by Paul Williams

In August 2001, the Ontario government pleased owners of collector vehicles by establishing its Year of Manufacture plate program, but some issues with the program have come to light.

The gist of the program is that vehicles at least 30 years old can be registered with a licence plate original to the vehicle’s year of manufacture. This is different than a historic plate (or historic vehicle designation), which, like collector vehicle insurance, places constraints on vehicle use.

With the Year of Manufacture program, if you own a 1965 Corvette you can source a pair of 1965 Ontario licence plates and register them for your car and drive it around just as you would with modern plates. It adds an element of nostalgia to the car that most enthusiasts love. Even better, there’s no additional cost.

Owners mail in the old plates for authentication, then the plates are returned with a letter that can be taken to your local licence bureau for registration.

But Bob Nichols, Ministry of Transportation spokesman, points out that this is a pilot program, and as the program has evolved, some issues have come to light that require clarification. Some of these issues may make certain plates ineligible.

The key requirement is that the vehicle must be at least 30 years old, and substantially unchanged or unmodified from the manufacturer’s original product. But if the vehicle is to be used for commercial purposes, the program doesn’t apply. The vehicle must be for personal use only.

Second, and very important, the number on the historic plates cannot have been duplicated in subsequent years, even if the subsequent plate has been terminated. This has happened, although Mr. Nichols cannot say how frequently. But unfortunately it’s possible to buy, say, a pair of 1967 plates with a number that was used again in the 1980s.

A third requirement is that the plates have to be authentic, not reproductions. They must have been made in the year of issue, by the government of Ontario. Apparently there are some companies that manufacture duplicate plates, and these aren’t eligible.

Finally, the plate must be in good condition. “We have a set of all the plates from the original year of introduction, through to current examples. We can compare your plates with ours to confirm authenticity and condition,” says Mr. Nichols.

The ministry will consider a properly restored plate with the right colours, features and appearance. No guarantees, however.

By the way, you will need a pair of plates. This bears restating, as people often only saved one plate. Ontario requires two, and that’s what you’ll need for this program as well.

The surprise, of course, is related to the duplicate numbers and subsequent termination. Early plates in Ontario were issued annually, and typically discarded when no longer current. We’re talking pre-computers, don’t forget, and over time some of the numbers were used again. Obviously you can’t have two vehicles on the road registered with the same number, hence the issue. But even if the duplicated plate number was terminated twenty years ago, you’ll still have a problem with them.

So, where does this leave the enthusiast with the old car, who’s standing in front of a pile of plates at a flea market? Ideally, you should phone the ministry with the year and number of the plate you’re intending to use. They will tell you if that number’s eligible. Obviously, if it’s Sunday at the flea market, the ministry office will be closed.

Your alternative is to buy those plates, and hope for the best. Or you can source plates from a dealer or collector, typically found online. That way you can get the numbers first, verify their eligibility, then purchase and send them to the Ministry.

Either way, the reality is that not all plates from the year of manufacture will be eligible for registration, so don’t assume.

There is one more wrinkle related to this program. In some years in Ontario, plates weren’t issued at all. Instead, a sticker was given, similar to the practice now.

If your car was manufactured in on of those “sticker” years, you can use the plate from the year before.

Mr. Nichols acknowledges the program is a little more complicated than first presented. “But,” he says, “if there’s an issue, we can review an application on a case-by-case basis. If we can do something to help, we will.”

Mr. Nichols suggests phoning the Licence Administration Office if you’re having a problem with the program at (416) 235-2999 or 1-800-387-3445. Even with these issues, in my view the Ministry of Transport is to be congratulated for establishing this innovative program.

By the way, the price of historic plates varies. Collecting licence plates is a popular hobby, and many collectors buy and sell. Condition and particular number/letter combinations add to a plate’s rarity. Four digit plates command a premium. Some dealers are charging $75.00 for a pair of excellent condition plates. However, similar plates can be bought from other sources for $10.00 or less.

If you’re in the market, shop around.

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