Should I get a washbasin license plate


You see a vanity in front of you on the car. Maybe it's a Ford Mustang, a Volkswagen New Beetle or a Mini Cooper - cars that just beg for vanity units. You read it over and over, confusing your brain to decipher its meaning. You wonder if you're missing out on a good joke.

It helps if you know "the code". Like the abbreviations and symbols ("BTW", "LOL", "TTYL") used in email and instant messaging, there is an abbreviation for vanity labels (also known as "personalized labels" or "custom labels"). Fortunately, there are dictionaries that tell you, for example, that "U4IC" means "euphoric" and "6S" means "success".

Dennis Cowhey, author of What Does That Mean?The Personal Stories Behind Vanity License Plates describes himself as "the world's greatest expert on the meaning of." Vanity plates ". Cowhey toured the United States, stopping total strangers to hear their stories. He also distributed questionnaire cards and received approximately 850 cards back, many with full explanations.

The answers are a testament to human creativity. It's not easy to come up with a meaningful, unique label for your wheels in seven or eight letters and numbers.

"You wouldn't believe how smart the plates are," said Cowhey. "Some are touching, heartbreaking, hysterically funny and everything in between. People wear their hearts on their sleeves."

Obviously, Cowhey's personal favorite is a series of two plates held by a married couple. Its says, "EXPIRED"; you say, "KEENKY2." The couple purposely drive side by side as they commute to their family business every day, enjoying the shocked faces of pedestrians and other drivers in the process.

Most days it's not difficult to find vanities that show the type of car or driver ("XCLR8TR"), occupation ("HV A SLCE", on a pizza owner's car), and personal statements ("WAS HIS" ) play. ). Do you think you can crack the codes? Try your luck: scroll to the bottom of the Vanity Plates website and click on one of the links. Each link leads to a page with 30 photos of the current washbasins.

Many readers also have vanities. Washington Burt and Jacquie Harwood bought their vanities with safety in mind. (Attention, parents!)

"Every time I gave a car to one of my children, the car had a vanity with the first name on the front and back," Burt said. "Living in a small town, their driving habits were more easily reported to me and they knew it."

Although Harwood's kids had a few scratches, he believes the vanities made a difference in the way they drove.

Reader Brian Bear's family love to play with their last name. "I have two plates - 'SU BEAR U' and '4 BEARRS'," he said. "The 'SU BEAR U' is on my '04 Subaru Forester XT (and my previous '00 Subaru Outback)," he said. "It says '4 BEARRS' on our '02 Mazda MPV. We're a family of four by the surname. I've always had a kind of plate with the word 'BEAR' on it over the years." Even his parents and other relatives have vanities with the name Bear.

Wisconsin reader Robert Hammen chose his vanity top to defend his car: "I own a 2004 Pontiac GTO and have lots of flak from traditional GTO owners who didn't think the car was appropriate," he said. "So I got the 'REAL GTO' plate just to rub it in."


Unlike bumper stickers, which are not issued by state governments, vanity tops have been the subject of significant legal controversy. Columnist Ken Paulson of the Freedom Forum, a non-partisan foundation that deals with first adjustment rights, describes some of the legislative struggles over vanity censorship. For example, many states prohibit vanity-related vanity units ("SHTHPNS"); Hate speech ("ARYAN-1"); References to alcohol, tobacco or drugs ("VINO"); Religion ("ROMANS5"); or the implication of violence ("GLOCKEM", which refers to Glock, a manufacturer of semi-automatic handguns). Paradoxically, that last sign was removed from a Tennessee police officer's car.

Each state determines which vanity top patterns exist. For example, a request for a California vanity is examined in detail by several people using foreign language and slang dictionaries. The motor vehicle authority (DMV) has the right to refuse or revoke license plates which, according to the state, can be classified as "bad taste and decency, misleading or conflicting with the currently issued license plate series" Code.

