Old Prison Tin – Vintage License Plate Registration

If you own a vintage car, and it gets driven, one of the nicest accouterments the vehicle can have is authentic year of manufacture (YOM) license plates. This completes the look and feel of the car. Plus, it lets everyone know how cool your project car actually is. Old license plates are so cool that many people collect them. A serious license plate collector will have one from every state.

You can make the photo look old in black and white, have the right paint on the car and wear the period correct clothes, but nothing completes the picture like vintage license plates.

 

If you stop and think about it, license plates are like the tattoos of the automotive world. Specialized plates that say something about the owner have been around for decades. It is almost the California version of scrabble to read license plates during rush hour on the freeways.

DMV is consistently inconsistent in their interpretation on COM plates.       – oldpl8s

YOM license plates also send a message about the car or the car owner. The problem with YOM plates is that no two states approach the rules for these plates the same way. In this article we attempt to explain the process of using YOM plates, mostly in California, but we try to shed some light on all the states that allow them.

No Fake Plates

In most cases the old license plates have to be authentic, clear of other registration from the DMV, and not refurbished. Indiana does allow the use of “replica” license plates and several other states allow restored (repainted) license plates. Most DMV’s will require the car owner to bring the plates in for a visual check.

In California, you must bring the vintage plates and correct sticker into the DMV for a visual check when registering plates under the YOM program.

Clear of DMV means that the plates the owner is intending on using can’t have numbers currently in use. If someone has already registered a plate with that number, the plates are no good.

California requires truck owners to register with the YOM commercial (COM) plates. This can be a little more difficult than car plates because the commercial plates, for some reason, are more rare than the car plates in most eras.

License Plate Quick Facts

  • The first license plates were issued in Baden, Germany in 1896.
  • Massachusetts was the first state in the U.S. to manufacture license plates (1903).
  • The earliest license plates were made of leather, wood and porcelain.
  • The state of Delaware still permits the use of porcelain license plates.
  • Mexico was the first country to issue reflective license plates in 1936.
  • The state of Connecticut introduced reflective license plates in 1948.
  • In 1924, New York and California had each manufactured and issued one million license plates.
  • In the United States, license plates are manufactured in correctional facilities which are state-owned.
  • Idaho was the first state to manufacture license plates with a graphic (a potato) in 1928.
  • Pennsylvania manufactured the first personalized license plate in 1931.
Our local expert in “old,” is the Godfather of asphalt and co-owner of the Blacktop Depot, Tony Colombini. “If it is a truck you need commercial plates. I’ve heard some people say that if you are going to haul anything in your truck, it needs commercial plates, but you can put car plates on it if you are not hauling anything in it,” said Tony. “If you are hauling anything at all in it, CHP can pull you over and give you a ticket for improper registration.”

Following up on Tony’s secondhand information, the clearest explanation that we received was from the folks at www.oldpl8s.com. They expertly advised that “DMV is consistently inconsistent in their interpretation on COM plates,” before adding,”I am told the DMV will allow passenger car plates prior to 1945, but may still list the truck as commercial, so they can charge more dollars.”

What Condition Is Your Condition In?

Most states that have a YOM program require that the license plates an owner intends to use be in good condition. This is a pretty reasonable request given that no vintage car owner that cares enough about their vehicle to apply for YOM plates is going to put a beat up and mangled piece of tin on their pride and joy.

In all cases the YOM plates must match the vehicle’s year of manufacture date. In California, the YOM license plates must be for a year that matches the model year of the car. For example, if you have a 1952 model year vehicle that was built and originally registered in 1951, you’ll still need 1952 plates.

Many states issued license plates with a bolt on metal tag that was used with an earlier plate. If the plate year that is being registered under the YOM program is one where a bolt-on metal tag was applied to an earlier plate, then the car owner will need the earlier plates and the bolt-on tag.

Most states with the YOM program require one or two plates, depending on which system was used in the year that the car was manufactured. Some states require two plates regardless of the year of manufacture. If you are registering a car from a two-plate year or in a state that requires both front and rear plates, you will need matching plates. In no case can you have one number showing on the front and another number on the rear.

No matter what other accessories you have, a vintage plate is sure to get more comments than anything else on the car. It is something that everyone can identify with.

You should clear the license plate number with the DMV before buying, what could be expensive and unusable, old plates at a swap meet. All YOM laws specify that the number on the vintage plate can’t be one that is duplicated, even if it is on a more modern plate. Many times this still applies even if the modern plate has been cancelled.

In several states, YOM plates are allowed “for display only” and regular or antique plates must be kept in the vehicle as well. This is the case in Illinois, which permits YOM plates from any state as long as the regular plates in the car are standard Illinois license plates.

To display YOM plates, you must file the proper applications with your state DMV. Be aware that some states charge an additional fee for the use of YOM plates. In other states, you will pay for your regular or antique plates, but the YOM application is free. You will probably still be required to carry all the paperwork for both types of plates in the car with you, however.

