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Instant License Plate Lookup

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The following is for informational purposes only

License Plate Letters and Numbers Explained

Most people know what a license plate looks like, but only some understand the letters and numbers. License plates exist so that each car has a unique identity. The uniqueness of the plate allows ease of identification, especially when it comes to security matters.

For some people, a license plate may seem nothing more than a random combination of letters and characters. However, there is more meshing behind these characters — reasoning and logic go into the number plate format. If you want to know how many letters are on a license plate and what they mean, read on to learn more!

The Serial Formats of License Plates

Generally, license plate designs contain colors, slogans, or symbols associated with a specific jurisdiction. The format on license plate numbers is typically alphanumeric. The design provides a unique number for each vehicle a particular jurisdiction can register. For instance, Rhode Island and Delaware states can use formats of 123356. In California, the serial form is 1ABC234 which helps regulate the large number of vehicles in the state. In other populous states, a seven-character format applies, ABC-1234 or AB-12345.

Understanding your state's license plate format will go a long way in helping you know what they mean. Other plate formats include incorporating a county coding system. For example, the vehicle registration of Idaho uses this system and fits the registration expiry month into the plate number. If you are keen enough, you must have noticed that non-passenger vehicle plates mostly have a different design or a unique numbering format.

License Plate Letters Meaning

The numbers and letters on a license plate represent a sequence of issues. For example, if the license distribution agency assigns ABC123 to one vehicle, the next is ABC124. The meaning of letters on a license plate depends on your state because states choose different variations of plates, and they all have unique meanings.

Some states encode the county code in the license plate number. A good example is Nevada. Nevada issues cars registered in Washoe, a County starting with a W as WAA123. The same applies in Clark County, CAA123, and other counties in Nevada. However, with the sharp increase in population in the state, they opted for a more randomized sequence. The randomized sequence made it easier to register cars, as it did not involve any particular format.

The personalized vanity plates also lack a standard format since the owners of these plates want the lettering to make a statement about something. Car owners can also go for affinity plates that are not personalized. Instead, these plates show an association or membership with a fraternal organization, the military, or even a sports team. The text feature relays information about the car owner's association with specific groups. If you want to obtain the affinity plate, you can apply through your local DMV office. Ensure you have all the required documents for consideration.

How Many Numbers Are on a License Plate?

The number of letters on a license plate varies from one state to another. It also depends on whether the owner chooses a vanity plate or a regular license plate number. In a state like California, car owners can choose a vanity or custom plate number with up to seven characters. In other states, the amount of numbers on a license plate varies. Here is a quick breakdown of these license plate numbers:

  • 23 states, including the District of Columbia, have six numbers or letters.
  • 15 states have seven numbers or letters.
  • 12 states have sequential license plate code, which varies regarding letters and numbers.

If you want to add a final touch to your new car, looking up the available customizations is vital to avoid repetition. And given that you just acquired your new vehicle, you should obtain car insurance coverage since you must be insured to get a license plate. You might incur additional charges if you want a customized plate number.

For government vehicles, the writing is slightly different. They have unique license plates; most people need help understanding their meaning. All states have a special license for vehicles owned by local governments and the state in the United States. Most of these license plates look like regular passenger plates — the only difference is a separate numbering sequence with a message such as state-owned, official, government, or municipal. The federal government issues plates for all vehicles to differentiate them from regular plates.

