Pennsylvania dealer license plate

Rick Kretschmer's License Plate Archives 

Pennsylvania dealer license plate

A Pictorial History of Pennsylvania License Plates

Dealer and other motor vehicle business plates dated 1910 to present

 

This page covers the history of Pennsylvania license plates used by vehicle dealers and other automotive-related businesses. 

Latest noteworthy updates to this page
  • September 14, 2017  –  Added a photo of a blue base version 1 repair/service towing plate.  Replaced candid photo of a fade base multi-purpose dealer plate with that of one without a plate frame. 
  • June 26, 2016  –  Added a photo of a fade base moped dealer plate. 

Introduction

From 1906 to 1909, Pennsylvania license plates indicated that the driver, not the vehicle, was licensed, so there was only a single plate type during those years.  Beginning in 1910, license plates were assigned to specific vehicles, and during 1910-1919 the VIN number was actually enscribed on most plates.  This practice made dealer plates necessary, because dealer plates by nature are not vehicle-specific.  So, Pennsylvania dealer plates were introduced in 1910 and were that state's first non-passenger plate type.  That's where this page begins. 

From 1910 until 1980, Pennsylvania dealer plates and/or stickers nearly always indicated the registration year.  However, beginning with plates dated 1941, the registration year no longer coincided with the calendar year.  Plates dated from 1941 through 1957 showed the exact expiration date in addition to the registration year.  Since 1981, stickers have indicated the expiration month and year. 

Generally, Pennsylvania dealer plates have followed the same color scheme, dimensions, and other characteristics of passenger car plates.  Because this information is covered in detail on the Pennsylvania passenger car plate history pages, on this page I'll just point out when there were deviations from passenger car plates. 

My "Pictorial History" pages are intended to be a supplement to the information found in the ALPCA Archives.  I am providing additional details and additional photos not found in the archives, and clarifying information when appropriate. When the ALPCA archives cover a subject in great detail, I do not repeat that detail here.  I sincerely hope that you find this information useful. 

If you find an error or have additional information, or can provide a plate or a photo of a plate that I'm missing, please send me an e-mail.  There's a link to my e-mail address at the bottom of every page.  Please note that all plates shown that are credited to another person, or that are photos of plates in actual use, are plates that I am still seeking for my own collection. 

Pennsylvania dealer plates, 1910-1919

1910 dealer
(Francis plate)

1913 dealer
(Francis plate)

1916 dealer
Regular dealers

Specific plates for dealers were introduced in 1910, when Pennsylvania began issuing passenger car plates with a keystone attachment bearing the maker's number (today know as the VIN) of the vehicle to which the plates were assigned.  Dealers needed plates that were not assigned to a specific vehicle, so that they could use them on any vehicle in their inventory. 

Like other Pennsylvania plates types through 1915, dealer plates were porcelain-coated and were similar in appearance to passenger car plates.  Instead of the keystone attachment, the state abbreviation Penna, the four-digit year, and the word Dealer were stacked on the left side of the plate.  In 1910, dealer plate serial numbers were all-numeric, but beginning in 1911, dealer plates consistently used an "X" serial prefix letter.  The "X" was smaller than the serial numbers on the 1911-1913 plates, and the same size as the numbers on the 1914-1915 plates.  The use of the letter "X" was reserved for dealer plates through 1970. 

Beginning in 1916, dealer plates were embossed like all other Pennsylvania plate types, but the basic design of the plates were otherwise unchanged from the previous years' porcelain plates.  The "X" letter code was the same size as the serial numbers on these embossed plates.  In 1919, similar to other plate types, the state abbreviation, the year, and the Dealer plate type legend were relocated to the right side of the plate. 

Tractor dealers

Non-dealer tractor plates for farm tractors were introduced in 1914, and tractor dealer plates are known to exist as early as 1916.  The 1916 to 1919 tractor dealer plates looked like regular dealer plates except that they had a "TX" serial prefix rather than just "X". 

Pennsylvania dealer plates, 1920-1923

1920 dealer
Regular dealers

1920-1923 Pennsylvania dealer plates were consistently 16 inches long by 6 inches high, even though most of them had fewer than six serial characters and didn't need that length for the serial number.  The 16 inch length was needed for the text Penna Dealer 19yy (where "yy" indicated the year) to fit on the bottom edge of the plate.  The "X" prefix was again the same size as the serial numbers.  It appears that plate numbers up to 999 had no dash separator, while those 1,000 and above had a dash separator between the third and fourth digits from the right. 