However, what constitutes good taste and decency is up to the examiner and is open to speculation. In addition, anyone who finds a sign offensive for any reason can submit a written application to the DMV for the sign to be lifted. (The last one called back after a letter of complaint in California was "FDUBYA".)

The state's right and ability to censor vanities is vague. When the Cal Berkeley football team was out of the running for the Rose Bowl (many wrongly say), fan Paul Lewis ordered a sign online that read "IH8 BCS" ("I hate the Bowl Championship Series"). The original order was processed and accepted, but when Lewis went to collect his plates he was told by the DMW that he couldn't have them because of the "H8".

Ironically, Lewis didn't intend to use the signs for his daily driving.

"I wanted to go with them for a day or save them for football season and then eventually give them to Cal Football," he said.

Lewis appealed in a letter to Sacramento, stating that since the BCS was not a person, his record should not be classified as "hate speech" and that educational scholarships were lost as a result of Cal's elimination. He's still waiting for an answer. Meanwhile, Lewis sold t-shirts with a model of the plate - and donated all of the profits to the athletics division of Cal Berkeley.


Car-crazy California released its first personalized sign at the end of 1970. As of July 2007, there are over 1.4 million such signs on California's roads. According to the DMV, the state has more than $ 1 billion applied from the sale of vanities. Nationwide, vanities cost between $ 10 and $ 65 per year, depending on the state. California calls them "eco-labels" because the proceeds are used to fund programs that protect and protect the environment, such as buying land for wildlife sanctuaries, endangered species studies, and public education.

However, the US does not have a monopoly on being insane. In February 2005, a Hong Kong man wearing a mask to protect his identity paid HKD 7.1 million - then $ 910,000 - for a license plate that simply read "12". Why should someone pay so much for a license plate? Because when the number is pronounced in Cantonese it sounds like "definitely easy".

But $ 910,000 was nowhere near the highest price ever paid for a vanity in Hong Kong. In 1994, business tycoon Albert Yeung paid HK $ 13 million (US $ 4 million) for number nine, which sounds like "forever" in Cantonese. Yes, 4 million . What surprises you: what is going on with these guys?

A man takes advantage of plate fever without buying or selling a single record. Richard Barnett just started Great Plate Exchange, an online forum where users can buy or sell active vanity tops, similar to an eBay auction. Barnett receives a small fee for listing the number and a commission on the transaction. Once a deal is made, he connects the parties with the appropriate DMV to make the legal transfer. While there are only a handful of plates on the premises so far, the concept is one that could strip off if enthusiasts discover it.

Collector madness

Record lovers buy, sell and trade records like other hobbyists do on eBay and any number of record-specific websites such as B. This includes not just vanity tops, but also rare signs, signs for a specific color or type of car, and signs from all 50 states. A member of the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association (ALPCA) created an incredible website, License Plates of the World, which features license plates from all over the world, as well as military and UN plates in special editions. ALPCA has just published its own book, A moving history - 50 years of ALPCA, 100 years of hallmarks, to celebrate its golden anniversary.

One of's programmers, David Haber, developed CALPL8S to highlight his collection. He notes that, unlike some other hobbies, collecting plates appeals to both young and old.

"You see them all the time: children play games, recognize license plates on long journeys and get small license plates with their names on their bikes," said Haber. "I've always been interested in plates and about six years ago I discovered that other collectors had been selling plates on eBay. Before that I never thought they could be collected."

Haber's car has a creative sign that has a hand icon on it, one of four icons that can be used in California. It reads, "G (hand) DALF," for Gandalf the Wizard, des Lord of the Rings Fame. Other symbols available are a star, a plus sign, and a heart, resulting in a variety of imaginative combinations.

If you enjoy the challenge, you can find a way to express just about any opinion or passion in a vanity. The rest of the world will enjoy laughing at what you said - or wonder what you meant by it.

by Joanne Helperin, Senior Features Editor,, October 16, 2007