Plates update: July 2015

The past month has been fairly eventful. I have been in the process of expanding my personal collection of Pennsylvania plates. My goal is to (eventually) complete a display showing the full history of PA passenger plates from the early 70s Bicentennial base onwards, as well as a history of Commercial/Truck (not Apportioned) plates from about the same time period. I figure there’s enough to make for a sizable collection, at least for a start.

Here is a part of my collection as it is right now – there are some old Illinois plates and three other PA plates not pictured. The three absent PA plates are on my “family wall,” as they all belonged to…you guessed it, my cats. Naturally.

My small (but growing) collection of PA plates as of 9 July 2015.

You might have noticed I have five motorcycle plates as well. I mentioned several posts ago that my friend’s boyfriend’s father was going to throw away a bunch of old stuff, including license plates, and she said “wait, I know a guy.” I got those motorcycle plates plus three old Illinois passenger plates, the three gradient plates here, and the You’ve Got a Friend plate as well.

I have since added the 1992-issued AAE-1539 plate (which is likely a tad older than I am), and the Bicentennial Z11-354 (which is definitely a lot older than I am). There’s also this…

Issued around 1976 or 1977. In use until the replate in 2000. Never would have guessed…

I can only assume this was on eBay because the seller knew somebody would buy it for some reason. That somebody is me, and the reason has to do with historical significance and not much more. See, when a state does a mandatory re-plate, it’s generally an expensive undertaking, which is why PA decided against doing another in 2009-2010, and why they’re likely to stick with that decision for at least another five years or so.

However, by 1999, there were still quite a number of plates like this one on the road, having been in use by that point for well over twenty years. Given that in Pennsylvania we can transfer our active tag to our new car, or even between immediate family members (say you get daddy’s old car when he got a shiny new one, but didn’t want to pay an extra $28 for a new plate), plates can stay on the road for a very long time – even once they’re effectively illegible, which is of course the main complaint law enforcement brought to the DMV when the latter was considering a statewide re-plate. For all I know, 621-66P above was Exhibit A.

The stickers are piled so high that they are raised higher than the serial itself, and of course the adhesive doesn’t last forever, so I decided to have a look underneath. On top of the right pile is a 2-00 sticker, and on the bottom of that (far as I can tell) is SEP, from when PA issued two stickers for month and year. On the top of the left stack is 2-99, and as you can see in the photo, a partially-ripped 79 sticker is visible way underneath. I believe the blue one directly below that is a 78 sticker, which is probably the oldest one there. That means this plate was in use for over two decades. The owner had this plate nearly as long as my parents have had children. That’s kind of weird to think about.

Of course, it wouldn’t quite be PennDOT without some weird rules, so there are some limitations to transferring active tags. When our Suburban was totaled in Hurricane Sandy, my mother transferred its DFR tag (issued new in 2000) to her replacement, a used TrailBlazer that bore that plate until IT was totaled in March of this year. When she got her new Murano, though, the dealer told her they couldn’t transfer the tag despite it being active and legible. Who knows. It couldn’t be because of total loss of the previous vehicle. Maybe because the TrailBlazer was used? The world may never know.

Well, speaking of plates that have seen better days, there’s this one…

I honestly don’t know if it’s the older 3M sheeting or what, but it seems many of the DD- series plates look worse than others…

Seriously, how does that happen? It looks like somebody took a blowtorch to the plate. It looks like a geographical contour map or something.

And here’s a plate that didn’t have to be replaced, but certainly needs more stickers. Seven more, to be precise.

I wonder what happened to the original two plates for this callsign…

A 2008 sticker on an in-use, valid plate in 2015. That’s a new record for my sightings.

M/C1143 seen near Doylestown on 10 July 2015

Armed Forces Reserve plates like this one are an oddity for Pennsylvania. First, of course, is the fact they’re still issued on the old “www” gradient fade base. The only other plates issued as “new” on this old base are uncommon types like Circus/Carnival Truck, Commercial (and non-commercial) Implement of Husbandry, Apportioned Bus,  and Hearing Impaired, as well as the Armed Forces Reserve plates – Air Force (A/F0000), Army (A/R0000), Coast Guard (C/G0000), Marine (M/C0000), and Navy (N/R0000). There are also a number of Special Organisation plates (which these Reserve plates are considered to be) still on the old gradient fade base.