Tractor dealers

It's been reported that tractor dealer plates bore the legend Tractor Dealer during these years, and were also identifiable by the "TX" serial prefix.  I don't know that both words Tractor Dealer spelled in full would have fit on the plate, however. 

Motorcycle dealers

These are known to exist with dates as early as 1923.  Like full-sized dealer plates, motorcycle dealer plates were identified with a letter "X" serial prefix.  They were not otherwise identified. 

Pennsylvania dealer plates, 1924-1929

1925 dealer
1925 dealer
Regular dealers

During these years there was no legend to identify dealer plates, but they continued to use the "X" serial prefix, with up to five numeric serial digits.  These were like truck plates, in that the serial letter was the same size as the numbers from 1924 through 1926, and then since 1927, always noticeably smaller than serial numbers.  Probably also in some years and with some numbers of serial characters, a dash separator was used between the third and fourth characters from the right, while in other situations no dash was used.  This was the case with other plate types from the 1920s. 

Tractor dealers

Tractor dealer plates were distinguishable only by the "TX" serial prefix during these years. 

Motorcycle dealers

Like full-sized regular dealer plates, motorcycle dealer plates were identified with a letter "X" serial prefix.  They were not otherwise identified. 

Pennsylvania dealer plates, 1930-1933

Beginning in 1930, for all types of plates, Pennyslvania tried hard to limit plate serial numbers to five characters or fewer in an apparant attempt to save money by keeping the plate lengths to a maximum of 12 inches.  This meant introducing new serial formats that had more letters and letters in a variety of positions.  Dealer plates and most other non-passenger plate types had no identifying legend during these years. 

1930 dealer?
possible 1930 dealer
(Morrison photo / plate)

1931 dealer?
possible 1931 dealer
(Burr photo / plate)

1931 unknown type
1931 mystery plate, possibly
either a truck or dealer plate
Regular dealers

I, like most people familiar with old Pennsylvania license plates, had once automatically assumed that 1930-1933 dealer plates were identified by the presence of the letter "X" in the serial number, and due to the now-shorter plate numbers, the "X" could be in any position.  Well, I've actually seen them in serial positions 1 through 4, but not position 5.  The 1930 and 1931 plates shown at left, are perfect examples of what I assumed were dealer plates. 

Then I saw a report by another plate historian that indicated that dealer plates, like truck plates, used serial formats 00xx and 000xx in 1930.  In the case of dealer plates, the first of the two letters was supposedly could be either an "X" or a "Y", while the second letter was variable.  I've also seen 1931 plates in format 000xx where the first letter is an "A" or "B", and I don't know what those are – I'm guessing either truck or dealer plates, but I just don't know. 

I'm not yet convinced that 1930 and 1931 "X" plates are not in fact dealer plates, based on just this one report which runs counter to convetional wisdom.  I'm not aware of the letter "X" being used for any other type of plate through 1970.  However, assuming this report regarding 1930 dealer plates is in fact correct, that leaves the obvious question of what type of plate are the 1930 and 1931 "X" plates, if not dealer plates?  Passenger car plates, perhaps, but who knows?  To resolve this question, further provenance is needed, such as a registration card for a 1930 or 1931 "X" plate, or a list of 1930 or 1931 plate types and corresponding numbering formats from the Pennsylvania motor vehicle department.  Same thing with 1932 and 1933 plates, just to be sure.  I'd say that 1932 and 1933 "X" plates are more likely to be dealer plates, since there is no other mystery numbering format in those years that could have been used instead.  Stay tuned. 

Tractor dealers

Tractor dealer plates were distinguishable only by the "TX" serial prefix during these years. 

Motorcycle dealers

Like full-sized regular dealer plates, motorcycle dealer plates were identified with a letter "X" serial prefix.  They were not otherwise identified. 

Motorboat dealers

Motorboats were issued metal plates similar to license plates between 1931 and 1963.  Through 1954, they were quite different looking than any land-based vehilce plates.  Motorboat dealer plates have been reported as early as 1933; I don't know whether they were also issued in 1931 or 1932.  Motorboat dealer plates were distinguished from regular motorboat plates only by their "X" serial prefix.  Motorboat plates are covered in more detail on the Pennsylvania motorcycle plates page. 

