Whether you think they are a waste of money or a cool statement, vanity license plates are like customized name tags for your car.
Issued by every state in the U.S., vanity plates are a way to personalize your vehicle with a name, a phrase, a slogan, or an abbreviation. Costs for the special plates vary widely from state to state but usually include an initial charge of $5 to $100 plus an annual renewal fee of $80 or more.
A customized license plate number must be unique to that state. To help you find out if your choice is available, many states have a free online search system.
Each state has its own regulations for the letters, numbers, special characters, and spaces allowed for its customized license plates. Like the fees, these rules also vary.
For example, Ohio requires no less than four and no more than seven letters (or combination of letters and numbers). Iowa allows up to seven characters and numbers by specifies no punctuation marks, no abbreviations for a government agency (like DOT), and nothing that suggests inflammatory words or phrases in any language.
New York bans any plates with the letters or “GOD.” “FDNY,” or “NYPD.”
Each state has the right to reject your request. The state of Utah, for example, rejects about 1,000 vanity plate ideas each year. State DMVs also reserve the right to revoke a plate as offensive even if it has already been approved.
V for Vanity Plates in Virginia
A 2007 survey by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and Stefan Lonce, author of the book License to Roam: Vanity License Plates and the Stories They Tell, found that there were 9.7 million vehicles with vanity plates in the U.S.
At the time of that survey and again in 2019, Virginia was the state with the most personalized license plates. About 16 percent of all vehicles in Virginia have vanity plates. Compare that percentage with Wyoming, where just under 3 percent of the state’s vehicles have personalized plates.
The first driver to order a customized license plate lived in Pennsylvania in 1931. At the time, the only vanity option was to add your initials to your plate. The present-day choices of unique number and letter combinations started in 1965.
If you’re thinking of forgoing the random combinations of letters and numbers for your own personalized car name tag, it’s wise to give it some careful thought.
Sometimes vanity plates cause more trouble than they’re worth. A California driver who had “NULL” on his license plate collected $12,049 in ticket fines because his state’s computerized system used that word in forms when a vehicle didn’t have registered plates.
Come acara owners are seeking to commemorate the tumultuous events of the year 2020 with vanity plates. Some ideas are more successful than others. The state of Indiana recently rejected “WTF 2020,” for instance.
It’s hard to fathom why people would want to drive around reminding people of the pandemic (as if we could forget about it), but many states now have multiple versions of COVID-19 on their plates. Here are the four varieties issued by the state of Connecticut during 2020.
And this writer recently saw a shiny red pick-up truck with the plate “THX COVID.” Perhaps the government stimulus check helped with the down payment?