What is a Temporary Tag? Do I Need a Temp Tag?

You’ve probably seen the pieces of paper hanging on the back window or license plate of a car and probably wondered what they were. Temporary license plates, otherwise known as the temp tag, serve as a form of temporary registration for a vehicle. There are several reasons someone would need to obtain a temporary tag. That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide answering all your questions.


Why Do I Need a Temp Tag?

There are a multitude of reasons why you would find yourself in need of a temporary tag. While some of these reasons might not apply to your state, here is a generalized breakdown.

You bought a new or used vehicle.

Regardless of where you bought it, you’ll most likely need a temporary license plate for your car until your registration is complete. Depending on what state you live in, that process can take some time.

You moved from out of state.

If you bring a vehicle to your new state of residence, you will need to re-register it. During this time, you need to obtain a transit registration which allows you to drive and operate your vehicle while you wait for the new registration to arrive. This is similar to the process of importing a car from another country.

You are importing a vehicle.

Just like when you move from out of state, bringing your vehicle from out of the country requires you to get a registration. If you must wait for this, you will need a temp tag in the interim.

You must drive the vehicle to an inspection.

If you have a car that isn’t registered, perhaps one that’s been sitting on your property, you might need temporary registration. Let’s say you’ve been restoring a car that wasn’t road-worthy, or you were dealing with a salvage re-build. Once that car is ready for registration, some states require that you have it inspected first which means you need some sort of tag if you plan on driving to the inspection site.

How Much is a Temporary Tag?

When you apply for a vehicle registration, you should prepare yourself to pay several hundred dollars depending on the vehicle and what state you live in. Some states determine the price by a flat rate, while others use the weight, value or year of the car. You can find a complete breakdown on Temporary Tag Prices from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

What Do You Need to Get a Temporary Tag?

While every state has different requirements of what is needed to get a temp tag, there’s a common list of things you should prepare. This includes:

  • Certificate of title (properly endorsed)

  • Temporary tag application

  • Proof of car insurance in that state

  • A valid driver’s license

  • Results from required inspections or emissions testing

  • Loan documents, if applicable

Some states actually require you to show multiple forms of identification. One of them must be your government-issued ID while the other can be something like a utility bill. This is done to prove residency.

Do Dealerships Give Temporary Plates?

In some states, you’ll receive your temporary plates right at the dealership. That’s because state law either requires or permits them to start the registration process for you. After you leave the dealership, you might not have to do anything else other than wait for your regular license plates to show up in the mail.

Even if you receive a temporary registration, be sure you double-check your local requirements. Some states require that you finalize the process in person at your local DMV or another establishment.

How Do You Get Registration with a Private Purchase?

If you choose to purchase the car from a private party, you will have to handle the registration yourself. The best way to do this is to take the initial steps before you even buy the vehicle.

To protect yourself, make sure you check the title before the transaction to ensure there are no tickets, fines, or active liens you should know about. Then, make sure the seller endorses the title correctly so there’s no trouble getting your registration when it comes time.

It’s also helpful for you to have the seller draw up a bill of sale, further proving that they sold you the vehicle as described.

How Long Can I Have a Temp Tag?

Each state has different terms for their temp tags. You can only drive on your temporary plate until the date that it specifies. If you don’t receive your permanent plate by that date, you need to figure out what went wrong by contacting your local DMV.

Can I drive on an expired temp tag?

Don’t ever attempt to drive a vehicle that has an expired temporary tag. That will earn you a pricey ticket and possibly an impounded car. The officer won’t care what your story is; they are simply going to follow the law.

If you need more time, see if your state allows you to file for an extension for your temp tags while you attempt to sort out the situation. This is your best bet, especially if you are struggling to get the registration after a dealer said they would take care of it. Believe it or not, this happens quite frequently!

Where Should I Keep My Registration?

Once you receive your registration, it’s vital that you keep it in the car with you. You will need quick access to it if you ever get pulled over. Some people worry about keeping the document in the car when living in a high-crime area. In these situations, keep your vehicle registration inside your house and remember to have it in the car while driving.

Don’t EVER leave your title in the car. You don’t want this to get into the wrong hands, and it’s never needed during a traffic stop. Keep your car title safely at home in a fireproof and waterproof lockbox instead.

Final Thoughts

Most people don’t think about the requirements or laws regarding temporary tags until it comes time to use one. Anytime you buy a vehicle or move from out of state, getting a temp tag a necessary part of the registration process. Ensuring that you follow your state guidelines is the best way to make the process smooth and simple. Do your research, know your laws and enjoy that new car free and clear.


Title Gods specializes in recovering lost car titles and solving all kinds of title-related issues. We are not attorneys. This article is not legal advice.

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