What Are Car Tags and Why Do You Need Them?

Car tags are legally required vehicle identifiers that show proof of registration, insurance, and ownership, and are only valid for one year at a time.
Written by Abbey Orzech
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
The tags on cars are stickers that verify a vehicle’s registration in the state it’s owned it. Your car tags are good for one year only and will typically go on the corner of your license plate.
Between your vehicle’s registration, license plate, insurance, and identification number, there is a lot to keep straight when it comes to your car. Getting a notice in the mail for soon-to-be expired car tags may have you cycling through all the different IDs of your vehicle to remember which one has to do with the tags on your car.
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What are tags on cars?

The tags on cars are typically stickers on the license plate or cards kept inside the car’s cabin that show proof of registration. It is illegal to drive an unregistered vehicle on public roads, so car tags let law enforcement officers know you’re driving lawfully—at least where your vehicle’s registration is concerned.
Registration stickers have alphanumeric codes that display the last month and year in which your registration is valid through. For example, your car tags may read “NOV 22”, meaning your current vehicle registration would be considered expired after the last day of November 2022.
Aside from the proof of registration, valid car tags also confirm proof of insurance, proof of vehicle ownership, and proof of good standing on any required car taxes. They are legally required at all times, and not having tags or having expired tags can lead to fines and other legal penalties.

Are tags different from license plates?

Yes, car tags and license plates are different. Both are part of your car’s registration but typically, tags are placed on the license plate.
Your tags usually come as small stickers and need to be renewed annually, while your vehicle’s license plate is assigned by your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) one time and won’t change unless the car is reregistered in a new state.

When do car tags expire?

Since expired car tags can get you into legal trouble and lead to potentially hefty fines, it’s important to stay on top of their validation. And unfortunately, there isn’t a blanket expiration date for everyone so you’ll need to be aware of your specific renewal timeline.
Your vehicle tags will expire one year from your previous vehicle registration. If you’re unsure of when that was, simply check your current registration tags for the month and year listed. That will tell you the last valid month of your registration.
Your state’s DMV should also send a renewal notice to the address associated with your vehicle’s registration a few weeks before the expiry date.
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What should you do when your car tags expire?

When you’re approaching the expiration of your car tags, you’ll want to take care of their renewal as soon as possible. There are several avenues vehicle owners can take to renew their tags, so pick the one that is the most convenient for you!
You’ll need documentation for any of these renewal methods, though the specific documents you need vary between states. Be sure to check your state’s requirements, but they may include:
  • Driver’s license
  • Proof of insurance
  • Vehicle title or lease agreement
  • VIN number
  • Registration form
  • Form of payment
If you have a couple of weeks before the expiration and prefer good ol’ snail mail, you can choose to mail your renewal directly to your local DMV. You’ll need the renewal paperwork (often included in your renewal notice) and a non-cash payment, both postmarked before or by the expiration date to avoid additional fees.
With some wiggle room before your expiration, you could also visit your state’s DMV website to make a renewal appointment online. It can sometimes take weeks before you can go in for your appointment, though, so be sure you have enough time for this route. 
Of course, you could also handle your renewal directly on the state’s DMV website, though you will have to wait for your new tags to arrive by mail.
If you’re a bit short on time and need to renew your tags right away, you have some options. You could also check with your insurance company to see if they offer in-house DMV services like registration renewal to catch a much shorter line and a wait time that doesn’t make you late for dinner.
In some states, the DMV even has freestanding kiosks in public places that can take care of basic DMV services. After entering your information and submitting your registration fees, you can immediately print your new registration card and new tags.

How to find cheap car insurance

Sometimes, your car tag renewal date comes up out of nowhere. If you’re not planning for the registration fees, you may have to dip into your savings to foot the bill and avoid an even higher fee. Be prepared for that expense and start racking up some savings on your
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Car tags are legally required to show a vehicle’s proof of registration, proof of insurance, and proof of ownership. Car tags allow the state, government, and law enforcement officials to track down the owner of that specific vehicle if they need to.
Yes, you absolutely can get pulled over for expired tags and in fact, it is one of the main things cops look for on the road.
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