Pennsylvania dealer plates, 1934-1937

Starting in 1934, nearly all types of plates other than passenger car plates gained an identifying legend of some kind, making it much easier to identify obscure plate types. 

1934 dealer
Regular dealers

For 1934, and continuing to the present, dealer plates bore a legend that clearly identified them as such.  The legend was yy#Dealer#Pa in 1934, 1936, and 1937, and on 1935 "shorty" plates with fewer than five serial characters, with the # symbol indicating the position of embossed keystones, and the "yy" indicating the two-digit issue year.  Full-sized 1935 plates with five serial characters bore legend # yy Dealer Pa #.  Serial formats in 1934 did not use the "X" letter code; instead, they could be all-numeric or have a variable serial letter.  However, the "X" retuned in 1935, and could be in variable positions.  Although 1937 passenger car plates were issued with a state map outline, dealer plates continued in the plain style for one additional year. 

Tractor dealers

Apparently tractor dealer plates looked similar to trailer plates, with a vertical state abbreviation and year, but with the legend Trailer Dlr across either the top or bottom of the plate.  I'm guessing that the 1934 plate didn't have the "TX" serial prefix, but the 1935-1937 plates did. 

Motorcycle dealers

Motorcycle dealer plates lost the "X" in the serial number, permanently, and now instead were identified by the stacked letters "M/C/D".  The stacked letters were stacked vertically on the right side of the plate in 1934 and 1935, and on the left side in 1936 and 1937.  On the opposite side of the plate, the two-digit year and the state abbreviation Pa were each stacked vertically. 

Motorboat dealers

Motorboat dealer plates had an "X" serial prefix, but otherwise looked just like regular motorboat plates, and both were quite different looking from any land-based vehilce plates.  Motorboat plates are covered in more detail on the Pennsylvania motorcycle plates page. 

Pennsylvania dealer plates, 1938-1957

Starting in 1938, dealer plates bore the state map outline that was introduced on passenger plates in 1937.  Like other plate types, the registration period was changed from the calendar year to end on March 31 of the year following the year indicated on the plate, beginning with the 1941 plate.  Starting with this plate, the actual expiration date was added in very small characters along the top edge of the plate. 

1940 dealer
1940 dealer
1938-1945 regular dealers and 1946-1957 miscellaneous dealers (X in serial)

Through 1945, there continued to be only one dealer plate type, which used the "X" letter code in the serial number.  (That is, if you don't consider tractor dealers, motorcycle dealers, or motorboat dealers.)  1943 renewal tabs used to extend the life of the 1942 dealer plates also had an "X" serial prefix that identified them as dealer tabs. 

Additional dealer plate types for new and used car dealers were introduced in 1946, but the unspecified or generic dealer plate type with the "X" in the serial also continued to be issued.  A 1965 state document refers to these "X" plates as "miscellaneous dealer" plates.  I believe these were issued to what would later be called motor vehicle businesses rather than actual dealers.  Serial formats remained unchanged on these plates, with a maximum of five characters through 1956, including the letter "X" which could be in a variety of positions.  In 1957, dealer plates went to using six serial characters, using only serial format X00000 for miscellaneous dealer plates. 

1954 new car dealer
1954 new car dealer

1956 new car dealer
1956 new car dealer
with 1957 serial dies
(Burr photo / plate)
1946-1957 new and used car dealers (A and B prefixes)

At least two new dealer plate types, for new car dealers and used car dealers, were introduced in 1946.  New car dealer plates bore the legend New Car Dl'r and used the letter "A" consistently in serial position one, while used car dealers said Used Car Dl'r and used the letter "B" consistently in serial position one.  Through 1956, both plate types had one additional variable letter in the serial and used both serial formats x000x and x00x0.  In 1957, these plate types went to using six serial characters, using only serial format x0000x

The 1956 new car dealer plate shown at left had its plate number stamped with what are called 1957 dies.  1957 die characters are the same width as the previous 1934 dies, but the width of the strokes are thinner.  They're called 1957 dies because they were used to stamp all types of 1957 plates with five or fewer characters in the plate number.  Most instances of 1957 dies being used on 1956 plates are late-issue, high-numbered passenger car plates, but I also know of one truck plate and this one dealer plate.  I don't know if 1957 dies were only used on new car dealer plates, or also on other dealer plate types as well.  Ironically, since 1957 dealer plate numbers all had six characters, they were stamped with what are called 1958 serial dies. 