The other characteristic of these Reserve plates that makes them unusual for Pennsylvania is the close spacing of the prefix and serial (actually, there’s pretty much no spacing whatsoever) and the lack of leading zeroes on four-digit serials. Oh, and there’s no logo of any sort. On this base, logos were embossed rather than screened. This probably just means that these plates represent a design scheme that PennDOT turned out not to like as much as they thought, as all other special organisation plates feature a logo far to the left with the prefix directly following, and then a five-digit serial with leading zeroes (or starting with a 1, 2, 3, 4 etc if the prefix exists elsewhere). Alternatively, the logo will be on the left, followed by the serial, and the letters become a suffix on the far right.

I imagine the reason Pennsylvania issues these Reserve plates on the www base is the same as why we issue the other plates I mentioned – they over-estimated demand, and made far too many plates. That’s why the current Apportioned Bus high is only B/N-03102, up from B/N-01777 at the end of 2010. For comparison, normal Apportioned plates (for long-haul trucks, tipper lorries, and such) have progressed from AF-30000 to AG-38834 in about the same time.

There’s also the question of who actually wants these, seeing as I imagine they’re equally eligible for the U.S Marine Corps plate, which comes on the visitPA base, has a full-colour screened logo, and can be personalised as well. Go figure.

Still, uncommon sighting.

Second-issued “new” Tiger plate spotted in Newtown Square on 16 July 2015.

Speaking of plates that aren’t very nice to look at, here’s the second-lowest of the redesigned Tiger plate. This “family of plates” VISA card design replaced the old full-graphic version in summer 2013, and nearly 2500 have been issued as of this post. Proceeds go to support the Philadelphia Zoo, hence the P/Z suffix and “Support Your Zoo” legend. I guess the Pittsburgh Zoo drew the short straw?

For reference, here’s an older Tiger plate I saw a few days earlier.

Old, full-graphic tiger plate with A000A format.

Originally, I thought this was a neat find because it used both a zero and the letter “o,” but realised it was just the sun fooling me and the last letter is in fact a “C.” The letter “o” is typically not used on Pennsylvania’s standard-issue plates, except as a part of a prefix or suffix on special issues, such as the Combat Action Badge (40000 C/O) or International Union of Operating Engineers (O/E 00000).

There was, however, an “o” used on this older (fully graphical) version of the Tiger plate. Since the dies are different sizes, it apparently wasn’t confusing…even though the same dies are used on all the other PA plates that don’t have the letter “o.” Huh.

Nearly the high. Almost.

I drove to Abington and back the other day. It was awful. It would not have been so bad if I had our EZ-Pass (seriously, get one). Whilst stuck at the Mid-County Interchange for about 45 minutes, I saw this. It’s nearly the current high, except it’s not – the highest photographed so far is JXF-9302, and I’m sure we’re higher than that by now.

I really wanted a JX* plate, but the tag agency at which we finalised the purchase of my new (used) car had yet to run through their stock of JW*, so I ended up with this:

My new plate.

Yes, I’ve got a Volkswagen. It’s a lot different from my old Spark, namely in that it is larger and faster, and probably safer and more reliable too, seeing as this has got 125K miles and the Spark hardly made it to 18K before blowing up. My girlfriend also notices it’s quieter at speed, which is cool because even with the big diesel engine there’s less road noise than in the Spark.

This plate is temporary, though, as I plan to finally get my vanity in the near future. Speaking of which, I’ve seen some of those as well.

You don’t say.
Most people would probably read this as “avid reader,” so I shall as well.
This person works in theatre. Or on a ship. Or in construction. I don’t know. This parking lot is shared by Lowe’s, Best Buy, and DSW, so it’s anybody’s guess.
DMV only allows you seven characters? Make a supplemental sticker. Problem solved. Clever.
Seen in Chinatown, of course.

Gamers love Chinatown.

And now onto New Jersey. I was at Island Beach State Park on the 24th, which was a nice day trip and a nice drive as well. I had some pretty decent luck seeing plates, too, and even managed to photograph one (at the beach itself). On the way, I did see the Temporary high – J700***, but couldn’t get a photo and didn’t get the whole number. I can at least say they’re into the J7***** series, though.

Current New Jersey high, G58-FSB, seen 24 July 2015 at IBSP.

New Jersey seems to move through plate series pretty quickly, or maybe that’s just me since I don’t live there. PA goes pretty fast too, in fairness. The series advanced from Z99-FPZ to A10-FRA late last month, since Q is not used on regular passenger plates. Now we’re in FS*.

Speaking of New Jersey’s passenger issue…they don’t use Q, nor U, I, or O, but they’ll use A and E. With three alpha characters, then, there’s plenty of opportunity to make words. Now, I don’t know about you, but there are some words I wouldn’t necessarily want to have bolted to the back of my car by legal mandate.

