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Posted on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 5:57 a.m.

Replacing expired license plate tags easy way to avoid tickets

By Rich Kinsey

'Tis the season for officers to easily spot expired plates. I am not sure why, but I like to write expired plate tickets. I am a terrible procrastinator myself, but as non-hazardous traffic citations go, I like to spot and write expired plate tickets, and this is the best time of year to do that.

Right now, in the first months of the New Year, everyone in the state should have a white or yellow month tab in the upper right corner of their license plate. If they are showing a green month sticker denoting a 2012 plate or, heaven forbid, an orange sticker denoting a 2011 plate, they have an expired plate and are easy pickings for an observant officer on patrol.


Expired tags on license plates can indicate any one of an array of violations to a police officer on duty.

File Photo

Each year the registered owner receives a renewal notice from the Secretary of State in the mail about 45 days prior to the vehicle registration’s expiration. This is a reason why you should change your address with the Secretary of State if you move from one address to another. Changes of address on Michigan driver’s licenses or state identification cards are free from the Secretary of State and are mandated by law.

Renewing license plates can be done online, by mail or in person and is thus easier than ever to accomplish by the expiration date. If you are late and do not get your license plates renewed by the birthday of the registered owner, the Secretary of State’s office will charge you a $10 late fee.

There are several reasons why expired plates are a good violation for an officer to pay attention to. First and foremost, all of us have to pony up the money for our license plate tabs. It is not fun to cut the check, give up the credit card or open one’s wallet to pay the Secretary of State for the privilege of motoring on the Great Lakes State’s highways and byways, but it is necessary to keep those roads open and reasonably free of potholes that can swallow small cars, blow out tires and bend wheel rims.

Another reason officers should investigate expired plates is because it may be a symptom of a more serious violation. People who have suspended or revoked licenses can not insure their vehicles. Insurance companies will not cover these unlicensed drivers. Without proof of insurance, one can not renew their plates. Therefore expired plates can mean an unlicensed driver, an uninsured motorist or both.

People with warrants also are bashful about showing up at the Secretary of State’s office to renew their license plates. Therefore the expired plate may belong to someone with outstanding warrants.

Owners of vehicles also should remember that it is illegal for them to knowingly allow someone who is suspended, revoked or has never attained a driver’s license to drive a car. Furthermore if that unlicensed driver gets in crash and the insurance company finds out that the owner and insurer knew they were allowing an unlicensed driver to drive, the insurance company may not be liable to pay for the damages.

It does not seem fair, but remember if you are driving someone else’s car that has an expired plate, the police can issue you the expired plate ticket.

Before renewing your license plate, take a look at the license plate itself. Is it readable to an officer following you? If it is rusted or oxidized and can not be read, you might get pulled over by an officer. A license plate has to be readable when operated on the roadway.

When renewing your plates ask for a new plate if yours is rusted, oxidized, faded or worn off. You will not get the same plate number, but you will get a nice clean shiny license plate at no additional charge. Make sure you bring the damaged, rusted, oxidized and unreadable plate in, to the SOS office when you ask for a new plate. If you have a vanity or personalized plate and need a replacement, you will have to contact the Secretary of State office for the availability and processing of such a replacement request.

Proper display of the license plate is key as well. A plate obscured by snow, dirt or grime also is a violation if it can not be read. Plastic holders around the plate that obscure the license plate are illegal and also can constitute an obstruction to the plate.

Full plastic plate covers either clear or smoked are illegal as well. The reason for this is the instance has been known when enterprising scammers have printed color copies of plates on paper or card stock and attached them to cars. In order that they do not deteriorate when they get wet, the scammers then place plastic covers over them; that is why plastic plate covers are illegal.

Remember also, if you are renewing multiple license plates at once, that the month sticker has a number on it corresponding to the license plate it is assigned. Do not mix up the tabs and place them on the wrong license plate. If you do mix up the tabs go back to the SOS office and they will replace them for you — I know because I was guilty of such buffoonery once.

While you are tending to your license plate, make sure that your license plate light or lights are operational. It is not a bad idea to turn your lights on and do a walk around on your car to make sure your headlights and taillights are all operating properly. To check your brake lights’ operation turn your hazard lights on and do a walk around.

