State laws regarding registration and license plates vary from one state to the next. Registration is a sticker that is placed on your license plate, or windshield in a few states, and is due every year with most states. Laws surrounding if the actual license plate expires or must be replaced varies greatly though. Some states do not require you to replace your license plate tag unless it is damaged or unreadable while in other states their laws say that after a certain period of time license plates must be replaced with a new one.
For example, Florida Statutes (Section 320.06(1)(b)) require the replacement of all license plates every 10 years. The state of FL believes replacement is necessary because license plates must be fully reflectorized to ensure visibility for law enforcement purposes. So in Florida if your plate is currently 2 years old, you will not be required to replace it for another 8 years. Formally Florida's law had the license plates needing replaced every 5 years however it appears the plates are made so that the reflect coating stays visible for a longer period of time or the state wanted to cut back on the expense surrounding the replacement of license plates.
In Washington State it is required that you replace your license plates every 7 years. Here they say that the reflective coating on the plates only has a 5-year guarantee so by seven years they believe that the plate is ready to be replaced for a new one so that the reflective material is not compromised. This coating helps law enforcement officers easily identify vehicles in low visibility and poor weather conditions.
Every seven years in Washington State the Department of Licensing will automatically issue new license plates for your vehicle when you renew your vehicle registration (tabs as they refer to it). Once replaced, your current plates will be cancelled immediately by the DOL and their records will show your plates have been replaced.
Minnesota law requires that Department of Driver and Vehicle Services replace the plates on passenger vehicles (including personalized) every seven years. In MN if a driver sees a plate fee appearing on their renewal notice, it means that their plates are due for a seven year replacement.
In Texas license plates are also replaced every seven years due to the gradual loss of reflective material. Here if your renewal receipt indicates your plates are seven-years old, the TX county tax assessor-collector should automatically issue a new set of plates with the new windshield validation sticker at no additional charge when your registration is renewed. You can keep the old set of plates but the state says they should be destroyed to prevent the possibility of fraudulent use by unscrupulous people.
In New York the general re-issuing of license plates is prompted by state legislation and the Department of Motor Vehicles says it typically occurs every 10 years. In 2010 New York was going to require that all current vehicle registrants obtain new license plates when their registration expired however that mandatory re-issuance of license plates was cancelled. Due to public outcry against the mandatory $25 fee the NYS DMV was going to charge to get the new license plates drivers there no longer have to obtain the new plate at their registration renewal but can continue to keep and use their current, older license plates.
There are several states that do place an "expiration date" on your license plates and require you get replacement ones after a certain time period (from 5 to 10 years depending upon the state). These states tend to say the replacement is due to the reflective material used on the plates from wearing off and it also may be in part to raise funds for the state if there is a fee charged for the new plates, such as what New York was trying until they decided to cancel the mandatory replacement since the public was so vocal against it.
In some states that require the replacement of your license plates, such as Washington, if you want to keep your current license plate number on your new replacement license plate you can do so, but for a fee. To keep the same number on your new plate requires the state to custom manufacture the license plate (just as they do with personalized plates); there is an additional fee to keep your current plate number. In WA the fee is currently $20.
Proper care of license plates will not prevent its reflective coating from breaking down over time and there are states that are concerned about police and others being able to view your vehicle's tags as the reflective material deteriorates over time. In response to the reflective coating wearing off some states have laws in place that require the replacement of your license plate after a certain period of time. To find out about your state's laws contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles.
Whether or not your state requires your license plate to be replaced after a certain number of years have passed, most all states require that you show proof of car insurance when you register your car or renew your registration. Without having your auto insurance in place on your vehicle your DMV will not be issuing your registration or replacement license plates if it is time for them.