In Tennessee, the license plate "follows the owner" and not the vehicle. The plate may be transferred to a different vehicle for a small fee.
When the owner of a vehicle no longer meets the criteria for a specific plate, if the eligibility occurs prior to the expiration of the registration, i.e., if a holder of a firefighter plate ceases to be a firefighter, the owner should surrender the plate to their respective county clerk to in turn be issued a regular passenger plate. Otherwise, at time of renewal, if the criteria no longer applies, then a regular passenger plate will be issued.
When the holder of a specialty or personalized plate of any type no longer wishes to maintain the plate, at time of renewal, a regular passenger plate may be issued. At that time, the county clerk may ask for the former plate to be surrendered.
Tenn. Code Ann. Section 55-3-103(g) When any plate becomes so mutilated or effaced as to no longer meet the requirements of the law, the holder shall apply to the department for suitable replacement.