Just Junked a Car in PA . . . Now what to do with the plate?

So I had to give my beloved 2002 Honda Civic the heave ho after it developed a knock in the engine while driving home one night. Now I have this plate sitting here and I’m not sure what to do . . .

I already have another vehicle with a new plate, and the Civic literally just went off on the rollback truck and I have taken the car off my insurance. Is it okay for me to recycle the plate or destroy it? There is no DMV in town . . . could I take the plate to the PA Photo Center? Would I be able to drop it off at the police station? Or do I have to mail it in? Any help is appreciated!

Thank you!

I have no idea. But I have a follow-up question. Say your Civic has a bad engine. Junkyards, including online ones on ebay, will have an engine for about $650-$1000. Example, listing claims 50k miles on the engine. I have driven by billboards promising engine replacements for about $1200 from high volume mechanic shops that specialize in this.
So it sounds like, for $2-$3k, you could get another engine. “more than the car is worth”. Ok. What is your alternative? After junking the car, you get a few hundred bucks in scrap value, and now have the $2-3k that you would have spent on an engine swap. Can you get a better car now for the money in your pocket than from what it would have cost to replace the engine in this one?

Here in the UK, you are supposed to take it to a licensed recycler who will issue paperwork that you can send in to remove any links between you and the car. This can be important if it gets repaired and starts collecting parking/speeding tickets.

The PA DMV says to send it back to them in Harrisburg:

From here (pdf warning):

In Maryland, you can’t remove the car from insurance until after you turn the plate in, or else there is a fine or fee or something. You might want to check that out to see what PA law is.

Hey Samuel, that’s a good question. I did consider going that route, as I have a mechanic down the street willing to do the engine swap for $1200 or so and I also found some $600 engines available for the Honda that might or might not be worthwhile. A lot of the ones I found had rather high or unknown mileage, so I figure it is a tossup as to whether or not the replacement engine would last a few years or end up with a similar issue.

Maybe if I had found one with really low mileage I’d have considered it a little more. For what it’s worth, I did go this route with another vehicle I owned years ago and it didn’t work out so well. The replacement engine, even after a tune up and several trips to the shop, never ran very well and while it never broke down on me (I sold it a few months later after the starter went as I had simply had enough with the constant problems) I still feel rather sour about swapping motors. When I did it last time, I spent $900 on the engine and probably another $1500 or so to put in the motor, and after all of it, I had a car that ran and moved, but had so many problems it wasn’t worth the trouble in the first place. I was stupid for trying to keep that car going. Should have never bothered.

As for the Civic, it wasn’t a bad car. It had new struts and new tires . . . but it had its issues. Needed a battery, the motor as we mentioned, some body work, and to be honest . . . some exhaust work coming up and also some issue with the alignment that required some new parts that would come out to something like $400 . . .

If that isn’t bad enough, I was thinking about getting rid of it anyway because I was getting tired of driving stick and also wanted something a little bigger as it is difficult to move large items in a sedan. The Jeep I replaced it with is definitely roomier if nothing else. I stand 6’2 and that little four door Civic was a pain to get in and out of for me as well . . . so yeah, I had a lot of reasons to not go through the hassle.

The Civic cost me $1900 when I bought it. Definitely not worth the trouble to spend that same amount on it again, with all the issues that I mentioned working against it.

Anyway, thanks for your reply! Have a great day!

Wow, this sounds like a lot of unnecessary trouble for everyone involved. The seller has to remove the plate and get them to the DMV, the buyer has to get new plates, and the DMV has to process all these plates. In California the plates just transfer to the buyer. Why doesn’t PA do it that way?

PA doesn’t automatically check insurance on plates the way that MD does. If you let the insurance lapse on a vehicle, PA won’t automatically fine you, though if you do drive it and get caught without insurance you’ll pay a pretty hefty fine.

MD only requires inspections when you buy or sell the car. They otherwise only require emissions inspections. There’s no yearly safety inspection. PA has a yearly safety inspection as well as an emissions check, though in PA you don’t have to go to an emissions station. All PA does is plug in an ODB II reader and check for codes, and charge you $45 for all of 30 seconds worth of work. If your vehicle is too old to have ODB II, all they do is basically look under the car to make sure you haven’t ripped off the catalytic converter, and they still charge you $45.

The yearly safety inspection requires a valid registration and proof of insurance, so that’s how PA picks up on you not having insurance. In MD, if your insurance company stops insuring you for any reason, they have to notify the DMV, which is how the DMV picks up that you don’t have insurance so quickly. There is no such requirement for insurance companies in PA.

(Note - it’s been 20 years since I lived in MD so some of my info might be a bit out of date)

PA also requires titles to be notarized, so title transfers generally have to be done at a notary.

If you are junking a car, you generally just sign the title and give it to the salvage guy. You don’t have to go to a notary and do an official title transfer.

