Can Your Car Get Towed for Having Expired Tags? What You Need to Know

Can Your Car Get Towed for Having Expired Tags

Let’s set the scene. You’re running a little late, dash out the door, hop in your car and head off to work. You’re cruising along when suddenly there are flashing lights in your rearview mirror. You get pulled over by a police officer who asks for your license and registration. As you dig through the glovebox for the documents, you realize with a sinking feeling that your registration is expired. The cop notices it too and writes you a ticket. But it gets worse – he calls for a tow truck to impound your car, leaving you stranded on the side of the road!

Can cops legally tow vehicles for having expired registration tags? Unfortunately, in most states and local jurisdictions, the answer is yes. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about expired tags, associated fines and penalties, and how to avoid getting your car impounded.

Overview of Expired Registration Laws – It’s Illegal to Drive Once Tags Lapse

Before diving into the specifics on towing and impound fees, let’s start with a quick primer on what it means to have an expired registration in the first place.

Your car’s registration renewal date is shown on your vehicle registration card. It coincides with your birthday if you are an individual registrant. The Department of Motor Vehicles sends you a renewal notice one month before the expiration date as a reminder to renew your registration.

  • On the renewal date, your current vehicle registration, license plate stickers or tags all expire. Driving past this date with expired stickers is illegal.
  • You have to officially renew the vehicle registration with the DMV to receive your new validation stickers for the next year. These renewal stickers must be placed on your license plate.
  • If you are driving and get pulled over by law enforcement, they will check that your tags are current. Expired stickers can warrant a citation.
  • Penalties for an expired registration violation include fines, which vary by state. But as we’ll see next, even worse than a ticket is the possibility of getting your vehicle impounded if you’re expired.

Can the Police Tow Your Car for Having Expired Tags?

Now we come to the crux of the matter – do expired tags mean the cops can tow and impound your car? Unfortunately in most areas, the answer is a definitive yes. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Police absolutely have the right to tow vehicles with expired registrations in most jurisdictions. It’s considered a traffic violation.
  • Local city ordinances and laws may also specifically permit impounding vehicles with expired license plate stickers.
  • A tow truck will be called and your car towed away to a police impound lot or private impound yard.
  • You’ll have to deal with the hassle of retrieving it from the impound lot, which often involves renewal fees, ticket fees, towing/storage fees, etc. It gets very expensive!
  • In some locales, vehicle impounding is not allowed for only an expired registration violation. Check local laws. But don’t count on avoiding a tow!
  • Bottom line: driving on expired tags, even just days or weeks past expiration, makes you liable to be pulled over, cited, and towed in most areas. It’s a routine justification for impounding a vehicle.

How to Avoid Tickets, Fines, and Towing From Expired Registration?

Clearly you want to avoid the expensive headaches that come with an expired registration. Here are some tips:

  • Renew your registration a month or more before the expiration date. This accounts for processing time.
  • If you realize your tags are expired, stop driving the vehicle immediately until you can renew. Otherwise you risk towing and citations every time you drive.
  • Renew your registration ASAP online or by visiting the DMV. This makes you legal and stops the ticking clock towards impounding.
  • If you get pulled over while driving to renew expired tags, calmly explain the situation to the officer and show your receipt. There’s a chance they’ll let you go without a ticket. But not always!
  • If your car does get towed for expired registration, act quickly to retrieve it from impound. The daily storage fees at these lots really add up, costing you more money the longer the car sits there.
  • Sign up for renewal reminders by email, text, and mail when you register so you never miss your vehicle’s expiration date.

What If You Can’t Afford to Renew Your Car’s Registration?

For many folks, coming up with the registration renewal fee poses a real hardship. Unfortunately, circumstances like job loss or an emergency expense don’t put your registration obligations on hold. Here are some options if you can’t afford to renew:

  • See if your state offers registration fee payment plans for those in need. You may be able to renew in affordable installments.
  • Research non-profit organizations and charities in your area that provide financial assistance with DMV fees and vehicle registration costs.
  • If your car is worth more than the registration renewal fee, consider a title loan using the vehicle as collateral to get the funds together.
  • As a absolute last resort, you may need to sell the vehicle if unable to renew its registration. Otherwise you’ll incur tickets, towing fees, etc that add up.
  • Do NOT continue driving on expired stickers out of financial necessity. While understandable, this will result in far greater expenses in fines and impounding fees down the road.

Keep Your Car Legal: Remember to Renew Your Tags!

The takeaway here is that an expired vehicle registration is not just an inconvenience. It can lead to hundreds of dollars in penalties that financially stressed folks can ill afford. Avoid a world of hurt by taking steps to renew your car’s tags on time every year:

  • Mark the expiration date prominently on your calendar every time you renew.
  • Sign up for helpful reminders as your renewal date approaches – the DMV offers notice by mail, email, phone, and text message.
  • Set a recurring annual reminder on your smartphone’s calendar to go off a month before your tags expire.
  • When you get new stickers after renewing, double check the expiration date and note it down.

Letting your registration lapse is an easy mistake to make in the busy shuffle of life. But a little planning goes a long way towards keeping your car legally registered and avoiding tickets, towing, and headaches! Check in with your state’s DMV website for renewal notifications to stay on schedule.


Having expired tags on your car can lead to expensive tickets, fines, towing fees, and major hassles. Avoid problems by renewing your vehicle registration on time annually according to your expiration date. Most states permit impounding cars with expired stickers as an enforcement mechanism. Stay up-to-date on your registration renewals to keep your car fully legal and yourself headache free! Your wallet will thank you.

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