Goodbye, 7-year license plate replacement

The in basket: Bob Walker of Central Kitsap e-mailed to say, “Well, we voted out the license plate change
that took place every seven years (and I) just found out what replaced it.”
“I went down to change the title on a car I picked up for
$500 and had to also buy a new set of plates.
They told me every time a title is changed you will have to get new plates. Even if I buy the car in January, fix it up and sell it in March, new plates will have to be purchased again by the new owner.
“Seems ridiculous. I lose around $100 on a car
that I may have avoided when the seven-year rule was in effect.”
The out basket: This change of an unpopular government requirement was done by the Legislature last year (not by voters in an election), and escaped my notice until Bob wrote.
Sen. Christine Rolfes of Bainbridge Island said she often heard from irritated constituents about having to discard perfectly good license plates because they’d been in use for seven years. Some even spent the time and money to mail her the old plates in protest, she said.
So she joined in sponsorship of the 2014 bill that ended the requirement. But it replaced it with the new one that new plates must be obtained whenever a licensed vehicle changes hands.
It’s good news for those who keep a vehicle longer than seven years, but an added cost for those who typically replace a vehicle in less than seven years.
Bob conceded that the change didn’t cost him $100, the cost of his entire transaction, just the $20 cost of the plates.
Sen. Rolfes said the bill ending the seven-year cycle hadn’t gotten any traction in the Legislature in past years because it meant a $40 million cut in revenue. (The $20 fee for new plates was quite a bit more than the plates actually cost the state).
When the idea of requiring new plates upon change of ownership was added to offset that loss, ending the seven-year cycle got the support it needed, she said. It passed both houses with huge majorities. It is expected to not only offset the loss, but increase revenue by millions of dollars.
It’s not just money, though, she said. It will avoid confusion and mis-billing in the new era of electronic tolling and traffic enforcement cameras. “It’s a clean cut in ownership.”
“The law allows a vehicle owner to keep their license plates for as long as they own the car,” says David Bennett of the Department of Licensing. “Replacing plates is required only if they are lost, defaced, illegible or when the vehicle changes ownership.
“There are exceptions,” he added. “It does not apply to vehicle transactions that add or remove a lien holder, transfer ownership to a spouse, or are solely a name change, among other things. The full list of exemptions is available under RCW 46.16A.020 and RCW 46.16A.200.
“People must continue to renew their vehicle registration and pay any taxes and fees that are due every 12 months,” he added. Further, “before the bill to eliminate the 7-year mandatory replacement, the new owner of a used car received credit for the time remaining on an  auto’s registration. So, if the previous owner had six months remaining on the registration, the new owner would have received credit for those six remaining months.
(Now) the previous registration is canceled upon transfer and the new owner is responsible for paying all of the taxes and fees associated with a one -ear registration. These vary depending on the type of auto being transferred,” David said. 
There’s a lot more to the story I don’t have room for in Road Warrior, including the lobbying of a major corporation that provides the reflective material for the plates, and the state prison system, where they are made. You can read about it at
The 7-year-cycle always had a dubious argument in its favor, that law enforcement wanted the plate’s reflectivity preserved to help them find vehicles at night. So I asked my State Patrol contact what WSP thinks of the 2014 action.
Trooper Russ Winger replied, “I’m not sure if the DOL ‘rationale’ for seven-year replacement was backed by the WSP or not. However, our needs have always been and remain that the license be present, valid and readable.
“If our officers observe violations of either they take the appropriate action for compliance. If a plate is damaged or worn enough that it should be replaced, troopers will direct the driver to correct the situation ASAP. (This is fairly rare, actually).
“Normally we use the corrective notice approach for replacing a worn-out plate,  which allows the officer to write a ticket if the driver chooses to ignore the corrective notice.”

4 thoughts on “Goodbye, 7-year license plate replacement

  1. Wow! The legislature actually acted in the best interest of the people instead of milking the people for all they can. I am impressed.

    Now if they can get rid of the stupid law which requires anyone under 18 to take driver’s ed before they can get a license. Doesn’t matter if they are an excellent driver or if they are taught by their uncle, who is an instructor, or if they can pass the test with flying colors. Gotta pay that $500

    1. I agree. I am not a big fan of anyone under the age of 18 driving on the road. Of course I am not a big fan of anyone under the age of 21 driving. But ya as long as they pay their money they will get a license.

  2. “Wow! The legislature actually acted in the best interest of the people instead of milking the people for all they can. I am impressed.” <– did you miss something in the article? This costs taxpayers more (" increase revenue by millions of dollars"), especially those that don't keep their cars longer than 7 years. It also means the state gets to double-bill for registration when a vehicle is sold with time remaining on the tabs. Since a new owner has to buy "fresh" plates and new tabs when a used vehicle is purchased, any time remaining on the old tabs is now just free money for the state. If they were acting in the best interests of the people they would refund the remaining money back to original owner instead of just keeping it.

  3. Makes one wonder, what else has Olympia been doing that has failed to attract anyone’s attention? Seems like changes in the laws should have legal notices in all the papers.

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