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What to do if your license plate or vehicle registration sticker is stolen

Each year, owners of all types of vehicles must pay an annual registration fee and pass a vehicle emissions test to get a current registration sticker. Once your sticker has expired, your vehicle no longer is considered roadworthy in your state.If you’re caught driving a vehicle with an expired registration sticker, you’ll be subject to fines and penalties that may include points on your license, potentially leading to higher car insurance rates.

Most of us do the right thing by paying to renew our car registration, and taking in the vehicle for state-required safety and emissions tests. A small number, however, steal other drivers’ registration stickers or license plates and place them on their own cars.

Why does this happen, and what can be done about it?

Why registration stickers and license plates get stolen

In most states, the annual vehicle registration fee is quite low. In Nebraska, for instance, it is just $15 a year. Others can cost considerably more, such as Montana, where the cost to renew registration for a car that’s less than 4 years old is $237.

Many states also require vehicles to pass safety or emissions inspections tests. Fourteen states require safety inspections every year, while four others require tests every two years. Before a vehicle can pass the inspection, a driver must pay for any repairs that a mechanic says would affect car safety or fuel emissions. Depending on the problems with the car, these repairs can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. People who haven’t paid their state property taxes aren’t eligible to renew their vehicle registrations.

Because vehicle registration stickers can be easily peeled off cars, there’s a big financial incentive for people to steal the stickers from properly registered cars rather than buy their own. This is particularly true if the state registration fee is high, a car obviously won’t pass a safety inspection or delinquent property taxes are owed.

In some cases, especially if the stickers are difficult to pull off, thieves steal the license plates themselves. They may also do this if they’re driving stolen vehicles, and know police will be on the lookout for their cars’ existing license plate numbers.

Such crimes are increasing in frequency. In St. Louis, license plate theft is up by 130 percent for the year, with 993 plates stolen in January 2016 compared to 49 in January 2015.

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