1946?-1957 transit dealers (C prefix)

The earliest year I'm aware of this obscure plate type actually being issued is 1957, and it was issued through 1965.  These had a generic Dealer legend and were issued in small numbers.  Serial format was C0000x in 1957, and almost certainly the second letter was always an "A".  I've also now seen a 1952 test plate that was stamped with plate number C123A and the legend Dealer, which makes me now think this type might have been around since 1946, when the "A" and "B" prefixed dealer plates began. 

I had been under the impression that the split-alpha passenger car plate serial formats that debuted in 1951 had started with serial C000A, but perhaps not, since that format was apparently already in use.  On the other hand, Pennsylvania did issue the same plate number for various plate types in other instances, so passenger car plates and transit dealer plates might have shared the format, or, possibly, split-alpha passenger car plates actually began at C000B or D000A. 

A 1965 state document refers to this plate type as being for "transit dealers", but I have no idea what exactly that means.  It sounds like these might be bus dealer plates, but I can't imagine why bus dealers would need their own plate type when there was no truck dealer plate type.  A more likely possibility is that these plates were used for unregistered vehicles "in transit", such as being driven between factory and showroom. 

1952 tractor dealer
1952 tractor dealer
(Burr photo / plate)
Tractor dealers

This is not a common plate type, and I've only seen two tractor dealer plates from this time period, dated 1952 and 1955.  They both bore the legend Tractor but don't say anything about being a dealer plate.  They were identifiable as dealer plates only by the serial format TX000.  I can only assume that other 1938-1957 tractor dealer plates have similar characteristics. 

Motorcycle dealers

Motorcycle dealer plates continued to be distinguished from regular motorcycle plates with the stacked letters "M/C/D" on the right side of the plate.  Serials were always all-numeric. 

1956 motorboat dealer
1956 motorboat dealer
(plate owner not known)
Motorboat dealers

Beginning in 1955, motorboat plates began to strongly resemble motorcycle plates, and used the same state map design and expiration date embossed along the top edge as did motorcycle plates.  However, in most years, motorboat plate colors were completely different than Pennsylvania license plates used on land vehicles.  Motorboat dealer plates were distinguished from reglar motorboat plates only by having an "X" serial prefix. Motorboat plates are covered in more detail on the Pennsylvania motorcycle plates page. 

Pennsylvania dealer plates, 1958-1964

Multi-year dealer base plates were issued in 1958 and again in 1962.  Single-year dealer plates were issued in 1964.  All three of these plates were yellow on blue and had the two-digit year embossed on the plate, consistent with other plate types of this period.  Early issue 1958 base plates had a tab slot next to the stamped year, which was never used since stickers were instead used to validate these plates in subsequent years. 

In the years that new base plates weren't issued, 1959-1961 and 1963, renewal stickers were applied in the upper left corner of the plate.  Sticker colors were the same as those used on passenger car plates.  The exact expiration date was no longer indicated on the plate, nor on the sticker. 

1959 miscellaneous dealer
1959 miscellaneous dealer
Miscellaneous dealers (X prefix)

The miscellaneous or generic dealer plate type continued to be issued.  I believe these were issued to what would later be called motor vehicle businesses rather than actual dealers.  During these years, serial numbers were consistently six characters, with the letter "X" consistently in position one and a dash between the third and fourth characters.  In other words, the serial format was X00-000

1963 new car dealer
1963 new car dealer
New and used car dealers (A and B prefixes)

New car dealer plates continued to bear the legend New Car Dl'r and used the letter "A" in serial position one, while used car dealers said Used Car Dl'r and used the letter "B" in serial position one.  During these years, the serial format was x00-00x for both of these plate types.  The suffix letter was variable. 

1958 transit dealer
1958 transit dealer
Transit dealers (C prefix)

These had a generic Dealer legend and were issued in small numbers.  Serial format was C00-00x beginning in 1958.  Again, I don't really know what a "transit dealer" was. 