If you have mobility issues or just want to venture out into the winter wonderland as little as possible, carefully back near a storefront’s large plate glass window and make the observation of tail and brake lights using your rear-view mirrors — which also should be in place, operational and unobscured.

Headlight high beams and low beams can be checked from the warmth and security of your vehicle by turning them on in front of your garage door or a wall. Avoid using your neighbor’s front picture window for such vehicle inspections, as this might be construed as annoying or creepy.

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who writes about crime and safety for


Lloyd Payer

Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 1:17 a.m.

Floridia plate 29.00 Michigan plate 240.00 what plate would you buy Michigan taxes are threw the roof no income taxe in Floridia lower property taxes where do you thank why I moving. heat & utilities half as much as Michigan besides I wouldn,t have that rusty looking mackenaw bridge plate on my car tax tax thats all Michigan knows its like a miafia thats can,t get enough money.


Sun, Feb 10, 2013 : 3:41 a.m.

"easy pickings for an observant officer" What a horrible attitude. Screw you Dick. Having stupid laws so predatory armed tax collectors can harass the citizenry is defacto tyranny.


Sat, Feb 9, 2013 : 11:17 p.m.

Did you write yourself two tickets when you had the stickers on the wrong plates? :D I think the A2 police should pull over everybody with a plastic frame around the license plate, like all the dealers put on the vehicles they sell. Who knows how many unlicensed or uninsured motorists they'll find after they pull over every single vehicle in the city? I think the reason the plastic shields are illegal is because they interfere with the function of the police radars.

Tom Todd

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 2:45 p.m.

WHAT A SCAM if it triples I'm no longer paying,this should be capped at thirty dollars per family car like a few other states.


Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 5:29 a.m.

Funny, I was just putting the tags on my wife's car, and thought what an antiquated process this is. Yes, it's a convenient excuse for pulling people over when they're not current. But is this really the best system we can come up with, after all these years? Ad while we're at it, if the plastic license plate frames are illegal, why does the state allow car dealers to all place them on new cars? Start changing behavior there.

Ann English

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 12:51 a.m.

Why bring the old license plate to the Secretary of State office? I would think that cutting the plate in half and disposing of the two pieces in separate trash receptacles would be enough to prevent anyone from using it to commit identity theft. You didn't say to bring your FADED license plate to the Secretary of State office. Not that THAT isn't just as good a reason to replace it as corrosion.


Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 12:13 a.m.

So really more than a safety officer, out there protecting the public-- in essence you are also a tax collector/enforcer. Okay, I get that (sort of) but to taken special pleasure in it? I must say am losing a little respect for you in that.

Frustrated in A2

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 6:42 a.m.

If you look next to Rich's picture it says he is retired.

J. Zarman

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 4:54 p.m.

Also, people, please brush the snow (scrape the ice) off your vehicle's lights. Amazing how many oncoming vehicles I see which have the faintest glow where their headlights should be, because the driver left them covered with 3-4 inches of snow. Please remove the snow and ice from your headlights, running lights, marker (parking) lights, tail lights, brake lights, backup lights, etc. Observant drivers thank you in advance.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:22 p.m.

Another excellent article, Rich. it's not unreasonable to expect people to act responsibly, let people howl in indignation all they want. (compile the book!!!!!!) as always, Madeleine Baier a.k.a. Mady


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:16 p.m.

dont forget to consider including your state parks pass along with your vehicles registration. at ten dollars or a prorated portion thereof this is a great value and supports great resources. at nine dollars a day entry to most parks you get your money back after one use.


Sat, Feb 9, 2013 : 11:21 p.m.

When the $10 license plate "passport" sticker came along, I thought it was the greatest deal ever offered by the state of Michigan. Now, I fear that the price will rise and rise and rise.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

well maybe ill see you at the park. thank you for the fee increase update.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 4:10 p.m.

Up to $11 this year. Still a bargain. PS I posted this about 15 minutes ago and it just disappeared. Since there is nothing the least bit controversial about it, I am assuming it was a system malfunction. If it appears twice, that is why.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 4:04 p.m.

