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In the state of Washington, all drivers must register their vehicles within 15 days of purchasing one or of becoming a resident. Failure to do so leads to additional fees and charges.

You can register your vehicle at any of the local offices, either in person or by mail.

Sample Washington License Plate

Sample Washington License Plate

Applying for License Plates in Washington

You must apply for a license plate if:

  1. You have purchased a new vehicle
  2. You are a new resident in Washington

You must register your vehicle with the Department of Licensing, either in person or by mail. To apply, please bring the following:

  • Bill of sale
  • Vehicle title
  • Emissions certification
  • Odometer statement
  • Payment for registration fees

After you have successfully completed your registration, you may apply immediately to receive new license plates in Washington. If you require personalized, specialized, or disability license plates, you may have to wait.

Note: When you title your vehicle, you will be registering your vehicle at the same time.

Registration for License Plates in Washington

If you purchased your vehicle from a dealership in Washington, they are likely to handle its registration. If so, you can drive off the lot using temporary plates or tags and wait about a week for your license plates to arrive in the mail.

If you purchased your vehicle at a private sale, you have 15 days to title and register it. Owners of the previous car must remove or surrender their license plates. Also, you can check the history and ownership of that vehicle online, using the previous license plate number.

There are late fees and penalties if you do not register your vehicle within 15 days:

  • $50 fee on the 16th day
  • $2 every day after, up to $125 max.

To avoid these late fees, simply go to the nearest licensing centre to register your vehicle.

Renewing Washington License Plates

You must renew your vehicle’s registration before the expiration on the tags. It is best to renew your license plates before the expiration date to avoid additional fees.

Lost or Stolen Plates in Washington

It may happen that your plates go missing. Although you don’t have to report your missing plates to the police, doing so helps prevent them from being abused.

When you’re ready to apply for new plates, you’ll need:

  • Valid ID
  • Completed Form TD-420-040: Affidavit of Loss
  • Payment for fees:
    • $5 Service Fee
    • $20 to Keep Current Plate Number

Unfortunately, you will not be able to get the same number if your plates were stolen.

Transfer or Surrender of Washington License Plates

You are permitted to transfer your license plate to another vehicle that is titled and registered in your name. You can do this either in person, online, or by mail, and you must confirm that your address is correct.

Transferring your plates requires:

  • Proof of registration for the vehicle receiving the plates
  • Payment for transfer fee: $10
  • Letter of intention for license plate transfer, including:
    • Updated mailing and residence address
    • License plate number

If you have no intention of purchasing a new vehicle and transferring your plates, you should surrender your plates.

Personalized License Plates in Washington

If you want to personalize your Washington license plates, you can choose your own number code. Here are a few guidelines for personalization:

  • Plates must have up to 7 characters
  • Characters include letters, numbers, spaces, and hyphens
  • You cannot use indecent language or profanity
  • Same license plate numbers will not be issued

You can use a license plate search to see what plates are available for you.

Customized License Plates in Washington

There are many license plates with unique designs for organizations, charities, universities, community groups, parks, and more. The following is a list of some of the most popular customized plates available in Washington:

  • Music Matters License Plates
  • We Love Our Pets License Plates
  • Washington State University License Plates
  • Central Washington College License Plates
  • Gonzaga University License Plates
  • Seattle University License Plates
  • Animal Style License Plates
    • Orca
    • Elk
    • Deer
    • Bear
    • Eagle
  • National Park License Plates
  • Marine Corps License Plates
  • Military ID License Plates
  • Military Emblem License Plates
  • Classic Car License Plates

Each of these customized license plates requires registration, additional fees, and sometimes additional documentation to be eligible.

Summary of Fees for License Plates in Washington

Some of the fees associated with your vehicle’s registration will be influenced by the type of vehicle you purchase and by the type of plates you want. The following list outlines some of the fees you can expect:

  • Title Service Fee: $12
  • Registration Service Fee: $5
  • Transfer Fee: $10
  • Fee to Keep the Same Plate Number: $20
  • Standard Personalized Plates:
    • Cars: $84.75
    • Trucks: $84.75
    • Motorcycles: $66.75
    • Trailers: $72.75
  • Special Designed Plates:
    • Cars: $124.75
    • Trucks: $124.75
    • Motorcycles: $106.75
    • Trailers: $112.75
  • Fees for some specialized plates:
    • Cars: $72.75
    • Trucks: $72.75
    • Motorcycles: $54.75
    • Trailers: $60.75

Please check with your local offices for the exact fees for your vehicle. Fees often vary due to:

  • Vehicle weight
  • Type of vehicle
  • Area of residency
  • Number of plates required

You’ll also have to pay taxes and some other additional fees to register your vehicle in Washington.

Looking up License Plates in Washington

If you want to know a vehicle's history, you can do an online search of a license plate. You can obtain critical information about the vehicle and its previous drivers.

You can also use this free online license plate search to check for available numbers for a personalized plate.