Tractor dealers

1958 plates issued to dealers of farm-type tractors bore the legend Pa Tractor but didn't say anything about being dealer plates.  They were identifiable as dealer plates only by the serial format TX-0000.  New tractor dealer plates were issued in 1962 and 1964 like other dealer plate types. 

Motorcycle dealers

The stacked letters "M/C/D" continued to be placed on the right side, and serial numbers continued to be all-numeric throughout this period.  Like full-sized dealer plates, motorcycle dealer plates were issued in 1958, 1962, and 1964 with an embossed two-digit year stacked vertically in the lower left corner of the plate.  Early-issue 1958 base plates had tab slots on either side of the year, which were never used for their intended purpose.  These base plates were validated with stickers in the intervening years; sticker colors were the same as passenger car plates, and the stickers were affixed to a blank space above the embosssed year. 

1958 motorboat dealer
1958 motorboat dealer
(plate owner not known)
Motorboat dealers

Motorboat plates continued to strongly resemble motorcycle plates, but in most years had different colors than were ever used on motorcycle plates.  Motorboat dealer plates had an "X" serial prefix, but otherwise looked just like regular motorboat plates.  1963 was the last year for these.  Motorboat plates are covered in more detail on the Pennsylvania motorcycle plates page. 

Pennsylvania dealer plates, 1965-1970

Between 1965 and 1970, dealer plates and motor vehicle business plates were reissued annually.  Like passenger car, motorcycle, and tractor plates, and unlike most other plate types, dealer and motor vehicle business plates switched to an undated blue-on-yellow map base in 1965.  However, the embossed date returned again for 1966. 

1965 micellaneous dealer
1965 miscellaneous dealer
1965 miscellaneous dealers (X prefix)

Miscellanous or generic dealer plates continued to use the state abbreviation Pa followed by the legend Dealer, and also continued the X00-000 serial format used in previous years.  However, the undated 1965 plate was the last year for this plate type and this serial format.  It was replaced in 1966 by the motor vehicle business plate type, which is addressed below. 

1965 new car dealer
1965 new car dealer

1968 used car dealer
1968 used car dealer
New and used car dealers (A and B prefixes)

New and used car dealer plates continued with the A00-00x and B00-00x serial formats, respectively, used in previous years.  1965 plates continued to use the state abbreviation Pa followed by the legends New Car Dl'r or Used Car Dl'r, but were undated.  1966 new and used car dealer plates read Pa Dealer 1966 across the top, and were distinguished only by the serial prefix letters A and B, respectively. 

Beginning in 1967, the full state name Pennsylvania was relocated to a small yellow space in the top blue border of the plate.  The plate type legend was simply Dealer, followed by the four-digit year.  New and used car dealer plates were again distinguished only by the serial prefix letters A and B, respectively. 

1965 transit dealers (C prefix)

The undated 1965 plate was the last year for this obscure plate type.  These had a generic Pa Dealer legend and were issued in small numbers.  Serial format continued to be C00-00x.  Like all 1965 plates, they were undated.  Again, I don't really know what a "transit dealer" was. 

1966 motor vehicle business
1966 motor vehicle business

1969 motor vehicle business
1969 motor vehicle business

1969 motor vehicle business
1969 motor vehicle business
(1966 plate with a '69 sticker)
1966-1970 motor vehicle businesses (C prefix)

The motor vehicle business plate type debuted in 1966, replacing the miscellanous dealer plate that used the "X" serial prefix, and probably also the obscure transit dealer plate that used the "C" prefix.  Motor vehicle business plates inherited the C00-00x serial format from the transit dealer plate type. 

1966 plates bore the text Pa MV Business 1966 above the serial number; beginning in 1967, the full state name Pennsylvania was relocated to a small yellow space in the top blue border of the plate.  The remainder of the plate type legend was changed to M.V. Business, with periods added, followed by the four-digit year. 

Although motor vehicle business plates were manufactured with succesive years embossed on them, for reasons unknown, a significant number of apparently leftover 1966 motor vehicle business plates were issued during the years 1967-1969, especially in 1967.  These plates had passenger car plate stickers affixed, usually right over top of the last two digits of the embossed year 1966.  Why exactly this was done remains a mystery. 

