PennDOT’s License Plate Reissue Program: Ensuring Legibility and Compliance

License Plate Reissue Program

License plates are an important piece of the PA vehicle registration process and are designed to clearly identify ownership, registration, and traffic violation status of a vehicle. Police have plate scanning equipment in their vehicles to automatically identify and send immediate feedback back to them in real time.

Plate Replacement Process

To be identifiable the plate must not be damaged or defaced.  A license plate becomes “defaced” when the damage to it renders it illegible from 50 feet away.   If you as the owner, an authorized PA inspection mechanic or a Police Officer make that determination you are eligible to receive a free replacement plate with different characters and numbers assigned.   To request the free replacement plate requires customer to mail in a properly completed MV-46 with part B verification by Police or Authorized PA inspection mechanic.   If you do not want to wait for the plate to come to you using the mail process you can always purchase a new plate and have it issued instantly by any authorized Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Online Messenger or agent like 309 Auto Tags.

Historical Evolution of License Plates in PA

License plates have gone through many changes since they were first introduced by PennDOT in 1906.   For those of us old enough to remember, we had the old blue with gold character “Keystone State” plates from 1991 until 1999 followed by the current styled white plates with blue and gold outline.   Initially, the plates were tagged with “” and were finally revised in 2004 to reflect the current tag “”.

Historically, PA has introduced a new plate style every 5-10 years to keep current with changes in culture, tastes, and events.   Remember the “Bicentennial State” blue and gold plates from 1971-1977?   Those changes also served to ensure a regular program of plate replacement to keep the inventory of active plates in good condition and suitable for legible display.  

Also Read- A Guide to Renewing Your Car Registration in Pennsylvania

Expanded Replacement Program

The current “” plates are now 20 years old PennDOT began The General License Plate Reissue Program in 2018.   Designed to recognize that the oldest standard issued license plates that began with the letter character ‘D’, ‘E’, ‘F’ and truck plates that began with ‘Y’ needed to be replaced and reissued due to deterioration of the reflective coating and made it difficult for police verification and plate scanning.    Rather than a massive replacement of millions of those “DEFY” plates, PennDOT began replacing them by utilizing their existing network of agents and dealers that participates in the modernized Online Registration and Online Messenger Programs (like 309 Auto Tags) to exchange those plates, free of charge to any customer wishing to transfer their plate from one vehicle to another. 

That system of plate replacement only in instances of a customer requested plate transfer had been gradual and slow.   With the passage of another 5 years since 2018 and still more plates have begun to show wear and as a result, in April 2023 PennDOT announced an expanded General and Centralized License Plate Reissue Program to include the ‘G’ and ‘H’ series passenger plates.   This time, in addition to adding the ‘G’ and ‘H’ plates to the general program of replacing the ‘DEFY’ plates, a new “Centralized Replacement” of all standard passenger plates that begin with the letter ‘D’ commenced.

As a result, any PA drivers who have a passenger plate beginning with the letter ‘D’ will receive a new plate, in the mail directly from PennDOT after successfully renewing their vehicle registration.  To facilitate the new plate “centralized” reissuance effort, the ‘D’ plates are no longer eligible for free replacement at the time of transfer.

It is important to point out that any customized or personalized “Vanity” plate, or other “Special” Organization or fund plates that begin with any of the characters above are not included in the general or centralized plate reissue program outlined above.   If any of these plates become defaced for any reason, owners are entitled to a free replacement of the same style plate and if personalized, those special characters will be included in the reissued product.

Challenges and Future Innovations

As anyone can imagine, the process of designing, fabricating, and distributing license plates is a large expense to taxpayers who fund the government, to law enforcement trying to do their job as effectively as possible and confusing to the public. As a result of these challenges, several states have begun to allow drivers to elect to have “Digital License Plates” installed on their vehicles.   In development since 2009, the plates are either battery powered or wired directly into the car’s electrical system and display HD monochromatic characters that can be activated or deactivated if your vehicle registration is active or “invalid” because of renewal nonpayment or suspended registration due to a violation.  

Currently only approved states of CA, AZ, MI and TX allow motorists or businesses to elect to have these plates installed, at their own expense.   Although the upfront costs and monthly subscriptions for service vary, the concept is very appealing to companies that manage large fleets of vehicles, and to tech savvy drivers who appreciate innovation and have the need to be the first one on their block to show off new groundbreaking technology.  


At some point in the not-too-distant future, new cars may have the technology built in as a standard option and all states may pass legislation to allow across the board use of digital plates but in the meantime, at least in PA it is up to the vehicle owner to keep their vehicles and their license plates in good condition.   If you have questions, please call us at 267-954-8247 to speak to any of our qualified staff.

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