How to Get Personalized License Plates

a personalized license plate saying "KEEP LKN"

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Most vehicle manufacturers produce their cars in a narrow range of colors, with similar styles and features as their competitors. While their business strategy likely won’t change anytime soon, those of us who want to express some individuality still have a few options for customization. If you don’t want to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a custom paint job or body kit, or if bumper stickers don’t do it for you, a personalized license plate can give your car that little twinkle that distinguishes it from the rest.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) makes it easy to request one — the hardest part might be waiting for your new license plate to arrive. Here’s how to request one of your own.

Step 1: Have a Valid License Plate

You must already have a valid license plate for your car before you can order a personalized one. If you have a new car that you don’t already have a plate for, you may be able to use the temporary paper dealership tag until your personalized one is ready. However, it can take up to 10 weeks for your plate to arrive, so you may have to request an extension on the temporary plate — which means a trip to the DMV.

Step 2: Check if the Idea You Want Is Available

PennDOT conveniently provides an online tool that shows if the tag phrase you want is available, or if another driver already has it. You can also see the artwork options for plates on this page and decide if you want a standard plate or one that supports a special organization.

We don’t have as many fun options as some other places do — in Britain, for example, drivers can pick from a variety of background colors and fonts. The U.K. allows private companies to make license plates, while the U.S. only authorizes the state departments of transportation to issue them.

Step 3: Complete and Send an Application and Payment

After you discover that the tag phrase you want is available, or think of a new idea if it isn’t, you must fill out the application for a special registration plate and mail it to the address at the bottom of the form. You must also include a check or money order for the special plate fee, which costs $79.

Step 4: Wait for Approval

The staff at PennDOT reviews all applications for personalized plates to make sure they’re appropriate and don’t contain any offensive connotations. If they reject your idea for a tag phrase, they’ll send a letter explaining why, and you can write or call them if you have any questions about the rejection.

You can find the complete list of restrictions for tags, as well as more notes and information, on the PennDOT website. If you follow those guidelines, you’ll have the best chance that the staff will approve your tag phrase, and in eight to 10 weeks you’ll be ready to roll with your new personalized license plate.

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