Local News

DMV scraps flat plates

Posted February 26, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— Less than a year after the state Division of Motor Vehicles began issuing most personalized and specialty license plates without embossed letters and numbers, the agency has decided to pull the plug on the experiment.

The DMV was looking for a way to save money last year, so it decided to produce tags that are thinner and flatter than the traditional embossed plates.

Embossed license plate State to return exclusively to embossed plates

"We believed that, if we went to a lighter-weight aluminum, for instance, we could get five plates out of a pound rather than three-and-a-half," said Tony Spence, the DMV's assistant director for vehicle registration.

Last spring, the state began producing personalized plates and most of the state's 185 specialty plates – they represent colleges, sports teams and special-interest groups – on new equipment that rolled out flat tags.

Inmates at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women, who craft and cut more than 2.5 million license plates a year, continued to use older equipment to produce embossed regular tags.

The two versions differ in thickness by 0.001 inch, but there is a marked difference in the look, feel and durability of the flat plates. That difference prompted a rash of complaints from drivers after the DMV began issuing the flat tags in September.

"We got feedback that they were not really happy or satisfied with the quality," Spence said.

"Your numbers are flat; they're not embossed, which gives you a 3-D type dimension," said Chuck Congleton, director of signs and tags for the Correction Enterprises unit of the state Department of Correction. "As far as readability, to a personal opinion, the embossed might be a little easier to read."

Some law enforcement agencies also criticized the flat plates, saying they looked too much like plastic novelty plates, Spence said.

"They felt that, perhaps, it might be harder for them to tell the plate was in fact an official plate," he said.

Aside from the complaints, the DMV realized no savings from the flat tags, which was the primary reason for switching.

"We were not receiving the savings we thought we would initially up-front (because) our scrap rate went up," Congleton said.

Officials couldn't provide figures for how many flat tags have been produced. The state makes about 60,000 personalized and specialty plates a year, but the flat version wasn't used on all specialty plates, they said.

Spence said production of the flat tags will cease when the supply of thinner aluminum runs out in May.

"We have decided to go back to embossing our personalized and specialty plates," he said.

The state lost no money on the experiment, he said, because the new production equipment will be used for embossed plates and all of the flat plates produced will be issued.

Drivers who have the flat tags cannot trade them for embossed plates until they renew their tags, officials said.


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  • hdonthefarm Feb 27, 2009

    I don't really care one way or the other, but if other states are using the flat plates it seems like a good idea to check into the benefits/drawbacks there before commiting to use them here.

  • Timbo Feb 27, 2009

    "Well if I just spent $50K on a new Jaguar......one doesn't want cheap looking plates on it does one?"

    Benz baby. I want a E63... and expensive looking plates.

  • mstan Feb 27, 2009

    redwarrior- I agree, the red color on the numbers now look terrible!!

  • unaffiliated_voter Feb 27, 2009

    "Some law enforcement agencies also criticized the flat plates, saying they looked too much like plastic novelty plates"

    The first time I saw one of the "flat" plates, I thought maybe the car owner had made a fake plate. I don't really care that much what the plates look like and I'm all for the government saving money where it reasonably can, but the potential for criminals to make fake plates seems pretty high with the "flat" plates.

  • Z Man Feb 27, 2009

    Darn... I just made a new batch in my garage!

  • stevesmiff Feb 27, 2009


  • haggis basher Feb 27, 2009

    "Why do people care if plates look cheap?"
    Well if I just spent $50K on a new Jaguar......one doesn't want cheap looking plates on it does one?

  • ConcernedNCC Feb 27, 2009

    The first thing that popped in my mind when I read about the flat plates, is how easy it would be to change a number or the whole set if a criminal wanted to.

  • Trivr Feb 26, 2009

    Kudos to the DMV! I'm just as quick as anyone else to criticize the all to frequent waste and incompetence in our Government agencies, but when they're working on ways to decrease costs or increase efficiencies, they have my praise. Keep at it!

  • Travised Feb 26, 2009

    WE (taxpayers) paid for the stamping machines to begin with that the DOT used on the old line of plates.

    Not to mention thicker aluminum lasts longer than the thin stuff they are trying to use. If the ink comes off after a few years of wear and tear, not to mention road debris you no longer have the embossed plates that help show the letters/numbers when the plates have some mud on them.

    YES I know we are to keep them as clean as a diamond on display, but this is reality. Sometimes you even have the trailer ram the plate by accident when hooking up.