Antique License Plates: Rules To Register Your Classic Car

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Having spent a pretty penny on your newest antique car, you may be looking for ways to reduce classic car ownership costs–like your registration costs

Did you know that antique license plates can qualify you for lower registration fees and even exemption from costly state inspections? Now you do. 

Because you only plan to drive your antique car on special occasions, there’s no reason to pay full price on registration–especially when acquiring antique plates is as easy as ever. 

While antique tag requirements can vary from state to state, these variations are minor, which means there are general rules about antique car licenses that apply nationwide. Here are some general rules of thumb you should know. 

Understanding Antique License Plates Basics

Antique license plates are specialized vehicle registration tags. They are designed to identify and distinguish older vehicles that are considered “historical” or “collectible.” These plates are different from regular license plates in that they typically display a unique design or color scheme that reflects the era in which the vehicle was manufactured. 

Antique plates come with numerous benefits, including reduced registration costs, possible exemption from state inspections, and longer registration periods. However, as a tradeoff, these antique license plates come with usage restrictions. 

Antique vehicles cannot be used for routine transportation like daily commutes or errands, so you’ll need to find another vehicle for daily errands.   

Phase 1: Qualifying for an Antique License Plate

Certain criteria must be met to qualify for an antique license plate, though these requirements vary by state. Some of the common prerequisites include:

Step #1: Meeting the Vehicle Age Requirement

Different states classify historic vehicles differently.  Though exceptions exist, most states mandate that the vehicle must be at least 25 years old. However, in Florida, the vehicle must reach a minimum age of 30 years.  

While Texas also registers vehicles over 30 years old as “Antique,” exempting them from annual inspections, Wisconsin issues collector plates to cars at least 20 years old with minimal modifications.

Step #2: Originality or Restoration Verification

Some states, such as Alabama, require that the vehicle be in its original state or restored to its original condition, with no modifications. States like Arkansas and Maine might necessitate a certificate of authenticity or a restoration affidavit to validate this.

However, there are states that do not have laws preventing the modification of antique vehicles. Examples of these states include Montana and South Dakota. 

Step #3: Acquiring Proof of Ownership

Owners must demonstrate that the vehicle is registered in their name and possesses a valid title and registration. 

Certain states, such as Arkansas and Colorado, might additionally require a bill of sale or a transfer of ownership document.

Step #4: Setting up Insurance Coverage

It is important to have liability insurance that meets the state’s minimum requirements for your antique vehicle.  Some states like California and Michigan may also mandate comprehensive or collision coverage or a special antique vehicle insurance policy.

Step #5: Undergoing a Vehicle Inspection

Before applying for an antique license plate, the vehicle must undergo a safety inspection and possibly an emissions test, depending on state regulations. 

Certain states, such as Pennsylvania, might waive these tests for antique vehicles.

Other Information to Consider

Rules for the application of antique plates also differ among states. Some states, such as Virginia, allow limited personal driving (250 miles from your home) with antique plates, while others restrict general transportation use to specific days of the week.

In the same vein, states have distinct regulations regarding the transfer and ownership of antique plates. For example, a new license plate must be issued in Florida when an antique vehicle is sold to another person.  In Tennessee, vintage license plates can be transferred to another vehicle, provided that the new vehicle falls within the same model year as the previous one.

In Virginia, transferring antique plates requires surrendering them to the DMV and registering them to a different vehicle, incurring an additional fee. 

Phase 2: Applying for Antique License Plates: A Step-by-Step Guide

Below is a step-by-step guide for applying for an antique license plate, but you should always keep in mind that requirements and fees may differ by state, so always verify with your local Department of Motor Vehicles before proceeding.

Step #1: Check Your Car’s Eligibility

The first step is to ensure that your vehicle meets all of the requirements explained above, as applicable in your state.  

Step #2: Gather Required Documents

Next, you need to collect essential documents, including proof of ownership (a bill of sale or transfer of ownership document) and proof of insurance.

Some states may mandate a safety inspection and emissions test, which can be carried out in approved inspection stations within the states. 

Step #3: Complete the Application Form

Obtain a special application form for antique license plates from your local Department of Motor Vehicles or their website. Provide detailed information, including personal details such as name and address, vehicle identification number, make, model, year, and color of your car, as well as the desired plate type. 

The types of antique license plates include horseless carriage plates (for at least 50-year old vehicles), collector passenger plates (for vehicles that are at least 32 years old), and street rod license plates (for vehicles made on or before 1948).

Step #4: Pay the Application Fee

Expect a one-time or annual fee for obtaining an antique license plate. This fee varies based on state regulations, vehicle type, and plate design. For instance, Georgia charges a total of $80 for antique license plates, while Kansas charges a $40 fee. 

Step #5: Submit Your Application

Send your completed application form, payment, and required documents to your local Department of Motor Vehicles. Submission methods may include in-person delivery or mail. 

If applicable, surrender your current license plate and registration sticker. The department will process your application and issue a new antique license plate and registration card, which may have an expiration date different from the registration renewal date of your daily driver.

Step #6: Display Your Antique Plate

Affix your antique license plate to the rear of your vehicle as instructed by state guidelines. Keep your registration card in your vehicle at all times. 

Save up to $1,200/year on car storage

Can You Collect Vintage License Plates?

Collecting vintage license plates is legal and can be a rewarding hobby. You can collect plates of all sorts to keep as a keepsake or repurpose as a decoration for your home.

These plates have become such sought-after items, with enthusiasts and collectors alike scouring high and low to add them to their collections.

However, certain plates cannot be sold or collected. Examples are modern license plates and those resembling recent designs.   

Are Antique Plates Available for Antique Motorcycles and Specialty Vehicles?

Antique license plates are not exclusive to cars; they can also be applied to motorcycles and specialty vehicles. Antique motorcycles can be registered with antique plates or permanent vintage plates for restricted use in classic car show events.   

Specialty vehicles, like Brass Era vehicles or retired military vehicles, have unique eligibility and plate options.

Insurance and Antique Plates

It is important that you secure insurance coverage for your classic car with antique plates. It provides necessary protection, including liability and medical coverage. Sometimes, they even come with options for spare parts and towing services. Insurers like American Collectors and partners like GEICO offer flexible classic car insurance options.

In Summary

While at it, taking extra precautions when storing your antique vehicles is important. Antique cars are more susceptible to rust and moisture-related damage. If you don’t use your classic car for daily driving and lack sufficient garage space, consider renting an indoor car storage space, preferably from a climate-controlled facility. 

Indoor storage protects against extreme temperatures, humidity, UV rays, and potential damage from pests like rodents. Neighbor, a self storage marketplace, offers safe, nearby, and budget-friendly storage spaces for classic vehicles. Ensure your investment is always protected by storing it properly. 

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