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Maryland Vintage Plate Program Information

Legally using "year of manufacture" license plates on your antique or classic vehicle

 

This page has information about so-called "year of manufacture" (YOM) plate programs that permit owners of antique and classic vehicles to use license plates from the year the vehicle was made.  Mostly, this page addresses the applicable laws and other information specific to motorists living in the state of Maryland. 

Latest noteworthy updates to this page
  • February 15, 2016  –  Upgraded my 1955 passenger car plate.  Updated discussion of the MVA objecting to correct plate colors, and added mention of the MVA denying the use of plate designs still in use for YOM purposes. 
  • October 15, 2014  –  Heavily revised and added to this page.  It's almost a complete re-write.  Lots of photos added. 

Year of Manufacture general information

1929 Maryland

"Year of Manufacture" or YOM refers to a program offered in a number of states that allows owners of antique, historic, and classic vehicles to legally drive their vehicles using license plates from the year that the vehicle was made.  For example, you could drive your 1929 Ford Model A while displaying 1929 license plates rather than current plates.  Actually, "year of manufacture" is probably a misnomer, because at least in some of the states that I'm familiar with, including Maryland, it's the model year of the vehicle that matters, not the year it was actually built. 

Not every state has a YOM plate program, however, and even among those that do, the applicable laws and regulations vary tremendously from one state to the next.  Therefore, it's difficult to provide much in the way of general information or guidelines that would be applicable in most situations. 

To find out whether your state even permits YOM plates, and what the rules are, you'll need to check with the Department of Motor Vehicles or equivalent agency in your state.  Unfortunately, however, there's a very good chance that you'll be given incorrect or out-of-date information by your DMV.  Alternatively, if you're a member of an antique or classic car club, your club, or knowledgeable members within your club, can probably provide you with accurate information that's relevant to your state and to your vehicle. 

Maryland YOM plate law

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) has no information about YOM plates that I can find on their web site.  However, Maryland law does permit their use and spells out the requirements that must be met.  Below are links to the relevant sections of state law pertaining to YOM plates.  Throughout this law, what are commonly known as YOM plates are referred to as "vintage registration plates". 

Maryland Transportation Code, Title 13 (Vehicle Laws – Certificates of Title and Registration of Vehicles):

Maryland YOM plate law summarized and interpreted

(First, the disclaimer.  I'm not qualified to give legal advice, I have no inside knowledge of the workings of the Maryland MVA, and I have no firsthand experience trying to register or use vintage license plates in Maryland, so don't rely on anything I say.  The statements below are my own personal interpretations and opinions only, based on my familiarity with old Maryland license plates, and from secondhand reports from Maryland motorists who have registered or have attempted to register vintage license plates with the MVA.) 

2012 Maryland historic vehicle
You'll still need a set of these!
1965 Maryland passenger car
Correct for a 1965 model car
1966 Maryland passenger car
Technically correct but not
always allowed on a 1965
model car

Maryland MVA vintage plate policy in the real world

The law pertaining to the use of vintage registration plates has some problems as it's written.  It has contradictions, gray areas, and catch-22s.  Also, it's apparent that the Motor Vehicle Adminstration's practices are often inconsistenly applied and at times contrary to the law.  Therefore, let's address some real-life situations and discuss how the Maryland MVA actually interprets and implements the law. 

So what year plates are correct for my vehicle?
The Maryland MVA seems to always allow vintage plates where that the year on the plate (or sticker) matches the model year of the vehicle.  If the plate only indicates the year, this is simple.  For example, a 1929 Model A would need a set of 1929 plates.  A 1956 Packard Caribbean could use a set of "56" plates, even though they actually expired at the end of March 1956. 

For plates showing a specific expiration date, again, the MVA has no problem with plates where the expiration year matches the vehicle model year.  So, using our 1965 Impala example, the blue plates showing a 3-31-65 expiration date should be approved without incident. 

