About Personalized License Plates

Function

License plates issued by the state have randomly selected combinations of letters and numbers. Personalized license plates allow the car owner to choose his own combination, with some restrictions on format. Enhance the personalized message by selecting plates with different backgrounds and affiliation logos, rather than the standard issue state background.
Personalized plates can make a statement about your job, interests, causes or sense of humor. Names and simple combinations make it easier to remember the number when asked, as well as easier to spot your car in a crowded parking lot or garage. It can also attract positive or negative attention, depending on the message. Pay an extra fee for special interest personalized plates and the money goes to your favorite organization or charity.

Types

Depending on the state, different types of personalized plates can be available. Illinois offers personalized plates for a lower fee that are restricted to a letters-followed-by-numbers format, as well as more expensive vanity plates that allow a greater variety of combinations. Other states only have one level of personalized plates for your choice of identification message.
Most states also carry special interest personalized plates, or "picture plates" as they are known in New York. These plates have a different background or logo than traditional state plates, and allow the car owner to show her affiliation with different regions, sports teams, colleges, professions, causes and charities, emergency service teams or the military. Some states also offer vintage plates for cars over 25 years old. Car owners pay one fee to personalize the letter and number combination and another fee for the special interest background or logo. The special interest fee goes to that organization or charity.

Time Frame

Personalized license plates can be kept for a lifetime, but require a yearly renewal fee in addition to standard renewal rates. The personalized plates usually take eight to 12 weeks to arrive after ordering. Additional time may be involved for checking availability of your chosen letter and number combination or for a rejected plate idea.

Geography

Different states offer different special interest personalized plates. California offers coastal plates, for instance, while Illinois has an agriculture plate. Each state may have their own state's sports teams and no other.
Each state also has different restrictions on the format of personalized license plates. Check your own state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website for the list of regulations for what combinations, number of letters, spaces and symbols are allowed for personalized plates.

Considerations

Think carefully about your personalized plate choices. Messages of more than one word require abbreviations that may be clear to you, but confusing to others. Worse still, they might be misinterpreted in a negative way. Consider who else will be driving the car. "Hot Girl" might be great for a confident young woman, but if her husband has to take the car to his office, it could be embarrassing. Be aware that no state will allow obscene or offensive personalized plates.
Some states have stricter guidelines on license plate combinations. Be sure to check the restrictions before thinking up the perfect name or message, because it may not be allowed.
Know all of the costs involved and make sure you can afford having personalized plates. Save money by getting a standard plate background rather than a special interest plate for your personal message. In a sea of homogeneous cars and hard-to-remember numbered plates, personalized license plates are a great way to show individuality. Display your name, interests, share a joke or choose something obscure that only a few cool people will understand. Personalized plates are a fun way to uniquely identify yourself and a lot less expensive than buying a new car.