1970 tractor dealer
1970 tractor dealer
Tractor dealers (TX prefix)

Dealers of farm tractors and similar equipment continued to be issued plates with the serial format TX-0000.  As you can see, the 1970 plates had a Dealer legend, as did the 1967 and 1969 plates.  I believe, but am not certain, that the undated 1965 plates bore the legend Pa Tractor, and that the word "Dealer" replaced the word "Tractor" beginning in 1966. 

1970 motorcycle dealer
1970 motorcycle dealer
(Sowers photo / plate)
Motorcycle dealers

1965 motorcycle dealer plates were undated and continued with the stacked letters "M/C/D" on the right side.  The 1966 through 1970 plates had an embossed two-digit year in the bottom left corner, similar to the 1962 and 1964 motorcycle dealer plates.  Beginning in 1967, the stacked letters were changed to "D/L/R", and the embossed word Motorcycle was added to the bottom edge of the plate. 

Pennsylvania dealer plates, 1971-1976

Pennsylvania continued with annually-issued plates dealer and motor vehicle business plates during these years.  Like the plate types such as passenger cars that received new base plates in 1971, dealer and motor vehicle business plates other than motorcycle dealers abandoned the state map border and went to a plain yellow-on-blue design. 

From 1971 to 1974, new plates were issued each year, with the embossed four-digit year following the plate type legend.  In 1975 and 1976, the plates were undated, and stickers were used to indicate the registration year.  However, I've never seen a dealer or M.V. business plate with both 1975 and 1976 stickers affixed, which leads me to believe that new plates were issued in 1976.  The stickers on these plate types all seem to have serial number PA0000

1972 new car dealer
1972 new car dealer

1976 used car dealer
1976 used car dealer
New and used car dealers

New and used car dealer plates continued with the "A" and "B" serial prefixes, respectively, but went to a seven-character serial format x00-000x where the suffix letters were always the same as the prefix letters.  In other words, new car dealer plates always used serial format A00-000A and used car dealer plates always used format B00-000B.  Both types used the legend Dealer and so cannot be distinguished except for the serial letters. 

1973 motor vehicle business
1973 motor vehicle business

1976 motor vehicle business
1976 motor vehicle business
Motor vehicle businesses

The motor vehicle business plate type serial format was changed similarly to those of new and used car dealers.  Motor vehicle business plates therefore used a C00-000C serial format during these years.  The plate type legend continued to be M.V. Business

1972 tractor dealer
1972 tractor dealer

1976 tractor dealer
1976 tractor dealer
Tractor dealers

Tractor dealer plates went to a D00-000D serial format and used a Dealer legend.  Other than the serial letters, they looked just like new and used car dealer plates. 

1972 trailer dealer
1972 trailer dealer
Trailer dealers

Trailer dealer plates were apparently a new dealer type probably introduced in 1971, or, obviously, no later than 1972.  Serial format was E00-000E.  I don't know what type of plate a trailer dealer would have used before this. 

1973 motorcycle dealer
1973 motorcycle dealer

1976 motorcycle dealer
1976 motorcycle dealer
Motorcycle dealers

1971 motorcycle dealer plates continued to have a state map border, the stacked letters "D/L/R" along the right edge, and all-numeric serials.  The 1971 through 1974 plates had an embossed, veritcal two-digit year in the lower left corner, and were reissued annually.  Like other dealer plate types, an undated base plate was issued in 1975, with a 1975 sticker affixed.  I believe that these weren't renewed with a subsequent sticker in 1976, but rather a new undated plate with a 1976 sticker was issued. 

1974 snowmobile dealer
1974 snowmobile dealer
1974 snowmobile dealers

Metal registration plates for snowmobile dealers were only issued for one year, 1974.  These resembled motorcycle dealer plates, but were colored white on navy and had the legend Snowmobile at the top.  Snowmobile dealer plates are covered in more detail on the Pennsylvania motorcycle plates page. 

Pennsylvania dealer plates, 1977-2000 (yellow base)

Pennsylvania continued with annually-issued plates dealer and motor vehicle business plates in 1977 and 1978.  Beginning in 1979, undated dealer base plates were issued and validated with stickers.  I've encountered many more of these plates bearing only a 1979 sticker than would seem likely, including several shown below.  This leads me to suspect that possibly the 1979 stickered plates were replaced with new plates in 1980, similar to what was apparently done in 1975 and 1976.  In any case, undated blue-on-yellow dealer and motor vehicle business plates were issued between 1979 and about 1983.  At least some types were used through 2000, despite major changes in dealer and motor vehicle business plates that were made in about 1983.  All yellow plates were replaced with tri-color fade band plates between September 1999 and January 2000, regardless of the expiration date on the registration sticker. 