Up to $11 this year. Still a bargain.

Dog Guy

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 3:01 p.m.

Be prompt! The Secretary of State's office will charge you a $10 late fee and the Snyder gang plans to triple the fees ASAP.

Kyle Mattson

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 10:53 p.m.

I'm going tonight Dog Guy! Luckily the SOS location by me has one of those 24/7 ATM-esque machines so I won't have to wait in line.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:45 p.m.

I guess some people have the extra $80 to pay for the fine and then pay for new registration, sounds like a good way to help the State budget.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:59 p.m.

Yes, Agent Kinsey is currently describing his role as State Tax Collection & Enforcement Agent, not as a police officer.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:15 p.m.

"Full plastic plate covers either clear or smoked are illegal as well." I will take you to task on this one Rich. License plate covers are NOT de facto illegal. The ONLY thing the vehicle code states is that you may not OBSTRUCT the registration information on the plate. There is nothing written that says you cannot use a plate cover.

Boo Radley

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 5:29 p.m.

The language in the statute you cited is actually OBSCURE, not OBSTRUCT, and it states that the registration information may not be obscured or PARTIALLY obscured. I would say that all of the plate covers at least partially obscure the plate, especially since they are usually tinted.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:09 p.m.

Uh, thanks for working so hard to keep us all safe, officer. I'll get right on that -

Boo Radley

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:04 p.m.

I really liked it back when all registration plates expired on the same day (March 1st, I think it was). If you were to fly over the county on that day, all you would see is a huge glow of red and blue lights ....

Renee S.

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 12:33 p.m.

I renewed mine but never got the sticker in the mail. Can I still get a ticket for that?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 6:44 p.m.

Billy, stop the hyperbole. Neither No Proof of Registration nor Expired Plate have ever been part of the Driver Resposibility Fee law. You may have been thinking about No Proof of Insurance which caused $200 a year for 2 years if you failed to show insurance to the court after receiving the ticket. That DRF was just dropped in October.,4670,7-127--287239--rss,00.html

Woman in Ypsilanti

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 6:39 p.m.

I forgot to put my tags on this year even though I renewed my plate. I got a parking ticket for parking with expired plates but since I had the tag in the car, I put the tag on the plate and took a picture to prove that I had the tag. I emailed it to the parking ref and they were nice and let me off the hook.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:21 p.m. can get a ticket that turns into around $2000 in additional fines and fees over 2 years if you don't have PROOF of your vehicle registration in your car (even though when they punch your license plate into the computer it shows up as an active registration). Thank granmole for that's one thing to levy a "Driver Responsibility Fee" on people convicted of DUIs......but law abiding residents that actually DID pay their registration are still grossly punished for not having a piece of paper on them that's ENTIRELY unnecessary in the first place...

Robert Granville

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

Yes. I have. Fought it. Lost. You are responsible for the failings of the USPS. At least that's the impression I took from the event.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 12:12 p.m.

OK, here's a question. Why do some drivers place the registration renewal sticker in the middle of the license plate, instead of the upper right-hand corner as instructed? Is this a personal way of showing one's civil disobedience? Or, is there some underlying meaning, possibly a middle-of-the-plater's club?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 5:19 p.m.

Ken, I've lived many places and I see it often. I can understand another corner, but these are smack-dab in the middle of the plate.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 4:03 p.m.

I think it's even simpler than that: people don't bother to read the form that the sticker is attached to that tells you where to put it.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 2:11 p.m.

Couple of reasons come to mind: 1. You have one of those frames and can't get the new sticker under it in a corner or something (yes, I know) 2. The old tag is deteriorated and stacking a new one on top may cause it to fall off. 3. To annoy people during the winter when it's too cold out to tell kids to get off their lawn.

Robert Granville

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

It is not an Ann Arbor thing. I'm curious as well but I know that much.


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 1:17 p.m.

Out there trolling again Ken?


Thu, Feb 7, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

It's an Ann Arbor thing, renewal stickers not placed correctly on a license plate. The Ann Arbor version of a vanity plate. Same crowd that plasters the rear of their cars with all sorts of bumper stickers.