket: Proof of Correction
When your car's registration is actually up to date but you're somehow missing your tags or registration papers, proof of correction is your best friend. When you get your traffic ticket for expired tags in this case, it's often known as a correctable violation or a "fix-it" ticket. If you have proof that your registration was on the up-and-up, such as the registration itself or DMV confirmation that you're paid up, take it with you to the local courthouse (you can't do this by phone or online) and ask for a certificate of correction or proof of corrections form. Fill out the form, provide your proof and your signed traffic ticket, then have the papers authorized at the courthouse. If your proof is sufficient, you may only have to pay a small dismissal fee to have the ticket dismissed before it goes on your record.
If your tags were stolen, go to your state's DMV website immediately to report lost tags and order a replacement. You'll still have to pay a nominal fee, but the cost doesn't remotely compare to the potential penalties. If you get ticketed while waiting for the replacements, this is also a "fix-it" ticket and can typically be remedied with proof of correction.
How to Mitigate Costs
So, how much is a ticket for expired tags? Usually about $100 to $200. Proper preparation can negate the need to pay entirely, but if you're ticketed and in the wrong, you'll have to pay up. That doesn't mean you can't mitigate your punishment, though.
If you're unable to renew, register your vehicle for a cost-effective, non-operation status (usually only about $20 or $30) or ensure that it stays parked on private property until its tags and registration are current.
If you're required to appear in court, don't ignore your summons, even if you've already taken care of your registration renewal – failure to appear could result in misdemeanor charges on your record, plus impound, towing and collection fees in combination with a suspension of your license. If you haven't taken care of your tags, the court clerk can often help you handle it.