A Closer Look at Vanity Plate Laws in the US and Canada

You can add a touch of personality to your daily drive in a number of different ways. Attach a steering wheel cover, opt for custom lighting or add a unique vinyl wrap to the exterior. You can even get a bumper sticker if that’s your preference.

But what about your license plate? Every car has at least one, and in some parts of the world, two are necessary. For most drivers, this combination of letters and numbers is randomly assigned after purchasing and registering a vehicle.

Vanity plates give you the option to add a bit of customization to your license plate. So what do you need to remember before you apply for a vanity license plate in the US or Canada?

Vanity Plates vs. Personalized Plates

A vanity plate can either contain up to three numbers or one to seven letters only. Personalized plates can contain both letters and numbers.

Beyond that, the terms are often used interchangeably. It’s essential to know the difference because if you head to your local department of motor vehicles (DMV) and ask for a vanity plate, you may have to clarify what you want.

Vanity Plates in the United States

Getting a vanity plate in the United States is fairly simple. As long as you have a valid license plate on your current vehicle, you can apply for a custom plate. Start by coming up with your design plus a few alternatives if your request isn’t approved or is already in use in your state.

Think of what you want your plate to say, and then figure out different unique ways to mash the words up or swap out numbers for letters. In some states, you even have the option to put punctuation or other symbols, such as hearts or hands.

Once you’ve applied for your custom plate and it’s been approved, the waiting process begins. It can take anywhere from three to ten weeks, depending on the state, for your plate to arrive. Install it, and you’re ready to show off your personality.

Vanity Plates in Canada

For those living in Canada, getting a vanity plate isn’t much different than getting one in the States — as long as you live anywhere but Newfoundland or Labrador, where customized license plates aren’t allowed.

As with vanity plates in the United States, an additional fee is necessary to get one of these custom license plates. Keep that in mind and plan to double it if you live in a part of the country that requires plates on both the front and back bumpers.

Adding Some Spark on a Budget

If you don’t have the funds to add a custom vanity plate to your daily driver, you still have an option to add a bit of spark to your ride.

Contrary to popular belief, license plate frames are legal as long as they don’t block any information on your plate. This usually includes the state and county information (if included on the plate) as well as your registration sticker. If you meet the requirements, the sky’s the limit.

The States Have the Final Say

The last thing you need to remember before you pay for those customized plates is that each state’s or country’s DMV has the final say on everything that comes through. If they decide your plate is inappropriate or could be interpreted as such, they’ll deny it, and you’ll have to choose something else.

Even some plates that had been previously approved, such as a Manitoba’s Star Trek fan’s plate that read “ASIMIL8,” can be revoked if they become problematic. In that case, the plate was a reference to the Borg race from Star Trek, but it was seen as offensive to indigenous populations.

Moving Forward

It’s relatively simple to get a vanity plate. Just remain mindful of your area’s laws and regulations, and you likely won’t run into an issue.

Martin Banks is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modded. He covers the world of cars, driving, tech, and more.

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