QOTD: What's the Best (or Worst) Looking License Plate?

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
qotd whats the best or worst looking license plate

As I reveal daily in TTAC’s Slack channel, I’m a bit geeky in some ways. One of the ways this manifests is through a fascination with license plates (I am not alone in this — Mr. Guy shares my geekiness on this topic, perhaps going beyond my own level).

I think this comes from living most of my life in the northeast corner of Illinois. It’s a near-daily occurrence to see Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Missouri, and even Ohio plates due to simple geographic proximity. Factor in tourists and people snagging rental cars, many of which carry out-of-state plates, and if you live in or near Chicago (or any big city, really), you see a good cross-section of the nation’s plates.

Not to mention, as eagle-eyed readers might note, press cars often arrive wearing plates from various states. My travels for this job take me to locales near state borders, which means seeing cars from neighboring states passing by. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time in Maryland these past two years. One sees many different plates there, in part because of proximity to DC and the I-95 corridor, and also because of military folks stationed in the area.

Finally, the license plate game was the number one boredom fighter on long road trips when I was a wee lad. Hey, it was the ‘80s – tablets weren’t a thing yet, and Game Boy batteries discharged quickly.

So yeah, I have an eye for license plates. When heading out to O’Hare, sans press car, to drive the Silverado last week, I spotted a random SUV with New York plates from the El (Chicago’s Blue Line rides between the lanes of the Kennedy Expressway). These are my least favorite plates, and I grimaced.

Conversely, I find NJ plates to be the most aesthetically pleasing. I don’t know why – I’ve probably spent less than a full day in that state, in total, over my lifetime. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen every Sopranos episode multiple times?

As for my state, we’re in the process of rolling out new plates, replacing the bland but attractive ones with a design so tacky that for the first time in her life, my mom sprung for a specialty plate when her car needed new tags.

I can’t recall all 50 states’ plates off the top of my head, but of the ones I can, I have a mental index of the ones that look good and the ones that don’t.

So, B and B, I ask you – what state’s plate do you love, or loathe? For simplicity’s sake, let’s keep this to “standard” plates, not specialty plates (like for a sports team) you’d have to pay extra for. Let’s also keep this to aesthetics, and not worry about state slogans and mottos. Let’s also ignore how a plate makes us feel about a state’s drivers.

What plate always catches your eye, good or bad? Sound off below.

[Image: Murilee Martin/TTAC]

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2 of 104 comments
  • WildcatMatt WildcatMatt on Sep 12, 2018

    The New York "Empire" plates were fantastic and a nice balance between upstate and NYC with Niagara Falls and the Manhattan skyline, and the blue/white colors went okay with most vehicle colors. The current NY plates are a weird mashup -- the state is spelled out in the font previously used for specialty plates, and the orange-yellow/blue colors are supposed to be a throwback to the '70s. The real reason for the plate reissue was a combination cash grab by the state and wanting a design that improved machine-readability. Delaware is an interesting place state-wide. There hasn't been a plate reissue since 1942(!) so if you have a tag number below 200000 you can get the reproduction porcelain white-on-black plates. As a result, there is a secondary market where people buy and sell low-numbered tags as a status symbol. Generally speaking if you have four or fewer digits on your plate, your family has lived in Delaware for generations, is rich, or both. I've seriously met people here with low plate numbers who say their plate is an investment for retirement or their kid's college fund. And don't get me started on the PC series plates...

  • Sub-600 Sub-600 on Sep 12, 2018

    Texas has badass plates. Plain and simple, like something from an old b-horror movie. Very nice.

  • Dukeisduke I saw a well-preserved Mark VII LSC on the road not too long ago, and I had to do a double-take. They still have a presence. Back when these were new, a cousin of mine owned an LSC with the BMW turbo diesel.
  • Dukeisduke I imagine that stud was added during the design process for something, and someone further along the process forgot to delete it after it became unnecessary.
  • Analoggrotto Knew about it all along but only now did the risk analysis tilt against leaving it there.
  • Mike Beranek Funny story about the '80 T-bird. My old man's Dart Sport had given up the ghost so he was car-shopping. He & I dropped my mom at a store and then went to the Ford dealer, where we test-drove the new T-Bird (with digital dash!)So we pull up to the store to pick mom up. She walks out and dad says "We just bought it.". Mom stares at the Mulroney- almost 13 grand- and just about fell over.Dad had not in fact bought the T-Bird, instead he got a Cordoba for only 9 grand.
  • EngineerfromBaja_1990 I'd love a well preserved Mark VII LSC with the HO 5.0 for a weekend cruiser. Its design aged better than both the VI and VIII. Although I'd gladly take the latter as well (quad cam V8 and wrap around interior FTW)