U48-FEC seen 24 July 2015 at IBSP.

Yep, it says FEC. Don’t worry, though – they’ve also issued FAC, FAK, and FEK, all of which I have seen at least in passing. I got cut off on I-295 by a big black Acura wielding a FAK plate. Classy.

Seriously, are people at the New Jersey MVA just more mature or open-minded, or oblivious, or what? It gets kind of hard to justify “mature” when you see plates like this, though:

Y90-FAP seen 24 July 2015 in Tom’s River.

Yes, that says exactly what you think it does. If you don’t know what it means, go ask a teenage boy.

What I said when I saw the plate above.

Well, okay, I didn’t say “twenty-nine f.”

Aww, sorry to disappoint you. Also, sorry that it’s blurry. Not sure why that happened.

Let me emphasize again that these are all normal, sequential passenger plates. Pennsylvania, of course, has also issued word plates like this in the past, especially back when we used vowels (A and E, specifically) in the second position – ACT, AWW, BAD, BAE (which was not an English slang term back then), BED, BAT, CAT, CAB, DAD, DEB, EAR, EAT, and so forth. Oh, and YAH, YAK, YAM, YAP, and YAY on truck plates. I’ve at least seen YAK on the road.

Someday I hope to have a decent collection of “word plates.” For now, the closest I have is an Illinois plate from the mid-80s with serial OX-2020, where the same die is used for the zeroes and the “o.” Weird. We were issued APT in 1994 with our brand-new Jeep, but I have no idea where any of the old plates are. My parents don’t either. Knowing my family, they have not been thrown out, but that doesn’t mean hunting them down will be easy. We’re also apparently cleaning out my grandmother’s attic because she’s probably got a lot of junk up there (or just cool stuff), and there’s a chance she has some old plates as well. My aunt might have some Virginia plates from when she lived there, and my brother apparently has a Florida plate somewhere (I don’t know why, and I didn’t ask).

Hopefully, then, my collection will expand. Slowly, probably, but it’s a start.

This one’s starting to show its age quite a bit.

I’ll leave you with this one. Even though it was only issued in 2008, this plate’s sheeting is bubbling badly. Many older plates from the AAA-10A series still exist on the road in decent condition, albeit with some background fading, and of course there are still some of the “buff-on-blue” plates out there, perfectly legible. I guess 3M must have had a few bad batches of sheeting in the past. Some of the older PA www plates are really looking rough now, mostly in the early D-series. This was slightly before the changeover to Avery sheeting, but incidentally issued around the same time as NJ was issuing 3M-sheeted plates (they still are, of course) of the sort still legible but faded.

The world may never know.

Also – what causes such dramatic bubbling? Long periods of direct sun exposure? It’s New Jersey! People go to the beach! There’s gonna be sun. Go figure.

Plates update: June 2015

June was a particularly active month for license plates, even here in Pennsylvania.

We actually had a bill pass (SB 284) that makes possible a new optional plate for motorcycles, Honoring Our Veterans, which is the first such MC plate in PA history. Thanks to John McDevitt and his PAPL8S site for this update – I highly recommend taking a look at the wealth of information on his site if you want to learn more about PA plate history. Most of what I know about the plates of this Commonwealth I’ve learned from his website!

I’d love to see a photo of one of these new plates. I’m sure they will be out there very soon, since the bill takes effect just over two months from now (1 July). This is the first special-issue (technically, special fund) motorcycle plate for PA, and also the first graphical PA motorcycle plate – presumably, anyway, since it’s probably going to have the same image as the current car special fund H/V plate, just smaller. The only other PA plate of non-standard size to feature a screened logo or icon is the Person with Disability motorcycle plate, which features a screened light-blue universal handicapped symbol to the left of the serial.

In non-Pennsylvania news…

I’ve determined that Rhode Island is not actually re-issuing “dormant” serials in the AA-123 format as they had until 2007, but rather running through those in that format which had either expired AND been purged from all state records, or else never issued at all. No idea how the latter would have been possible, but I guess it is. They appear to have started in the EA-series. My ex’s father purchased a used car and registered it at about exactly the same time Rhode Island had issued 399-999 (our neighbor had 399-419). The plate he got is in the EA-series, but other accounts say RI actually jumped first to the EZ-series. To be brutally honest, nothing the Rhode Island DMV does really surprises me anymore. The fact they re-issued expired serials in the first place speaks to their relative lack of foresight and/or resourcefulness.

New York has apparently issued GZZ-9999 and is now moving into the Haa-series. Depending on whom you ask, New York’s general issue is on track to overtake Pennsylvania’s within the next couple years.

