In the state of New York, it is illegal to drive without both front and rear license plates on a vehicle. But what happens if one of the plates gets lost or stolen? Under the law, both plates are required, so it is important to understand the steps to take to avoid being pulled over and cited for driving without a license plate.
Reporting a Lost License Plate
In New York, the owner of a vehicle should report lost, stolen or destroyed license plates to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The owner is required to surrender the vehicle registration to the DMV.
If two vehicle plates are missing, or if the vehicle only needs one plate, such as a motorcycle, the owner must notify the police. The owner must request that an officer complete a police report and bring the report to a DMV office to surrender the vehicle registration.
Forms to Use for Missing Plates
New York requires that a vehicle have two license plates, one on the front and one on the rear. If both license plates are lost, stolen or destroyed in New York state, the owner should ask a New York state police agency to complete form MV-78B, Certification of Lost License, Permit or Plates. This form is available only from a law enforcement officer not on the DMV's website. It is different from a stolen vehicle report.
If the license plates were lost, stolen or destroyed outside of New York state, the owner should get a report printed on the letterhead of a law enforcement agency in the state where the incident happened. A license plate that falls off a vehicle is considered lost.
If the law enforcement agency will not give the owner a police report, the owner must complete a Certification of Lost License, Permit or Plates form (MV-1441.3). The form should include the date the person requested the police report and state that the agency denied their request.
Options When Only One Plate Missing
If one license plate from a set of two plates was lost, stolen or destroyed, the owner does not need to complete a police report. They should bring the remaining plate to their county DMV office to surrender the vehicle registration.
But, if the owner wants to replace their plates without paying a fee, they must submit a police report or form MV-78B noting that the plate was stolen or destroyed as the result of a crime.
Getting a New License Plate in New York
The owner can ask for a new set of plates at a DMV office. They will need to bring:
- Original plate or the MV-78B/police report or statement.
- Completed Vehicle Registration/Title Application (MV-82).
- Proof of identity, typically the owner’s New York state driver license, permit or non-driver ID card.
- Proof of insurance, meaning the barcoded original New York State Insurance ID card or a digital electronic New York State Insurance ID Card, both issued by the insurer, as well as an electronic notice of insurance coverage issued by the insurer and sent to the DMV. The owner’s insurance agent or broker cannot file this notice. The DMV will need both the insurance ID card and electronic notice.
The owner must register their vehicle within 180 days of the effective date on their insurance ID card. They should provide the DMV with one copy or form of the insurance ID card. The DMV will keep the paper card. The owner should keep the other paper card with the vehicle as their proof of insurance. That way anyone operating their vehicle can provide proof of insurance.
Fees for New Plates
After the owner provides the required documents and proof to the DMV, the DMV will issue them a new vehicle registration and replacement plates. If the plates were lost or destroyed, they must pay for the new plates, as well as a $3.75 fee to issue a new registration. The fees for replacement plates are:
- $25 for a set of 2 plates.
- $12.50 for a vehicle only issued one plate, such as a motorcycle.
The owner does not need to pay a fee to replace stolen plates. They must provide a police report or MV-78B showing the plates were stolen or destroyed due to a crime. A party can get a copy of a police report from a town or city’s police department administration office during business hours or request a report through the mail. A police department may charge a fee for copies, such as .25 cents per page.
Renew a Vehicle Registration Online
A vehicle driven in New York must have a valid, unexpired registration. This registration is the sticker placed on the windshield, as well as the paper registration certificate that the owner should keep in their vehicle.
The sticker for registration is not located on the license plate as it is in other states. This means that if a person’s license plates are missing, they will still have the sticker and not need to replace it. Generally, an owner can renew the registration for most vehicles online, including boats, trailers and snowmobiles.
Procedure for Stolen Vehicles
The owner of a stolen vehicle should call 911 to report it. The owner of the vehicle must be the one to report it stolen. They must also report the theft to their auto insurer as soon as possible.
The police will enter the information into national and state auto theft computer records, and the theft will be noted on the vehicle’s title record. This helps prevent someone other than the owner from selling the vehicle or applying for title.
Information for Police Report
When a law enforcement officer takes a report for a stolen vehicle, they will ask for certain information from the owner:
- Name and address of person making the complaint.
- Vehicle make, model, color and year, as well plate numbers and any identifying characteristics, such as modifications, decals or extensive damage.
- Data regarding the suspect and motive for the theft, if known.
- Whether absence of the vehicle is due to a theft or unauthorized use.
- Whether vehicle was locked or unlocked at time of the theft.
- Whether key was inside the vehicle at time of the theft.
- How many sets of car keys the owner owns.
- Whether vehicle was left running unattended at the time of the theft.
- Whether a Uniform Traffic Ticket was issued.
The vehicle may be held for forensic purposes after it is recovered. An officer will place a hold on a vehicle only at the director of their supervisor.
Recovery of Vehicle or Plates by Police
If a vehicle or its plates are recovered, the police department will attempt to notify the owner. If the plates are missing, the police department will note this information on a supplemental report. A police department is expected to turn over a recovered vehicle with damage and/or missing plates to the owner.
- New York Department of Motor Vehicles: Lost, Stolen, or Destroyed Plates
- Department of Motor Vehicles Forms: Certification of Lost License, Permit or Plates
- New York Department of Motor Vehicles: Stolen and Recovered Vehicles
- New York City: Stolen Vehicle
- Town of Geddes: Frequently Asked Questions
- New York Department of Motor Vehicles: Vehicle Registration/Title Application
- New York State: Renew a Vehicle Registration Online
- New York State Senate: Vehicle and Traffic Code Section 402 Distinctive Number; Form of Number Plates; Trailers
- Albany, New York Police Department: Reporting/Recovery of Stolen Motor Vehicles
- Submitting false statements is a form of perjury and punishable by law. It may result in a license or registration being suspended or revoked.
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.