Custom License Plate

Custom license plates, also known as vanity license plates, allow drivers to choose their own combination of letters and numbers instead of the standard plates issued by the DMV. Custom plates give drivers a chance to show off their personality, support a cause, make a statement, or just have some fun with unique letter/number mixes.

Getting a Custom License Plate

The process of getting a custom license plate varies by state, but generally involves paying an extra fee when initially registering the vehicle or renewing registration. Fees are used to help fund state programs and initiatives. Some states charge annual fees to keep a custom plate.

Custom plate applicants go through an approval process for any requested letter/number combination. Options need to meet content guidelines – plates cannot contain anything offensive, suggestive, or related to drugs, violence, crime, or illegal activity. The DMV screens requests and denies inappropriate, already-issued, or difficult to read options. Applicants may need to submit 2-3 options in case their first choice gets rejected.

Once approved, custom plates get manufactured and mailed out or made available for pickup at the local DMV office. Turnaround times range from 4-8 weeks generally.

Types of Custom Plates Available

States offer an array of custom plate designs catering to interests like:

  • Sports teams – pro, college, local high school mascots
  • Hobbies – hunting/fishing themes, guitar designs for musicians
  • Causes – conservation/wildlife plates to support those initiatives
  • Professions – firefighter, police, teacher plates
  • Personal passions – pets, favorite activities/hobbies
  • Businesses can sometimes qualify for custom fleet plates
  • In addition to pre-made graphic plates, some states allow drivers extra customization with background images, color schemes, plate frames to further personalize the look.

Vanity Plate Ideas

Vanity Plate Ideas

When selecting plate letters/numbers, most people go for one of a few approaches:

  • Clever sayings/phrases using letter/number combinations to substitute words
  • Initials and birth year
  • Nicknames
  • Date combinations (wedding date, birthdays)
  • Plays on last name
  • Inside jokes and fun personal references
  • Puns mixing numbers and letters
  • Words spelled backwards or with removed vowels

Using symbol and character substitutions allows applicants to sneak more words and meanings through the approval process. Examples include using a forward slash for “or,” the number five for S, zero for O, dollar sign for S, and more.

Related Post: How Much Is A Custom License Plate In Florida?

Popularity of Custom Plates

Custom license plates have grown substantially in popularity over the last 25 years. In the late 1990’s, around 2.7 million vehicles had vanity plates. By 2016 over 10 million custom plates were registered across the United States.

California and Texas issue the greatest number of personalized plates. Virginia tops the list in percentage, with over 16% of vehicles registering vanity plates.

New Hampshire was the first state to make custom plates available back in 1971. It also boasts one of the most free-speech-friendly vanity plate programs, rejecting less than one percent of requests. Overall New Hampshire estimates over 40 percent of cars have vanity plates.

The proliferation of vanity plates reflects growing consumer appetite for customization and personal expression. Cars remain one of the most common outlet for those desires. The extra fees also make them appealing revenue sources for states.

Famous Plates

Vanity plates don’t just showcase the personalities of everyday vehicle owners. Celebrities and public figures often use them to display their own personal brands, trademark sayings, or just a bit of humor.

Some famous vanity plates include

Late night show hosts Stephen Colbert’s plate referencing the show: “1 COLBERT”

Businesswoman and TV star Kim Kardashian’s appropriately named plate: “Wifey 7”

Metallica drummer and founding member Lars Ulrich’s plate giving a shoutout to his band: “MR TALLICA”

Comedian Larry David’s self-deprecating plate: “LD PRETTY”

Politicians also frequently use vanity plates, like California Governor Jerry Brown’s practical “GOV GRB” plate for example. Some even incorporate campaign slogans like Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel did with his “NOBS N OH”.

Vanity Plate Ideas and Inspiration

Searching license plate ideas online can generate clever suggestions when trying to come up with a custom plate number/letter combo. From funny phrases to cool references, inspirational quotes to retro throwbacks, there are lots of great databases and examples.

Since availability depends on state and what combinations are already registered, applicants won’t know for sure if their request gets approved until going through the process. However, browsing other driver’s creative custom plates can definitely get the inspirational wheels spinning for your own personalized options.

Prose and Cons of Custom License Plates

Pros of Custom License Plates

Custom license plates offer a variety of benefits:

  1. Memorable & Meaningful: Drivers can highlight interests, passions, affiliations, origins, careers, beliefs, and personalities. Vanity plates help vehicles stand out through personalization.
  1. Public Self-Expression: The plates give vehicle owners a direct, rolling billboard for sharing views, humor, and creativity.
  1. Economical: In states like California, custom plates cost about $50 more than standard registration over 5 years. Spread out annually, that comes to only $10 more per year.
  1. Revenue Generation: Most vanity plate fees assist state budgets, providing extra funding for government services and programs. Since the 1970’s, California alone has generated over $700 million from personalized plates.