The PA DMV has actually gotten a lot better at a lot of things in the past couple of decades. Most things can be done online, very quickly and easily. There are still some things though that are a pain in the backside. As for why they do it the way they do, the answer is probably just because it has always been done that way.

Historic and antique license plates can be transferred with the vehicle.

Because PA will let the seller transfer the plates to another vehicle. I’m not sure why the OP got new plates for the new vehicle- but I’m in NY where the plates also don’t go with the car and I always transfer the plates and registration from the car I’m getting rid of to the car I’m buying , even when I’m buying a brand new car off the dealer’s lot. The only times you have to get new plates in NY ( and I’m guessing the same is true in PA) is when
1 You’re buying your first car
2 You’re buying an additional car
3 Your plates have to be replaced because one or both were damaged/lost/stolen
4 The state changes the design.

It's not really any extra trouble because people rarely end up the returning plates to the DMV but there's something I'm curious about. So in California, if you sell me your car, the plates stay on the car. How do you ensure that I don't simply drive around without transferring the plates/title to my name getting parking tickets etc with the plates that still are connected to you?

Unless PA has changed since I lived there, the OP didn’t have to get a new plate for the new car. They could have just transferred the plate to the new one. The OP may have to eventually inform the state that the car was junked if they haven’t already done so. You can generally keep the plate for a keepsake - surely you’ve seen people’s garages and various restaurants decorated with expired license plates. I have a few dead plates from Montana and PA lying around as the result of moves. Apparently CA confiscated my Colorado plates when I moved here.

Most states in the US are “plate with owner” and work this way. CA is “plate with car”. When you move here, it looks weird at first to see used car lots full of cars with plates on them. Both systems are about the same amount of work for the state when there’s a normal sale - in any event that they have to keep track of both the plate and owner that go with a particular car, and paperwork to the state is needed when the car is sold. Either one can be inconvenient in certain cases. In CA you have to go through extra effort to keep your vanity plate when you buy a new car. In other states you have go to extra effort to get rid of your vanity plate if you no longer want it on the new car (like ones that say “My Jag” or something like this, when you buy a different kind of car). If you don’t have a plate in “plate with owner” state, you have to request a plate, and get a temporary tag. In CA, when your car came with a plate on it, and you want a vanity plate, you’ll have to go to extra work. New cars in CA don’t always have a plate on them, and you may still have to put a notice in the rear window - the car dealer may have not gotten a plate for it yet. Et cetera.

Within 5 days of the sale, the seller must submit a Notice of Transfer to the DMV telling them that the car has been sold. Your liability for the car ends when you submit this. You can do it online. I always submit it IMMEDIATELY after selling a car, like while the buyer is pulling out of my driveway.

Hang it on the wall. Old plates are a great source, I use them in my art. One of my favorite finds at junk yards.
I have a big wooden box completely covered in pieces of plates I cut into thirds. Very colorful

That all seems accurate.

MD has had self-service emissions testing stations for a few years now. You drive up to the kiosk in the parking lot of the MVA, you scan your “Emissions Test” notice, you pay the $14 with a credit/debit card, then you just plug in the OBD thing and wait a minute or two, and the machine will give you a printout of your results. Pass, just unplug the machine and drive away. Fail, same thing, but you gotta go get your vehicle checked out and try again, obviously.

You can use the kiosk 24 hours a day so there’s almost never a line and it only takes a few minutes.

Thanks as well! I always wondered why people junk cars and this makes total sense. For the amount the repairs to make the Civic fully repaired, plus a risk that you would need to replace the engine again if the first replacement isn’t good, plus the junkyard gives you a little money.

So that gives you a budget of about $3000-$3500 you could either have sunk into this car or you could go find a newer car with less miles instead.

My coworkers unload 2008 or so Corollas with 60k miles for 4-6k all the time.

Yep, it’s accurate. Pretty easy to own a car in Maryland.

I learned about the insurance thing when I had a car just get towed and cubed because I didn’t want it anymore. I cancelled the insurance and thought all was well. Until I got a notice a year later telling me I owed the MVA thousands of dollars since they had “insured” my car since I didn’t. I had to track down the towing company and get a receipt that showed the date it was towed and/or cubed (can’t remember which) and send it to the MVA.

If PA is anything like VT, I believe you are expected to nail the plate to the wall either in your garage or in the basement above your tool bench, your choice.

I agree with Beck and skdo23. I’ve always just left old plates in the garage, and nobody seems to care. I’ve not gotten any notices from the DOT / BMV / DMV (take your pick) regarding old plates. They just…sit there in the garage until I recycle them or hang them up. I’ve got a couple in my garage right now.

We have never hung and old plate in the garage or the basement.

My son hung the plate to my old truck up in his bedroom instead.


(he liked that truck)

Yeah, the DMV says to mail the plate back to them, so that’s the official response, but no one ever really seems to care if you don’t send it back.

Yeah, but are you from VT?:slight_smile:

There’s a famous barn in Arkansas that’s completely covered in lisc. plates. It’s the photo backdrop for a bunch of graduates in that area.