This makes sense when you consider that Pennsylvania began issuing seven-character serials in 1992 at AAA-0000, whilst New York started doing so in January of 2001 at ACA-0000. Currently, PA is in the JX-series, but NY is already in the HA-series. For reference, it took PA nearly sixteen years to make that kind of progress; New York needed only about thirteen and a half, and that’s bearing in mind New York readily issues remakes of old serials on new bases (whereas Pennsylvania offered such an option only back in the early-2000s re-plate…but no longer).

New Jersey is in the nnn-FPa series now. I expect to start seeing nnn-Gaa by mid- to late August. NJ remains the only state with a flat plate using a font that doesn’t suck*.

*excluding Delaware, who have been issuing flat plates for decades and are apparently immune to graphic-design-based criticism because they are Delaware and do things their own way. Good for them. We love Delaware plates.


Here are the Pennsylvania highs I’ve spotted since my last post on 19 June.


Transporter high, spotted 29 June 2015 on SR 352 somewhere outside Elwyn, PA. This is nearly 1000 higher than the current high seen on
Repair Towing (RT-66146) spotted in Upper Merion Township near the King of Prussia Mall on 30 June 2015.

These RT plates tend to be issued to mechanics and/or towing companies, and don’t necessarily have to be put on a tow truck or flatbed wrecker or what have you, in much the same way as a WL (Salvage Yard) plate can simply be issued to a pickup owned by a guy employed by a scrap yard who goes around doing scrap yard business, whatever that might entail. Thus, you’ll often see tow trucks with normal Truck plates (or occasionally Apportioned plates, if they’re meant for highway tractor recovery and the like).

It’s a bit misleading – as a private citizen, and bearing in mind I’m currently unemployed, I could legally purchase, own, and drive a tow truck on a regular basis. No idea why anybody would do that if they didn’t actually own or work for a towing company, but it’s perfectly legal. However, I would not be legally allowed to register a RT or WL plate – I’d have to use a normal Truck plate.

I guess I understand though – you see a tow truck and you don’t really need to think too hard about the kind of business to which it might belong. 😉

Taxi high spotted in downtown Media on 20 June 2015. This type hasn’t seen a new high reported in over a year.
Here’s a high I saw back towards the end of April and somehow forgot to post. It’s an International Association of Firefighters plate I spotted in Broomall – P/F 06161. Sorry it’s a bit blurry. Also, Mr. Firefighter – fix your top taillight.
In all fairness, this WAS a high when I spotted it on 19 June in Wayne. I’ve since seen JWV-4505 and am aware that JWZ-9382 exists. That leads me to believe JXA-nnnn is out there as well. Oh well. Perhaps someday I’ll find the highest PA passenger plate for more than a couple hours. XD

And now for some PA plates that aren’t highs.

This trailer plate was likely issued in 2002 or 2003 and is really showing its age. (West Chester, PA)

Oddly, the trailer to which it’s attached is in significantly better shape than the plate itself, which bears a 2017 expiration sticker. Note it’s held on with a couple zip ties and what looks like bungee cord, and that at least one of the bolt holes is completely ripped and useless…nobody ever said landscaping work was easy.

Ah, the good ol’ days when PA issued plates with serials that could actually make words! (Newtown Square, PA)
Damaged passenger plate, 2001 issue. (Broomall, PA)

At around the GRA-series in mid-2007, PA began producing plates using Avery rather than 3M sheeting. This resulted in a very slightly different appearance for the “PENNSYLAVANIA” and “” legends. The vast majority of people cannot see any difference, which was ostensibly the DMV’s intention. However, it also seems Avery got this contract because 3M’s sheeting had already begun to show its age, and it’s all the more evident in plates such as this DWY-series (issued towards the end of 2001) and even some of the mid- to late-Eaa-series plates out there.

I assume it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing the Faa-series plates begin to deteriorate in much the same way. I’ve seen some early Gaa-series plates in absolutely horrid condition, whilst I’ve seen GSa-series plates used on a daily basis up in the mountains that look pristine – and remember the harsh winters we’ve had!!

Damaged Permanent Trailer plate (Media PA)

Speaking of plates starting to show their age, how about this veritably ancient PT plate? Obviously, the “Permanent” in “Perm. Trailer” really does mean “permanent,” as in both the plate and registration are valid for the life of the trailer.