StateCount of CharactersNotes
Alabama3 letters, 3 numbersNo specific format
Arizona3 letters, 4 numbersThe third letter can be either an upper case or lower case letter. It is placed to the right side of the middle three digits.
Arkansas5 letters, 5 numbersA space cannot be used as a separator between the two sets of characters
California2-3 letters, 4 numbersA specific format is used. i.e. CA 1-ABC 123
Colorado3 letters, 4 numbersA specific format is used. i.e. CO 1-ABC 123
Connecticut5 letters, 4 numbersA space cannot be used as a separator between the two sets of characters (i.e. CT 2-ABC 1234).
Delaware3 letters, 2 numbersNo specific format used
District of Columbia4 numbers, 3 lettersNo space between characters. The first set of characters starts with an upper case letter and the second one starts with a lower case
Florida3 letters, 4 numbersNo specific format used.
Georgia3 letters, 4 numbersNo specific format used.
Hawaii5 letters, 4 numbersA space cannot be used as a separator between the two sets of characters.
Idaho3 letters, 4 numbersNo specific format used.
Illinois3 letters, 4 numbersNo specific format used
Indiana3 letters, 4 numbersThere are various ways to format the standard license plate.
Iowa2 letters, 3 numbersThere is no standard format
Kansas3 letters, 3 numbersNo specific format used.
Kentucky6 numbers, 3 lettersThere are various ways to format the standard license plate
Louisiana4 numbers, 9 lettersThere are various ways to format the standard license plate
Maine8 numbers, 3 lettersThere are various ways to format.
Maryland7 numbers, 3 lettersThere are various ways to format.
Massachusetts7 numbers, 3 lettersThere are various ways to format.
Michigan7 numbers, 3 lettersNo specific format used.
Minnesota3 numbers, 6 lettersNo specific format used.
Mississippi8 numbers, 3 lettersNo specific format used.
Missouri4 numbers, 4 lettersNo specific format used.
Montana2 numbers, 7 lettersNo specific format used.
Nebraska9 numbers, 3 lettersThere are various ways to format the standard license plate
Nevada7 numbers, 4 lettersThere are various ways to format the standard license plate
New Hampshire5 numbers, 4 lettersThere are various ways to format the standard license plate
New Jersey6 numbers, 2 lettersThere are various ways to format the standard license plate
New Mexico7 numbers, 3 lettersNo specific format used.
New York4 numbers, 3 lettersThere are various ways to format the standard license plate
North Carolina9 numbers, 2 lettersNo specific format used.
North Dakota8 numbers, 2 lettersThere are various ways to format the standard license plate
Ohio8 numbers, 2 lettersNo specific format used.
Oregon8 numbers, 3 lettersThere are various ways to format the standard license plate
Pennsylvania8 numbers, 4 lettersNo specific format used
Rhode Island9 numbers, 2 lettersThere are various ways to format the standard license plate
South Carolina7 numbers, 2 lettersNo specific format used
South Dakota7 numbers, 2 lettersThere are various ways to format the standard license plate
Tennessee9 numbers, 3 lettersNo specific format used
Texas9 numbers, 4 lettersThere are various ways to format the standard license plate
Utah9 numbers, 2 lettersNo specific format used
Vermont5 numbers, 5 lettersThere are various ways to format the standard license plate
Virginia9 numbers, 3 lettersNo specific format used
Wisconsin9 numbers, 3 lettersThere are various ways to format the standard license plate
Wyoming6numbers, 3 lettersNo specific format used

Specialty Plates and What They Mean

In some jurisdictions, car owners are allowed to obtain specialty plates. However, they have to pay extra cash to get these plates. License plate codes on specialty serials are chosen by the licensing agency, just like the case with regular plates. The only difference is that car owners select a plate design. Most of them determine a structure different from the standard license plate.

There are many reasons why people go for specialty plates in the United States. Either way, the owner chooses the meaning of numbers and letters on these plates. The message or phrase they decide to put on their plates means something to them — you might not understand the meaning of some specialty plates. For instance, a student or alum of a college or university might get a license plate with the school's logo on it. Similarly, an outdoors person might incur an extra cost to pay for a plate depicting a nature scene or what they do. These are some of the many ideas behind specialty plates, and they all have different meanings. Therefore, decide on the message you want to convey if you want a specialty plate.

In some jurisdictions, car owners can have some or all their specialty plates be vanity plates. However, they will be required to pay an additional fee to get vanity plates. There are various requirements you must meet before being considered for specialty plates. Check with your local DMV to know what is required to get this plate in your area.

The Meaning Behind License Plate Characters Matters

Like your national ID card, license plates identify vehicles. Each car has a unique license plate, making it unique from other vehicles. While the characters on these license plates are random numbers and letters, they have a meaning. Now that you know the logic and reasoning behind license plates, you will know what they mean.

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