Where it gets sketchy is when the expiration year on the plate is the next year after the vehicle model year.  Even though yellow 3-31-66 expiration plates were issued in 1965 and technically comply with the law for a 1965 model year car, the MVA does not necessarily allow them.  I have heard from historic car owners who have had no problem registering such plates, and I've heard from others who said the MVA adamantly refused to allow such plates.  I don't know whether their policy has changed over time, or whether the law is being carried out inconsistently.  The bottom line is, you're taking a chance if you buy a set of plates to use on your ride if the expiration year on the plate is different than the vehicle model year. 
What plates can I use for my pre-1910 vehicle?
The first state-issued plates came out in 1910.  Between 1904 and 1909, the state assigned motorists a plate number, but they had to provide their own plates.  These "pre-state" plates were invariably undated and were frequently made by attaching metal house numbers to a piece of leather.  The law says vintage plates must be state-issued, so technically, pre-1910 plates wouldn't meet that requirement.  I have no information about how the MVA actually deals with this situation. 
1939 Maryland passenger car
The 1939 expiration plate was
the only plate used during 1938
What plates can I use for my 1938 vehicle?
I can't give you a definite answer to that question.  There were no Maryland license plates with the year 1938 or "38" on them; the state went directly from 1937 registration year plates to 1939 expiration year plates.  In actual practice, 1937 plates were used during calendar year 1937, and plates showing a March 31, 1939 expiration date were used during all of 1938 and the first quarter of 1939.  Since the MVA doesn't consistently allow plates with an expiration year following the vehicle model year, they might allow 3-31-39 expiration plates on a 1938 vehicle, but I would not be surprised to hear they insist that 1938 vehicles can only use non-existent 1938 plates. 
What plates can I use for my 1972, 1973, 1974, or 1975 vehicle?
All plates issued and used during the 1971 through 1975 expiration years had the year "71" stamped on them.  For the 1971 expiration year, the plates were used without renewal stickers.  For the 1972 through 1975 expiration years, year stickers applied to both plates indicate the actual expiration year.  In other words, even plates newly issued in 1974 had a "71" stamped on the plate; they were issued with the "75" sticker affixed to indicate the plates expired in 1975. 

I've heard reports of the MVA refusing to approve these plates for 1972 to 1975 model vehicles because, even though the plates had the correct year stickers on them, the plates were stamped with the year "71".  The motorists were told they needed to find vintage plates with the correct year stamped on them.  Once again, the MVA was requiring something that never existed.  I don't think they refuse all vintage plates for 1972 to 1975 model year vehicles, but I'm sure it happens from time to time, depending on the clerk. 
What plates can I use for my 1976 or 1981 vehicle?
Maryland did not issue any plates or stickers with the year 1981 on them.  Neither did they issue plates or stickers with the year 1976 on them, with the exception of optional Bicentennial plates for passenger cars.  They issued undated, unstickered plates that expired in 1976 and 1981.  The MVA should have no problem with undated, unstickered red-on-white plates for 1976 model vehicles, or undated, unstickered, painted black-on-white plates for 1981 model vehicles.  However, MVA clerks are not license plate historians, and so I would not be surprised if in some cases they refused to allow such plates to be registered unless they have non-existant 1976 or 1981 stickers affixed.  Again, if that's your situation, you're at their mercy. 
1955 Maryland passenger car
Only single plates were issued
during several years, including
those that expired in 1955
Didn't Maryland only issue single car and truck plates in some years?  What does the MVA require for those years?
The law says the vintage plates must be a matched pair and attached to the vehicle front and rear; it makes no exception for the years when only single plates were issued – expiration years 1945, 1946, 1947, 1954, and 1955.  It's therefore impossible to legally use vintage plates on vehicles from those model years based on a strict interpretation of the law. 

I've heard numerous reports of the MVA prohibiting motorists from registering a single vintage plate from one of these years in which only single plates were issued.  I don't know if they're being hardnosed and are strictly following the law as written, or whether they're just ignorant of the fact that car and truck plates simply weren't issued in pairs in those years.  Regardless, if you own a vehicle from one of these model years, and the MVA has told you that you must have a matched pair of vintage plates, you're in a real no-win situation, unfortunately.  All I can suggest is that you contact a state legislator about getting the law changed to correct this problem. 
They don't require a matched pair of plates for a motorcycle, do they?
Even though the law does not make an exception for motorcycles, as far as I know, the MVA recognizes that motorcycle plates have only ever been issued as single plates and allows single vintage motorcycle plates. 
Any way that I can get the MVA to approve reproductions of vintage plates for my vehicle?
Well, the law is clear that only real plates issued by the state of Maryland may be used.  However, I've heard reports that the MVA has, in at least some cases, approved reproduction plates for use.  I doubt they realized that the plates were not authentic.  Let's face it, MVA clerks are not experts on what vintage plates are supposed to look like.  However, realize that if you pay to have reproduction plates made, the MVA does have a legitimate basis for refusing to authorize them for street use.  Do so at your own risk. 
What's the MVA's take on repainted vintage plates?
Does the MVA care if my vintage plates are the correct color?
The law does not specify whether repainted plates are allowed, or whether the colors must be correct.  In practice, I believe that repaints are okay as long as the colors are reasonably correct.  The MVA has a list of what colors were used in what years, and requires that vintage plates have colors that conform to their list.  It's possible that you could get away with a different shade of the same color used on the original plates from that year. 