As you may have guessed, this trailer is a petrol tanker, and that’s not exactly something you’d trust if it was all rusty and beaten up! Luckily, the trailer was in great shape – clean and shiny, actually – but the plate looks like crap. This photo doesn’t do it justice, since it was about 2 in the morning and I was using my G3 camera, but it’s pretty obvious that the old 3M sheeting just isn’t as durable as it ought to be. This trailer has presumably done over a hundred thousand miles since this plate was issued (probably 2002 or 2003) and yet only the license plate seems to be succumbing to age-related wear and tear…

Long-expired plate…oops. (Drexel Hill, PA)

This is another one from the end of April I forgot to post. This vehicle’s registration is still valid, but you wouldn’t know it since the plate expired four years ago. How hard is it to open your mail and put a sticker on your license plate?! Apparently, the Commonwealth agrees that it can be quite challenging for its more simple-minded inhabitants, and has decided to do away with registration stickers altogether, beginning in 2017. Sigh.

I’ve no idea why this person thinks route 422 sucks. 322 is much more dangerous, although to be fair, it is less crowded…usually. Why the sticker is rainbow I have no clue. Yes, the photo may appear the wrong way round on your screen.
Do you believe in magic? 😉 note: this makes more sense if you have some understanding of Latin. Completely random pairing seen in Exton, PA.
This is just kinda interesting – this plate is 10 above our newest plate, which is also on a Nissan from the same dealer. Seen in Newtown Square, PA – my hometown, and less than a mile from my house, at that.

That makes sense enough. In late 2000, we were issued DFR-5052 (currently decommissioned and hanging on my wall) and maybe five years later, I remember seeing DFR-5051 on the highway. It’s just kinda cool when you realise that means of all the cars with which you could have possibly come into contact, overtaken, or even just seen from a distance, out of the millions on the road today, you saw one that somebody almost certainly bought at the same place on the same day as you.

License plates do say a lot more than most people realise.

Well, okay, some just say “Eyy.” But look, stereotyping people of Italian heritage ain’t cool, aight? I’ve dated a few of ’em, namean?

On a more personal side note, the trees to the right of the road (PA 252) in the above photo have been cut down within only the last few days.  This is to make way for a Whole Foods.

All I have to say here is this: Fuck you, Whole Foods. Newtown Square is not the Main Line, nor do we want to be. Go away. Nobody wants you here. Well…nobody except the developers you’re paying to level some of the last trees remaining on Newtown Township-owned property, anyway.

We are more than capable of driving ten minutes to your location in Devon if we want self-righteous over-priced garbage that makes people think we care about the environment or whatever. Your store’s “mission” is a joke and your marketing is at best a gimmick-ridden farce designed to play on the insecurities of the socially-conscious scientifically-illiterate masses. Anybody with half a brain knows that “organic” does not mean “better” in any way, except in terms of your wallets.

Again, kindly get out of Newtown Square. We do not want you here. You are not welcome here.

I’d honestly rather have some goddamn TREES.


Mystery VA tag. (Wayne, PA)

I honestly have no idea what this Virginia tag is. It appears to have the same formatting as later POD (print-on-demand) VA temp tags, but they stopped issuing those a while ago. Nowadays, VA issues 30-day temporary permits, to my understanding, which follow a nnUnnn pattern (the alpha character currently being the letter U, not G, nor in the first position.)

If anybody has an idea about this one, please let me know. It’s expired by now and likely supplanted with a normal PA tag, as I happen to know this vehicle belongs to somebody who lives in PA. Still, though, I don’t like unsolved questions – what the hell is this? 😮

Mystery European plate. (Wayne, PA)

This is another “mystery plate” that, thanks to the License Plate Collectors group on Facebook, is no longer a mystery. This is, in fact, a German export tag that expired 25 October 2012.

It’s entirely possible this person bought their 3-series directly from Germany, although I’ve no idea why anybody would do that when identical BMWs are sold right here in the USA. This is, however, a real and legitimate plate, which means this car more than likely embarked on a trans-continental voyage at some point before the end of 2012…:o

Finally, there’s this one. Normal PA tag on the back, sorry, but still, gotta wonder – is this person an ALPCA member? A Caribbean immigrant? Normal person with a cool yard sale find? Who knows. All I know is it’s not what I expect to see at the King of Prussia Mall. Sorry if this image appears upside-down on your end. Click on it. I’m mystified by my own web server…!

I’m afraid that’s all I have for now. June was an interesting month, to say the least, both within and outside of the hobby. Sadly, my time is taken up in the real world a lot more often than I’d like, which means my plate-related posts will likely continue to be relegated to a semi-monthly basis at best.

In the meantime, don’t forget to check out John McDevitt’s PAPL8S site and Tom Perri’s, and – to all of which I contribute content as often as I can. 😉