California’s YOM plate program helps keep the correct look alive.

If you’re interested in using YOM license plates on your collector vehicle, you should find out about the specific rules that apply in your state by checking with your local DMV office.

YOM Plate Laws By State:

State Qualified Single or pair Repainted plates allowed Notes
Alabama 1976 or earlier Single plate Yes The vehicle must have “the original or substantially similar vehicle body, chassis, engine, and transmission as designated for that make, model, year, and age vehicle.”
Alaska 30 years or older Pair Plate serial number may not contain more than six characters or digits.
Arizona Changes annually Single Yes The plate must 1) Have “ARIZONA” or “ARIZ” imprinted upon it, and 2) Have a minimum of two, but not more than six characters, and 3) Have sufficient space to affix the validating tabs (in two of the four corners) without covering numbers or letters that are a part of the plate, and 4) Be legible and serviceable, and 5) Have the year of plate’s issuance as a permanent part of the plate.  The year is imprinted onto the plate, or a metal tab from 1951, 1953, or 1955 is attached to the plate
Arkansas 26 years and older Single
California 1962 or older Pair No Year of Manufacture (YOM) license plates are any officially manufactured California license plates issued prior to 1963 that are determined to be legible and serviceable by the DMV. YOM plates may be assigned in lieu of regular license plates to any currently registered 1962 or older year model motor vehicle or trailer of a corresponding model year.
Colorado 30 years or older Single No Plates must be embossed with the year of original issue; must be legible; must have been issued contemporaneously with the year of manufacture of the vehicle upon which they are displayed, as determined by the department; and plate serial number must not exceed seven characters.
Connecticut 20 years old or older The vehicle must be currently registered with the Early American (Antique) plates. An Application to Display Year of Original Manufacture Marker Plates (form B-320) must be completed.
Florida 1975 or earlier Single No The license plate must be furnished by the owner of the vehicle and presented to the Division of Motor Vehicles for authentication. The license plate must be the same year as the model year of the car or truck. The license plate will be approved if the license plate has not been refurbished in any way and is still legible for law enforcement purposes.
Georgia 1970 and older Single No
Idaho 30 years or older up to 1974. Single Yes In addition to “regular” registration fees, there is a special program fee of $25.00 initially, and an additional $15.00 due at the time of annual renewal. 
Illinois 25 years old or older, 20 years for firefighting vehicles. YOM registration is not permitted, but  display of YOM plates on vehicles qualifying as Antique Vehicles is permitted provided that valid, current Antique Vehicle plates and registration are kept in the vehicle at all times.
Indiana 25 years old or older Vehicles registered as “Historic” may display YOM plates with DMV approval.  The historic plates and registration must be carried within the vehicle at all times. 
Iowa 25 years old or older Vehicles registered as “Antique,” “Replica” or “Street Rod” may display YOM plates with DMV approval. The antique, replica, or street rod plates and registration must be carried within the vehicle at all times. 
Kansas 35 years old or older Single Yes A vehicle owner can register the vehicle using a YOM license plate, or may display a YOM plate on the front of the vehicle as display only.  Application to use YOM tags is made through their local county treasurer tag office.
Kentucky 25 years old or older Single Historic vehicles may display an authentic Kentucky license plate, twenty-five (25) years or older, or a reproduction of such a plate, if the historic motor vehicle plate and the registration receipt are kept in the vehicle at all times.
Louisiana 25 years or older Not stated Vehicles registered as “Antique” may display YOM plates with DMV approval.
Maine 26 years and older Pair Contemporary plates. An owner of an antique auto, horseless carriage, street rod or antique motorcycle may use registration plates that were issued in the same year the antique vehicle was manufactured, as long as the motor vehicle: 1) is over 25 years old; 2) is registered as an antique vehicle; and  3) carries a valid antique motor vehicle registration certificate and plates.
Maryland 25 or more model years old Single or Pair as originally issued Yes YOM are called Vintage license plates in Maryland. Historic tags will still be issued and must be carried in the vehicle at all times. There is a one-time fee for the use of vintage tags
Massachusetts 26 years and older Single or pair No The plate can contain no more than six (6) characters. If your Year of Manufacture plate is ever suspended or revoked, the Registrar may require the plate be turned in to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
Michigan 26 years and older Single Yes An authentic plate registration processed after January 1, 1997, is valid until you sell, transfer, scrap, or modify the vehicle.
Minnesota 20 years or older Pairs except 1911, 1944, 1945, or 1946 Yes Original Minnesota Plates use is described in Minnesota Statutes168.12 SUBD 2F. 
Mississippi 25 years or older Vehicles registered as “Antique” or “Street Rod” may display YOM plates with DMV approval.
Missouri 25 years or older Single Yes The Missouri Department of Revenue allows an individual to register their historic vehicle, which is at least 25 years old, with a license plate issued the same year as the model year of the vehicle.
Montana 25 years or older Pair No
Nebraska 30 years or older Single Yes Only passenger, commercial, motorcycle and farm plates may be used as Vintages plates.
Nevada 1942 or older Pair No It is a violation to use original Nevada license plates on antique vehicles, but Nevada passed Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) 482.3818 in 2003 which permits the DMV to produce and issue Vintage license plates for vehicles manufactured not later than 1942. Vintage plates must be produced by the Department and are produced using digital technology to appear, insofar as is practicable, the same as the license plates that were issued in Nevada during the year of manufacture of the particular motor vehicle to which the vintage license plates will be affixed. 
New Hampshire 1942 or earlier Single The DMV must inspect and record the serial number of the YOM (antique) plate. The YOM (antique vehicle plate) shall be attached to the front of the antique motor car in place of the regular antique number plate, pursuant to RSA 261:89-a.
New Mexico 30 years and older Single Yes The plate must be inspected by the Motor Vehicle Division to ensure it is in good condition, and the number is not already assigned or in use
New York 26 years or older Single or Pair as originally issued No Vintage plates issued in or before 1972 must display the embossed year or have the original metal tab for that year. Make sure that the tab is attached and legible. A year sticker is not required to use the vintage plates. 1973 and later Vintage plates do not have metal tabs or plate stickers.
North Carolina 35 years old or older Single No The plate with the Year of Manufacture is not registered to the vehicle in the computer system; therefore, the plate does not have to be cleared. Since it is not registered to the vehicle, it does not matter what type of plate (Auto, Truck etc.). A restored plate may be used. North Carolina only issues one plate for the back of the vehicle.
North Dakota 40 years Single or Pair as originally issued Yes
Ohio 25 years or older Vehicles registered as “Historical” may display YOM plates with DMV approval.
Oklahoma 21 years or older Single Yes Once a special license plate has been assigned to an applicant, the applicant shall have priority to such license plate for succeeding years, provided a timely paid application for renewal is submitted. A special license plate is to be displayed on the rear of the vehicle for which it is issued. The regular license plate should be kept inside the vehicle and produced upon request by law enforcement.
Oregon 25 years or older Single Yes Special interest vehicles must be maintained as a collector’s item and may only be used for exhibitions, parades, club activities and similar uses, but not used primarily for transportation of persons or property.
South Dakota 30 years or older Single or Pair as originally issued Yes The plates must be in good condition and cannot be used if the number on the original plate is identical to a number on any other plate in a numbering system currently being used.
Tennessee 25 years or older Single No Owners of antique motor vehicles may display the license plate from an era when the manufacturer of such vehicle occurred; provided the current antique license plates are maintained in the vehicle by the owner.  Older license plates may not be displayed on antique vehicles used for general transportation registered with regular passenger plates. 
Texas 25 years or older Pair Yes Plates must be same color as originally issued and the lettering must be clearly legible.  Vehicle may be registered under Antique or Classic category, depending on use.
Utah 1973 or older Yes Vehicles of a model year 1973 or older may display original-issue license plates issued during the same year the vehicle was manufactured.
Washington 40 years and older Single No Washington refers to Year of Manufacture registration as its “Restored Plate” program.  The restored license plate may be used on all vehicles that could display collector vehicle or horseless carriage license plates. The license plate must be restored to such a condition that it may be identified with its year of issue.
West Virginia 25 years or older Single Yes

