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What Price Vanity (Plates)…?

Automotively speaking, there is much to dislike about the great State of Virginia. Emissions requirements in “populated” areas (read: the greater DC area) are extreme, requiring dyno tests every other year until cars reach 25 years old. Detailed safety inspections are an annual joy unless you register for antique plates, which have strict requirements on use that are actually fairly strenuously enforced – which is to say you shouldn’t get caught commuting in your antique car. But one thing Virginia makes very easy, and more importantly very cheap, is the acquisition of vanity license plates.

For just $10 per year, Virginia drivers can come up with a combination of letters and numbers with special significance to them, and affix them to their car on one of dozens of license plate styles (some costing another $10-$50 per year). Take the photo above: this guy was in front of me during rush hour a few nights ago, and I must have spent about 5-10 minutes trying to figure out what he was trying to say. Admittedly I can be a little thick, but I was a little surprised to find what must be a dedicated Ramones fan in an E46 BMW.

With the HOV exemption we have previously discussed here, a number of hybrid drivers like to apply cutesy vanity plates to their green machines. I’ve seen obnixious plates like “LEED”, “ACDC”, “OHM MY”, and “CLN AIR” on hybrids, mostly Priuses, but my favorite hybrid plate was a slightly in your face “HOV ONE”. Not quite a middle finger to carpoolers, but close.

The censorship process on vanity plates is an interesting one as well. I knew a fellow with an Audi who wanted to express his Quattro all wheel drive-ness with a plate that was simply “QQQQ”. Innocuous enough – yes? Nope. Rejected. He called DMV for an explanation, and they came back with the fact it was rejected for being obscene. When he pushed, they told him that “Four Q” sounded too close to “F**K YOU”. Seriously.

But while they will reject four Q’s, they let some of the raunchiest stuff through. One of my two favorites was a hot young blonde woman driving a red Jetta III with the plate “CLN SHVN”. Now maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think not. The other was a big black Dodge Ram Cummins diesel king cab with plastic testicles hanging under the rear bumper adorned with the plate “CLT DDLR”. Took me a minute, but I would love to see the calibre woman he attracted. Both of those apparently made it through the system without a second glance.

I have to admit, I am also amused with people who do dumb things with vanity plates. I think the dumbest I ever saw was a (then) new BMW E38 7-series – beautiful car – that wore the plate “2.1 GPA”. This guy was apparently proud of the fact that he was a moron in school but managed to afford a new Bimmer. I’ll bet his wife is proud of him too. Then again, I’m going to venture a guess that he was single. Probably still is. People say dumb things – they shouldn’t fix them permanently to their cars.

Another dumb thing people do with vanity plates is get them for specific cars, then transfer them. This happens a lot. Just the other day I saw a new Ford Explorer with the plate “BOB Z4”. Really, Bob? Dreaming, or did your wife sell the car along with your brain? I’m also a fan of cars with gender specific plates and the other gender behind the wheel. I have to laugh, but it always seems like it’s some downtrodden-looking guy in a minivan with a plate like “KAKE GRL”, “SUZI Q”, or “SCR MOM”. I even saw one that just said “MILF”. Wanna bet who wears the pants in those houses?

All this isn’t to say that vanity plates are all bad or stupid. I’ll even admit that I have one. When I bought my 1970 Fiat 850 Spider, I applied for the same letter/number combination that my dad had on his 850 in Connecticut in the early 70s. Even though that car is long gone, I have since always transferred that plate to the car in the fleet that is my favorite at the time. At the moment it resides on our 1993 Mercedes-Benz 300CE Cabrio. I think my favorite is the red PT Cruiser Convertible with the fat, white-bearded guy that just reads “SANTA”. Good Chi there, and fun for the kids every time we see him.

Just for fun, check out what you can do with Vanity plates:


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