In the United States, a license plate is issued by an agency of the state government. The appearances of license plates are often chosen to contain colors, slogans, or symbols associated with the jurisdiction issuing the plate. While you can be issued standard license plates, you may also be interested in receiving custom license plates with a special design or a personalized serial number.
Custom License Plates
In each of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, drivers can buy extra-cost vanity plates, which are custom license plates that have a custom serial (sequence of numbers and letter). Usually, custom serials cannot not contain obscene or profane messages. However, this standard of what is unacceptable varies between jurisdictions.
In certain jurisdictions, vehicle owners can also pay a fee for specialty plates. With these plates, the plate serial is usually chosen by the licensing agency, but the owner chooses a plate design that is not the same as a normal license plate for that jurisdiction. For example, a student or alumnus of an area university may purchase custom license plates plate with the school’s logo, or a camping enthusiast may decide to pay a fee for a plate showing a nature scene. A percentage of the extra cost of these license plates usually goes to a school or non-profit organization as a donation.
Usually, specialty plates can be purchased without any proof of any particular affiliation or status, with the exception being plates that indicate membership or the ability to use in an emergency like an EMT, amateur radio operator, firefighter or a police officer.
Other custom license plates can indicate certain accomplishments or backgrounds of the driver. For example, a veteran who was a Purple Heart recipient or a prisoner of war may obtain a Purple Heart or POW custom license plate after presenting the necessary documentation of his or her status. Because custom license plates are government issued, under the First Amendment they must be issued as a type to any organization or group that qualifies under equal terms as any other organization to be issued a type of custom license plate.
How to Get Custom License Plates
You can get custom license plates from your local Department of Motor Vehicles. To order custom license plates, your DMV will explain what exactly is allowed in custom license plates in that state. Most states will charge an initial fee as well as an annual fee to have custom license plates. Each DMV has specific forms or ways to sign up for vanity plates. For example, to get custom license plates in New York City, you can search online or call a number to do a license plate search and then order one with a credit card. In California, you can order custom license plates online with a credit card or use a request form along with a money order or a check.
Doing a License Plate Search
Although many sites may advertise their license plate search services, the best way to conduct a license plate search is by going through your local Department of Motor Vehicles. DMVs will not only provide a license plate search services to help you look through custom license plates and custom serials, but they will also help you determine if you eligible to receive custom license plates. Many DMVs provide both online search functions as well as phone numbers that you can call to see if the serial you want is available.
For example, in the state of New York, you can only receive custom license plates if you have a valid registration of a vehicle in New York State. You cannot purchase customized license plates if your registration expires with 60 days of the date or the mailing address of your DMV registration record is not the same as your current mailing address. IF you meet these qualifications, you must then have certain information ready, such as your current license plate number and your registration class code. You must then provide the specifications of your plates. If you are using a custom serial, you must explain what the serial means. You can then pay the DMV with your credit card to purchase your custom plates, which will arrive in the mail.
Returning Custom License Plates
Most states do not require you to surrender your custom license plates if you move out of the state. However, there are some that will ask you to surrender them. If your DMV asks you to surrender your plates, you will usually be able to send them to a provided address without a charge. Some states will also let you surrender your custom license plate if you release interest in your vanity plate in order to switch back to a standard license plate.
Custom License Plate Frames
Another way to personalize your car without getting customized license plates from your DMV is by purchasing a license plate frame. License plate frames as well as license plate holders can be purchased from third party venders. There are many designs for license plate frames, so they are a good way to express yourself with your car. For example, you can designer frames that can be made of different materials. If you are a fan of a particular sports team, you can buy license plate frames to represent that as well. There are also license plate frames with car logo designs. If you wish to show association to an organization, you may be able to find a license plate frame for it. There are license plate frames for countries, military service, sororities and frats, religious affiliation, scenic pictures, funny sayings, and more.