*Hawaii does not have a statewide Department of Motor Vehicles.  Vehicle Registration is managed by each county government.

 

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
Read My Articles

Classic Street Rods in your Inbox

Build your own custom newsletter with the content you love from Rod Authority, directly to your inbox, absolutely FREE!

Free WordPress Themes
Rod Authority NEWSLETTER - SIGN UP FREE!

We will safeguard your e-mail and only send content you request.

Rod Authority - The #1 Authority for Street and Rat Rods

We'll send you the most interesting Street Rod articles, news, car features, and videos every week.

Rod Authority - The #1 Authority for Street and Rat Rods

Rod Authority NEWSLETTER - SIGN UP FREE!

We will safeguard your e-mail and only send content you request.

Rod Authority - The #1 Authority for Street and Rat Rods

Thank you for your subscription.

Subscribe to more FREE Online Magazines!

We think you might like...



Hot Rods & Muscle Cars

Classic Chevy Magazine

Corvette Enthusiasts

Rod Authority - The #1 Authority for Street and Rat Rods

Thank you for your subscription.

Subscribe to more FREE Online Magazines!

We think you might like...

  • Hot Rods & Muscle Cars
  • Classic Chevy Magazine
  • Corvette Enthusiasts

Rod Authority - The #1 Authority for Street and Rat Rods

Thank you for your subscription.

Thank you for your subscription.

Rod Authority - The #1 Authority for Street and Rat Rods

Thank you for your subscription.

Thank you for your subscription.

Loading