In some cases, a portion of annual renewal fees support specific causes, like conservation efforts which makes them popular purchases.

  1. Great Gifts: Vanity plates can make fantastic presents for car enthusiasts, personalized with meanings tied to the recipient. Receivers get reminded of the giver every time they see the plates!

Cons of Custom License Plates

Along with upsides, some drawbacks exist as well around vanity plates, like:

  1. Extra Costs: The additional fees, production expenses, and potential annual charges add more financial burden when registering a vehicle. For some drivers, standard plates work just fine so custom plates become luxury add-ons.
  1. Denial of Requests: Coming up with the perfect letter/number combo doesn’t guarantee approval. States deny around 10-15% of requests for various reasons – indecency, confusion with other plates, illegal connotations. Rejection after getting hopes up can be a frustrating letdown.
  1. Misinterpretations: An innocent concept for a plate message or phrase during application may get misconstrued later and perceived as offensive. Without contexts, viewers may make inaccurate assumptions.
  1. Security & Privacy Concerns: Personalized plates by nature draw more attention. For those desiring anonymity or concerned with safety, a custom plate could heighten risks of people remembering, tracking or keying in on a vehicle.
  1. Future Plate Changes: Drivers who switch vehicles have an added step of contacting the DMV to transfer plate registrations. They also may need to pay fees for accompanying new plates.
  1. No Reissue Guarantees: Once returning standard plates, drivers aren’t assured re-securing a personalized number sequence in the future. Another applicant could register it in the interim.

Reasons for Denial of Custom Plate Requests

State vehicle departments can refuse to approve custom plate submissions for many reasons, most commonly:

  • References deemed offensive, vulgar, racist, sexist, homophobic or explicit
  • Calls to illegal activity – drug use references, criminal suggestions
  • Security risks – plates containing “FBI”, “DEA”, “CIA”, “POLICE” etc.
  • Excess character requests – length beyond what formats allow
  • Designs that obstruct clarity – confusing letter/number mixes
  • Requests matching unacceptable formats like all numbers or all letters
  • Plates too closely mirroring existing sequences
  • Phrases promoting violence or dangerous behavior
  • Attempts to replicate state colors and designs used on official plates

The rules aim to filter clearly problematic content from representing on public roads while allowing for creativity and personal expression under the First Amendment. But standards and sensitivities range somewhat from state agencies. Each gets latitude enforcing guidelines how they see fit. As a result, some denied phrasing in one place earns approval in other locations.

Applicants who face rejection of a custom plate request can usually submit an appeal to the state explaining meanings not obvious or outlining changes to make combinations more permissible. Many compromised by picking alternate selections approved on initial submissions.

How States Use Custom Plate Fees?

How States Use Custom Plate Fees?

Revenue streams generated from fees associated with personalized license plates help fund state budgets in a range of ways, including:

  • Offset DMV operating expenses not covered by vehicle registration costs
  • Extra money for road construction and infrastructure projects
  • Support schools – K-12 budgets and state college/university systems
  • Finance environmental conservation like parks, trails, habitats, wildlife
  • Cover budget shortfalls from year to year
  • Boost tourism bureaus and marketing promotions
  • Grants for cultural organizations – libraries, museums, historical sites
  • Aid military veteran assistance programs

For example, California uses millions in annual vanity plate revenue to underwrite environmental efforts like protecting wetlands, coastal regions, endangered animals, and redwood forests. Other states route portions of fees toward hospitals, police and safety campaigns like Amber


How much is custom license plate in CA?

In California, custom license plates typically cost around $50-$103 depending on the type of customization chosen.

How much is custom license plate in NY?

In New York, custom license plates cost a one-time fee of $60, with an additional annual fee of $31.25 for personalized plates.

Are custom license plates legal in Texas?

Yes, custom license plates are legal in Texas, and drivers can personalize their plates for an additional fee.

How much do custom license plates cost in Virginia?

In Virginia, custom license plates typically cost around $10-$20 extra in addition to the standard registration fees.

How long does it take to get custom plates in Virginia?

It usually takes around 4-6 weeks to receive custom license plates in Virginia after placing an order.

Why does Virginia have so many custom plates?

Virginia offers a wide variety of custom license plates to allow drivers to express their individuality and support various causes or organizations. This diversity leads to a high number of custom plates on the roads.

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