However, I've heard from Maryland motorists who have had arguments with the MVA over semantics.  For example, whether a given plate color was yellow or orange or gold.  Their list of the supposedly correct plate colors for each year does not have any visual examples.  I've seen this list, and it has several unfortunate errors.  Besides the obvious errors, there are in some cases rather subjective and, in my opinion, inaccurate color descriptions.  For example, the list says 1955 plates are orange, while 1966 plates are "yellow / gold".  In reality, the 1955 plates are kind of a school bus yellow color, and the 1966 plates are probably a shade or two lighter than that.  You can see for yourself, as original paint examples from both years are shown on this page.  If they consider your 1955 vintage plates to be yellow, they may very well refuse to allow them because their list says they should be orange.  Vice-versa for the 1966 plates.  It will make no difference if your plates have original, unfaded paint. 

Another big problem with this color list is that it doesn't account for the years when motorcycle plates were different colors, or had other differences, from full-sized plates.  The list only shows the colors and characteristics of full-sized plates.  Motorcycle plate colors differed from full-sized plate colors in expiration years 1943, 1951, and 1953. 
I found some car plates with a cool plate number that I want to use on my truck.  Can I?
Oops, I found out I'm using truck plates on my car!  Why didn't the MVA stop me?
There's apparently no requirement that the plate has to be correct for the type of vehicle – so if you want to run truck plates on your car or vice versa, or if you've done so inadvertently because you didn't know the difference, there seems to be nothing that says you can't.  Plus, MVA clerks probably wouldn't know the difference in most cases, anyway.  Some historic vehicle owners care a great deal whether the plates are correct for their vehicle, and others don't seem to care, or are just ignorant.  Personally, I think it looks stupid to have plates of the wrong type, but that may just be because I know the difference and I'm a perfectionist anyway. 

Truck plates on a 1967 car Close up of 1967 truck plate
This motorist is running truck plates on his 1967 Plymouth Barracuda convertible. 
Either he doesn't know or he doesn't care.  The MVA doesn't care. 
1970 Maryland antique vehicle
This plate was originally used
on a vehicle that was antique
in 1970.  Could you now use
it on a 1970 model vehicle?
Can I use vintage plates that say "dealer" or "farm truck" or "antique motor vehicle" plates on my ride?
Can I use vintage fire deparment plates on my antique fire truck?
Those are good questions, and I'm not sure of the answers.  It's one thing to use truck plates on a car, when neither plate type identified the vehicle type anyway.  If I were to guess, I'd say the MVA wouldn't object to you using plates such as dealer or farm truck or antique vehicle plates.  I suspect they would definitley object to you using police or fire department or other government plates, unless the historic vehicle is actually owned by a police or fire department or other government body. 
I found plates from different years that have the same plate number.  Will the MVA let me use one set on my vehicle and let my buddy use another set on his vehicle?
So, for example, you found pairs of both 1968 and 1969 plates with the same plate number, and you have a 1968 Road Runner while your friend has a 1969 Charger.  As far as I know, the MVA does not care whether one set of registered vintage plates has the same plate number as another set of registered vintage plates, or even whether vintage plates have the same number as current plates in use. 
May I use a vintage trailer plate on my old trailer?
Well, techically, the law says vintage plates may only be used on Class L historic motor vehicles and Class N street rods.  Since your trailer is undoubtedly registered as a Class G trailer, the answer would seem to be no.  However, you may get lucky, as the MVA sometimes makes exceptions to the Class L or N requirement. 

Quick reference for identifying popular Maryland YOM plate types

Again, the MVA does not care if your vintage plates are the correct type for your vehicle.  The information in this section is only relevant if you care.  The information below is condensed down to the most significant points for quick reading.  For more detailed information, refer to the appropriate Maryland Plate History page elsewhere on this site.  These pages are listed in the left column of the site menu on my home page, and they're also listed on the Maryland index page. 

1910 to 1937 issue years, and 1939 to 1953 expiration years
1950 Maryland passenger car
This passenger car plate is
stamped with a 1948 date
under the 1950 metal tab
1952 Maryland truck for hire
Trucks for hire had the letters
"CH" stacked one above the
other.  Not-for-hire trucks
used all-numeric plates like
passenger cars.

Plates were issued annually and were valid throughout the calendar year from 1910 to 1937.  Beginning in 1939, and continuing through 1951, all plates expired on March 31 of the year indicated, regardless of whether the full expiration date was on the plate.  This means there were no plates with the year 1938 on them.  Beginning with 1952 expirations; cars and motorcycles retained their March 31 expirations, while most other vehicle types changed to April 30 expirations.  Post-1938 plates with only the year on them actually indicate the expiration year, and expired in March or April of the year shown. 

