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Discussion Starter #1
Hi

I hope someone from the U.S. can help me with this. I have a story where a character needs to be able to identify a car as having belonged to a friend many years ago.

This was going to be done via the license plate, but then I realized cars might not keep the same license plate for their lifetime in the U.S. (mainly from remembering Kramer and his "ASSMAN" plates in Seinfeld. This made me think that the plates maybe belong to the driver rather than the car?).

So how do things work there? Does a car keep the same plates when it transfers to anther owner?

Thank you x

 

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Unless they are personalized plates, and possibly some affinity plates, they stay with the vehicle when sold. Plates are issued by the state, not federal government, so you may get 50 different answers.

Decades ago, in Texas, and probably many other states, plates were changed every year. Now the plates stay and stickers are used year-to-year.
 

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CatParker said:
Hi

I hope someone from the U.S. can help me with this. I have a story where a character needs to be able to identify a car as having belonged to a friend many years ago.

This was going to be done via the license plate...
I couldn't tell you my license plate numbers if you held a Glock to my head and made that clicky sound you hear in movies. I did once identify a car I use to own twenty-five years earlier by a sticker placed on the rear bumper. I realize this may not be very helpful.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Dpock said:
I did once identify a car I use to own twenty-five years earlier by a sticker placed on the rear bumper. I realize this may not be very helpful.
Thank you everyone. Judging by the answers, maybe I'd be better using this idea, of a bumper sticker? Especially if even in Texas, decades ago, the plates changed yearly? I can probably set this part of the story in ANY state though, so if anyone knows a state where the plates have ALWAYS stayed with the car, let me know.

x
 

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If you'll google old US license plates you'll get an idea of how many states issued new ones every year (the expiration year is on the plate). I'd venture a guess that nearly all of them did for many years.

I grew up in Texas and we got new plates every year. So did Oklahoma. If Texas plates were black, Oklahoma were white, and then the next year they switched. Seems like Texas broke tradition in the 60s or 70s, and then Oklahoma went their own way. I think Texas switched to permanent plates with stickers about the mid 70s.

I lived in California for a few years, but had the same vehicle, so I don't know what happened when one was sold. California had black license plates for many years, then blue, and now white, and it was a status symbol to have black plates after they turned blue, and especially white, but only on a classic car and not a junker. Lots of Mercedes sedans had black license plates for many years.

Even in states where plates stay with the car the new owner can always turn them and get new ones. I sold a vehicle in Texas that had affinity plates "State of the Arts" that cost more money than regular ones, so I'm sure the new owner turned them in and got new ones.

You might surf the net for forums for license plate collectors. You can probably find the exact answer you need, and maybe even some good ideas that would add to the story.

 

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CatParker said:
Thank you everyone. Judging by the answers, maybe I'd be better using this idea, of a bumper sticker? Especially if even in Texas, decades ago, the plates changed yearly? I can probably set this part of the story in ANY state though, so if anyone knows a state where the plates have ALWAYS stayed with the car, let me know.

x
A bumper sticker or even a sticker in the back window would probably be more permanent than plates surviving a new owner. I looked up what happens in Washington state when a car changes owner, and the new owner can move their plates to the car if they register the vehicle with the state. And although we have stickers for renewal, there was one year when we were forced to get new plates because the state decided they were too old. In Missouri, I had plates for many years but kept them when I sold the car because I liked the number. Now, I couldn't tell you what the license plate number is.
 

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In Colorado, plates stay with owner, not the vehicle. I'd go with a bumper sticker, or even unique damage. For example, the scratch on the fender just to the left of the plate where they backed into a pole, the place on the hood where they hit a deer, the dent on the passenger door from a shopping cart... All ways I've ID'd friend/family cars.
 

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I’ve owned many cars in many states over the years. I recently bought a new car in Virginia, and traded in my old one, and surprisingly they took the plate off my trade in and put it on the new car, and it even kept the same expiration date!
 

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Unless the license plate was a vanity plate I would doubt many people would remember them. Usually, a license plate number would never enter the long-term memory banks because it never goes through working memory. A catchy bumper sticker on the other hand is easy to remember!
 

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Here's how it's worked for me for the past 15 years as a resident of NYC. I go to the dealership (usually in Jersey since every dealership around here thinks their inventory is made of solid gold) and select a car. Haggle for a bit before settling on a price. Then it's down to paperwork. During this tedious process, I'm asked if I want to switch plates or get new. There's never any charge and, if I select new, they'll arrive in the mail at my home in about a week. I generally select new. Leaving the dealership, I have temporary tags (30 days here. I think in some areas you may get 45 or 60). Then I get the vehicle inspected.

This is the same process regardless of whether the vehicle was leased (my wife likes to get a new car every 3-4 years) or purchased (I don't believe in leasing so I purchase).
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Wow, thanks everybody. It's amazing that it's so different in the UK. A car will keep its plates for the lifetime of the car here (except in the rare cases where someone buys a personal plate where the numbers slightly resemble their name- which results in some very unintentionally funny disasters. At a cost of $10,000 sometimes.) A car here could easily pass through ten owners over a forty year period, if it's a classic car, and it would still have the same plates.

I can still remember my dad's plates from 1974 (PSN 73S). We always just have a few letters followed by numbers, or vice versa.

So, definitely best for me to go with a bumper or window sticker, or some recognizable damage in this case.

Thanks for saving me from making a glaring error in my story.

x
 

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Herefortheride said:
Unless the license plate was a vanity plate I would doubt many people would remember them. Usually, a license plate number would never enter the long-term memory banks because it never goes through working memory. A catchy bumper sticker on the other hand is easy to remember!
My Missouri plate was APB 016 - all points bulletin. Sometimes the letters and numbers are memorable even though they aren't vanity. Though I agree that's probably a rarity. Like I have no clue what my current plates are.
 

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My parents bought a car in 1995. After my dad died, my mother drove it until dementia got the best of her in 2012. I then sold the car to my cousin, who is still driving it, with the original license plates, just new tabs (about one square inch) added to the corner of the plate each year. This is in Washington. (The state, not DC.)
 

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In Ohio, we can transfer plates to a new car as long as the vehicle category is the same. I was going to do that when I bought my last car, but it turned out to be such a hassle I just went ahead and got new plates instead.
 

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Oddly enough, I once bought a car that I discovered had been owned at one time by someone I knew.  The way I found out was that while cleaning it I found an old registration document (which we're required to keep in the car here in the US) that had gotten stuck underneath the passenger seat.  It had his name and address on it, so I knew for sure it was the same person I knew.
 
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