1977 new car dealer
1977 new car dealer

1984 new car dealer
1984 new car dealer
New and used car dealers

New and used car dealer plates continued with the A00-000A and B00-000B serial formats, respectively.  Both types used the legend Dealer and so cannot be distinguished except for the serial letters.  In 1977 and 1978, new plates were issued each year, with the embossed four-digit year following the plate type legend. 

Beginning in 1979, undated plates were issued, with stickers used to indicate the registration period.  The 1979 stickers on dealer plates all seem to have serial number PA0000.  I don't think this was the case in subsequent years, as dealer plates used the same stickers as passenger cars bearing the expiration month.  I'm not sure about this, but I think that all existing dealer plates retained March expirations as the state converted to staggered registrations in 1980.  Probably, then, no 1980 stickers were issued to dealer plates, as the 1979 sticker expired in March 1980, and the MAR 1981 sticker obviously expired in March 1981.  Newly-issued dealer plates could expire in other months. 

1984 auto manufacturer
(McDevitt plate)
Auto manufacturers

This plate type existed only on the reflective yellow base.  It was created specifically for Volkswagen, which operated an assembly plant in western Pennsylvania between about 1978 and 1990.  The plate bore the legend Auto Manufacturer which ran across the entire bottom of the plate.  The serial format was the same as that used for new car dealer plates, A00-000A, with known numbers only in the 38-800 and 38-900 series.  I presume these numbers were not issued on the new car dealer plate type. 

1978 motor vehicle business
1978 motor vehicle business

1979 motor vehicle business
1979 motor vehicle business
Motor vehicle businesses

The motor vehicle business plate type continued with the C00-000C serial format and M.V. Business legend.  Like dealer plates, dated 1977 and 1978 plates were issued, and then an undated base plate was issued in 1979 with a 1979 sticker affixed; I believe that undated yellow motor vehicle business plates, renewed with stickers, could be used until 2000. 

1977 tractor dealer
1977 tractor dealer
Tractor dealers

Tractor dealer plates continued with a D00-000D serial format and used a Dealer legend.  Other than the serial letters, they looked just like new and used car dealer plates. 

1979 dealer type E
1979 trailer dealer
Trailer dealers

Trailer dealer plates continued with an E00-000E serial format and used a Dealer legend.  Other than the serial letters, they looked just like new and used car dealer plates.  (Incidentally, the smudges on the plate shown at left are fingerprints in blue paint, apparently put there during the manufacturing process.) 

1978 motorcycle dealer
1978 motorcycle dealer
(Sowers photo / plate)

1988 motorcycle dealer
1988 motorcycle dealer
Motorcycle dealers

1977 motorcycle dealer plates cotinued to have the stacked letters "D/L/R" along the right edge, and have all-numeric serials.  However, the 1977 plate had an embossed, veritcal "77" in the lower left corner, and was used for only one year.  A similar plate with an embossed year was issued for 1978.  Starting in 1979, undated base plates were issued and were validated with stickers through 2000. 

1979 moped dealer
1979 moped dealer
(Brewer photo / plate)
Moped dealers

Moped dealer plates were also made on the yellow base.  These looked just like motorcycle dealer plates except for the Moped legend at the bottom.  Serials were all-numeric.  A dated 1978 plate was issued; those issued in 1979 and subsequently were undated and were validated with stickers.  I do not believe there were any 1977 moped dealer plates. 

Pennsylvania dealer plates, 1984-2002 (blue base)

Pennsylvania issued most yellow-on-blue base plates between about late 1983 through June 2000; these could be renewed through June 2002.  Dealer and motor vehicle business plates didn't follow this schedule precisely; they might have switched to the blue plates later than 1983, and blue dealer plates were replaced sooner than other blue plates. 

At the time that the color change from yellow to blue was made, and possibly afterward as well, Pennsylvania made significant changes to how they categorized dealer and automotive business plates.  Various dealer plate types were merged into a generic dealer type, while the motor vehicle business plate type was split into several new types.  These changes are quite confusing, especially to someone like me who didn't live in Pennsylvania.  It may be that some of these new types were introduced some time after the blue base was introduced.  However, despite all the changes, the previous-base yellow dealer and motor vehicle business plate could continue to be used through January 2000. 