Metal expiration year tabs were used in some years to extend the life of a plate beyond the year stamped on the plate.  These served the same purpose as today's expiration year stickers.  Metal tabs were used to indicate 1943, 1944, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, and 1953 expiration years on non-motorcycle plates.  Motorcycles received new plates annually during these years. 

1954 to 1970 expiration years
1959 Maryland passenger car
Passenger car plates have
the letters at the beginning
1961 Maryland truck
Truck plates have letters at
the end; first letter is always
"E" for not-for-hire trucks

New plates were issued annually.  For expiration years 1954 through 1956, only the expiration year is indicated on the plate.  From 1957 to 1970, the exact expiration date is indicated. 

1971 to 1975 expiration years
1972 Maryland passenger car
Passenger car plates have
the letters at the beginning. 
All 1971-75 plate have "71"
stamped on them.
1975 Maryland truck
Truck plates have the letters
at the end; first letter is
always D, E, or J

All plates used for 1971 through 1975 expiration years had "71" stamped on them.  For the 1971 expiration year, the plates were used without renewal stickers.  For the 1972 through 1975 expiration years, year stickers applied to both plates indicate the expiration year. 

1976 to 1987 expiration years
1976 Maryland motorcycle
This unstickered plate is
correct for a 1976 motorcycle;
it expired in March 1976
1981 Maryland passenger car
This unstickered plate is
correct for a 1981 car;
it expired in March 1981
1976 Maryland optional passenger car
Optional Bicentennial plates
were the only ones with the
year 1976 on them
1987 Maryland optional MPV
Optional 350th Anniversary
MPV plates were not marked
as such
Standard plates

Standard 1976 and 1981 expiration plates were not dated or stickered.  Standard 1976 expiration plates have red numbers on a white background; 1981 expiration plates have black numbers on a white background.  Expiration year stickers were applied front and rear to the 1976 and 1981 expiration plates to validate them for subsequent years through 1980 and 1986, respectively.  Some 1986 and all 1987 expirations were indicated with month and year stickers on the rear plate only. 

Optional plates

Bicentennial and 350th Anniversary graphic plates had the years 1976 and 1984 screened on them, respectively, and were used without stickers during those initial expiration years.  Expiration year stickers were applied front and rear to the 1976 and 1984 expiration plates to validate them for subsequent years through 1980 and 1986, respectively.  Some 1986 and all 1987 expirations were indicated with month and year stickers on the rear plate only.  Neither Bicentennial nor 350th Anniversary plates were issued to trucks. 

1986 and subsequent expiration years
1989 Maryland passenger car
Standard passenger car
plates were issued with this
numbering format 1986-2004
1993 Maryland multi-purpose vehicle
Standard MPV plates were
issued with this numbering
format approx. 1986-1998
1988 Maryland truck
Standard truck plates were
issued with this numbering
format 1986-1992
1992 Maryland optional passenger car
Optional Chesapeake plates
were issued with this design
1990-2003.  This numbering
format is for a passenger car.

Remember, to be eligible for YOM plates, vehilces must be at least 25 years old according to the law, or 20 years old in actual practice, based on the model year, and the expiration year on the sticker must either match the model year, or possibly be the year after the model year. 

However, I've heard reports of the MVA denying owners of late-1980s and 1990s vehicles from using appropriate vintage plates, because the plate designs used in those years are still in use with current expiration stickers.  Whether the MVA consistenly prevents these plates from being used for YOM purposes despite the law, I don't know. 

Neither passenger car plates, multi-purpose passenger vehicle plates, nor truck plates, on either the standard or optional designs, had anything stamped or printed on them to identify the vehicle type.  The only way to tell the plate type is from the plate numbering format. 

Standard plates

Reflective black-on-white plates with the state name screened on the plate in a stylistic font were introduced as standard plates in February 1986; nearly all had initial expiration dates in 1987 and beyond; a very few were issued with 1986 expirations.  These plates were issued in pairs; month and year stickers were correctly applied to the upper corners of the rear plate; no stickers were affixed to the front plate.  This plate design remains in use today. 

Optional plates

The first generation Treasure the Chesapeake optional plate, which had green plate numbers, was introduced in early 1990, so the earliest plates of this design apparently are being allowed as vintage plates.  Generally, the earliest of these would have 1991 expiration stickers, though it's possible there are a few with 1990 expirations.  The month and year stickers were different colors than those used on standard plates through 1995.  This plate design is still in use. 

Where to find YOM plates

Unfortunately, old license plates suitable for YOM use don't grow on trees.  Some will be easy to find, and some may be very difficult or even impossible to find. 

The Where can I find old license plates? section of my FAQs page will provide you with some useful tips for finding old license plates. 

Related links

Page credits

Thanks to those who have directly contributed to the information on this page:  Jeff Ellis, Sam Korper, August Paro, Mark Vahlkamp. 


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