Temporary tags – those paper tags you get from dealers when you buy a car – are appearing everywhere, at increasing rates. This is curious, especially since automobile inventory has been historically low and the cost of buying even used cars is historically high. Is everyone still out there purchasing vehicles?
The answer is no, not even close. Many temporary tags long ago expired or are completely fake. The autos sporting these tags have owners who are trying to skirt the system, to various degrees.
Some keep their legitimate temp tags past the expiration date to postpone registration fees for as long as possible. But many keep the tags to avoid all state costs that come with owning a car. These include tolls, fees, inspections, and tickets associated with traffic light cameras, for instance. The plates are especially attractive to anyone with a suspended license or a history of previous accidents, fines, or vehicle arrests which prevent them from legally registering a vehicle. If the car isn’t registered, you can get away with virtually anything, and unethical drivers are happy to keep their paper plates for as long as they can get away with it.
On a recent drive to Dallas, I’m not exaggerating when I say that at any given time, I could see at least two cars with paper plates. Most flapped in the breeze, unsecured at the bottom, so if a citizen or officer tried to read the plate, they’d be out of luck. That alone is cause for a fine. Add on this additional caveat from the TxDMV website: “TxDMV issues temporary permits for private or commercial vehicles subject to Texas registration laws, but not authorized to travel on Texas highways due to the lack of registration or lack of reciprocity with the state or country in which the vehicle is registered.” This means that even cars with legitimate paper tags are not allowed to drive on major highways, so everyone I saw that day was driving illegally.
How are so many people getting away with this? And where are they getting these paper tags?
According to TxDMV, temporary tags are issued to vehicle buyers as temporary registration until the dealer completes the title and registration process. They are also issued to dealers for use during demonstrations, vehicle transfers, or for loaner cars.
Recognizing that dealers were the obvious place to start, TxDMV put forth House Bill 3927, passed in 2021, which gives TxDMV the authority to “deny an auto dealer access to the temporary tag database if there is evidence of fraudulent activity and to establish a limit to the number of temporary tags a dealer may obtain in a calendar year.”
This seems like a punitive action that would deter dealers from playing the system, but for every ethical and law-abiding dealer, there are fraudulent ones that have applied for their licenses using fake photos of a dealership and submitting false paperwork. They pay a fee to register, then they make a whole lot of money selling fake paper plates.
The TxDMV has no real control over these criminals – only the police can pursue and arrest them. While the agency works with the authorities to find fraudulent dealers, their partnership is only partly effective.
According to The Drive, in 2021 there were an estimated 2 million fake Texas paper tags across the country. And the dealers selling them don’t even try to hide it. Facebook Marketplace, Instagram, Craigslist, Snapchat – all of these popular social media sites are used by “dealers,” who frequently and openly post ads for paper tags and accept payment – generally around $50 – through Zelle and PayPal.
TxDMV says that since the passing of House Bill 3927, and a later meeting on January 27, 2022, some progress has been made. “Within the first 10 days [of the meeting], six dealers engaging in suspect activities were prevented from accessing the system,” they report.
They are now considering additional options such as fingerprinting dealer applicants, inspecting dealership locations prior to issuing a license, and enhancing background reviews, including criminal histories. This is a more proactive approach to the problem, but TxDMV still relies on the police force to catch the criminals who find ways around the system.
If you suspect a licensed dealer is misusing temporary tags, you are encouraged to report the dealer via the TxDMV Online Complaint Portal at www.TxDMV.gov/complaints.