Thursday, 27 July 2017

Number (Plates) Matter


I just returned from a brief trip to the DMV - something not often said. Just as an aside, if you live in our great state of California, I cannot stress enough how important it is to make an appointment on-line if you ever, ever, ever need to go to the DMV. My appointment was for 2 PM; I walked in at 1.50, and at 2.05, I was standing at guichet 13. The line for those poor souls who just walked in went around the "Disneyland" ribbon lanes three times and out the door. 

The DMV - it's just like The Happiest Place on Earth, only no Pirate ride or teacups.

Anyhow, my business today was to register my antique number plates for my 65 year old MG.


California, like many other states, has a "year of manufacture" programme that allows owners of classic cars to register original number plates to their vehicles if they can:


  1. obtain an original (no replicas) plate that is
  2. not in a letter/number combination already on the road ("DMV clear" in the vernacular)
  3. matches exactly the year that the title of your car (or truck or motorcycle) indicates is the year your vehicle was manufactured.


Prior to the second world war, the state issued a new number plate every year, but subsequently to save steel for the war effort, following 1941, rather than issuing entire plates, small metal tabs with the new registration were issued. In 1957, the metal tabs were dispensed with, and tiny adhesive stickers replaced them. This is the system still employed in California.

As a result, cars in new plate years (1951, 1956, 1963, etc.) require only the plate, but off-plate years require the "base plate" plus the tab or sticker that matches your car's year.

This complicates matters just a bit, as my 1952 MG requires thus that I not only obtain a matching, non-registered pair of base number plates, but also two tiny yellow metal tabs with '52' on them.

After many, many months watching eBay for a DMV 'clear' set AND a pair of 1952 tabs, I was finally ready to head off to the DMV.

The paperwork is now filed, and I await the official stickers and registration form, which I am told will be about 3-4 weeks.

I'm really jazzed to put the "new" plates on the car. 

I've written before about California's number plate schemes here. I'm a numbers guy, and easily amused/entertained by patterns, so this sort of thing is up my street. 

At the time (May 2012), the state (which in 1982 switched to 7-digit combinations to accommodate the massive number of vehicles on our roads) was nearing exhaustion of its 6XXXNNN series. I estimated, at the time, that all of the combinations up to 9ZZZ999 would be used up in perhaps 11-12 years (or, some time in 2023).

There is a web site here that tracks the current, highest number sequence of every state that has been seen - people from Alabama to Wyoming send in sightings to the keeper. According to the current standing, California is up to 7ZMV309. 

We are very, very soon going to exhaust the 7-series, and from the noisy workshop in Folsom, Corcoran, or San Quentin will emerge 8AAA001. I am guessing, perhaps in late August or early September.

How's my projection look?

In mid 2014, 7AAA001 appeared. My calculations, based on my own number plates, were that a series is used every 3.5 years or so. If we turn from 7 to 8, the pace has accelerated slightly. 9AAA001 should issue in early 2020, and the final 9-series in mid to late 2023.

Not too bad for some back of the envelope sequencing.

Not sure what Sacramento are going to do - adding an 8th place is unlikely to "fit," and almost surely would crash the antiquated computer tracking systems of the DMV.

I guess that they will do what was done with the commercial plates when the final 9Z99999 was issued a couple of years ago, and just "flip" the order. If so, my money is that someone will walk out of the DMV in November 2023, the proud owner of 001AAA1.


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