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New License Plates Being Issued…With A Subtle Change

By Staff | Apr 19, 2012

Palo Alto County Treasurer Mary Hilfiker displays the new edition of Iowa license plates, left, compared with the current plates dating back to 1996, at the right. The new plates are completely flat and no longer feature embossed letters and numerals like the old plates. In addition, new plates will feature the letters of the alphabet before the numerals of the plate, opposite of the old plates with numbers before letters. –-Dan Voigt photo

It’s one of those things you really don’t give a lot of thought to as you go about your daily drive, or for that matter, daily activities. But, every motorist who resides in Iowa will be affected by something that comes around every 10 years without fail.

According to Palo Alto County Treasurer Mary Hilfiker, the Iowa Department of Transportation, working closely with all of Iowa’s 99 county treasurers, has started implementation of its’ 10-year license plate replacement cycle. Quite simply, every licensed vehicle in Iowa will get a new license plate, or plates, whichever it appropriate. But, there is a small catch the design of Iowa’s license plates will remain the same the blue and white background with a rural and urban design. That design and color scheme was first introduced on Iowa’s license plates in 1997.

Since then, license plates have undergone one change in design. Back in 1997, all license plates were embossed, with the numeric and alphabetic symbols being pressed into the plate so that they were raised from the surface of the plate itself. But in 1999, the state decided to do away with the more labor-intensive embossing, and went with the flat plate, with numbers and lettering imprinted on the blue and white design.

The flat plate meets all federal standards for license plates, and the new plates will also continue to meet those requirements of function and legibility.

But, as time elapsed, the DOT recognized that some type of change was appropriate for Iowa’s license plates, which are viewed as sort of a traveling glimpse of the state, when Iowans travel to other states in the nation. Many times, plates become damaged or may fade after continual exposure to the elements, and lose some of their readability for law enforcement officers, among others.

To make a change to the look of the new plates, DOT officials elected to reverse he current numeric-alpha sequence (three numbers followed by three letters) over to an alpha-numeric sequence (three letters followed by three numbers). The current system of numbers and then letters will reach the maximum possible combination sometime later this summer.

Along with the change to the alpha-numeric, the DOT will continue to use black instead of the dark blue coloring for the alpha-numeric characters and other text on newly issued license plates.

This change affected only the standard plates and specialty plates that employ the blue and white background, and did not affect specialty plates that employ a special color for the alpha-numeric characters as part of their design, such as collegiate plates and firefighter plates.

Changing the characters to black increased the contrast with the background and made them easier to read, which is important to law enforcement. It also makes plate production more consistent and cost-effective.

The decision to change plates was not made lightly. Realizing that all plates being replaced hadn’t occurred since 1997, DOT officials had to come up with a way of issuing new plates to motorists on a “rolling” replacement cycle. The plan calls for the replacement the oldest plates month by month, through the normal registration renewal cycle of vehicle owners by their birthdays. All currently issued license plates will be replaced over the course of the next 10 years, with the oldest plates being replaced first.

To start with, all plates issued in 1996 and 1997 will be replaced during 2012. In 2013, plates issued between the years of 1998 and 2003 will be replaced at registration time, and in 2014, all plates issued from 2004 will be replaced. Starting in 2015, plates will be replaced on a rolling 10-year cycle.

Any specialty plates, such as Firefighter or Collegiate plates will be replaced with the current version of the same specialty plate. In the case of personalized plates, whether standard or specialty, those plates will be replaced with the same personalized alpha-numeric sequence. Other specialty and standard plates, such as Natural Resource plates or other special plates that are not personalized will be replaced with a plate that has a new alpha-numeric sequence.

Annual registration renewal notices sent to vehicle owners will inform them if their plates will be due for the replacement process. The new plates will be issued along with the registration renewal, either in person or by mail through the local county treasurer’s office.

For those who collect or save their old plates as souvenirs, surrender of the old plates will not be necessary, but they may do so if they choose. Old plate may be recycled after they have been replaced.

Motorists who would like to replace the plates for all of their vehicles at one time instead of waiting for the scheduled replacement dates, may do so, but they will be required to pay a small fee for the replacement of each set of plates that are not due for the replacement.

Persons with questions may contact the Palo Alto County Treasurers Office at 712-852-3844.