All blue dealer plate types were replaced with tri-color fade band plates between September 1999 and January 2000, regardless of the expiration date on the registration sticker.  I believe, but am not certain, that the various motor vehicle business types on the blue base were also replaced on the same accelerated schedule. 

1988 dealer
1988 regular dealer

1995 dealer
1995 regular dealer

2000 dealer
2000 regular dealer
Regular dealers

Pennsylvania decided to merge the new and used car dealer plate types, and probably other dealer plate types as well, into a single plate type on the blue base. 

In any case, since relatively few tractor dealer plates in serial format D00-000D and few trailer dealer plates in format E00-000E had been issued on the yellow base, the state began issuing these general-purpose dealer plates in the familiar x00-000x format, presumably beginning in the "D" series probably at a point after the highest tractor dealer plate issued on the yellow base.  Through the years, the "D" series was used up, and the numbering continued into the "E" series, probably skipping the numbers used for yellow trailer dealer plates, and then into the "F" series.  It looks like the state name and plate type description switched places somewhere between plate numbers D27-208D and D41-077D. 

However, I'm aware of the existence of a very high-numbered "A" series dealer plate on this base.  I don't know whether the state used up whatever remaining "A" series (and perhaps also "B" series) plate numbers there were before issuing "D" series plates as general-purpose dealer plates, or whether blue base "A" series plates were actually issued as new car dealer plates, and the merging of the various dealer types occurred after the introduction of the blue base. 

2000 multi-purpose dealer
2000 multi-purpose dealer
(Moore photo / plate)
Multi-purpose dealers

This type made its debut some years after the blue base was introduced.  Beats me how it was type was used – I've read the Pennsylvania motor vehicle code subsection addressing this plate type, and I can't make any sense of it.  I think it may be that multi-purpose dealer plates may be used on vehicles actually titled to the dealership, while regular dealer plates may not.  In any case, these plates had the legend Dealer-Multi Purpose in mixed case letters embossed along the top, and used serial format MP0000D

Farm equipment dealers

The farm equipment dealer type essentially replaced the old tractor dealer plate type.  This type made its debut some years after the blue base was introduced.  These plates had the legend Dealer-Farm Equip. along the top of the plate, and used serial format FE0000D

Regular trailer dealers

This plate type is reported to have been introduced in about 1995, roughly 12 years after the introduction of the blue base.  Yellow base E-series trailer dealer plates would probably have still been valid, but I don't know whether a trailer dealer needing a plate in 1994 would have been issued a leftover yellow E-series dealer plate, a blue regular dealer plate, or something else.  In any case, blue base trailer dealer plates bore the legend Trailer Dealer in mixed-case letters along the top of the plate, and had serial format TD0000D

Watercraft trailer dealers

This plate type is also reported to have been introduced in about 1995.  The comments immediately above regarding what type of plate would have been used before 1995 apply to this type as well.  Details are scant, but I believe blue base watercract trailer dealer plates bore the legend Watercraft Tlr / Dlr in mixed-case letters along the top of the plate, and had serial format WD00000

Why did Pennsylvania think it necessary to distinguish between regular, non-watercraft trailer dealers and watercraft trailer dealers?  I think the difference may be that boat dealers can use this plate type on boat trailers owned by and titled to the business as well as on untitled trailers for sale, while regular trailer dealers may only use their plates on untitled trailers for sale. 

2000 repair/service towing
2000 repair/service towing
version 1

1992 repair/service towing
1992 repair/service towing
version 2

2000 repair towing
2000 repair towing
version 4
Repair/Service Towing and Repair Towing

This plate type was one of several split out from the previous motor vehicle businss plate type at the time that the blue base was introduced.  While these were seen on tow trucks, they are actually a type of motor vehicle business plate rather than a type of truck plate.  These plates were issued to vehicle repair and/or towing companies and were not assigned to a specific vehicle.  The plates could be legally used either on vehicles owned by the business, or on unregistered customer-owned vehicles being test-driven or moved. 

There were several different versions of this plate made on the blue base.  The legend was originally Rep/Ser Towing, but this was later simplified to just Repair Towing.  Some versions used a mixed-case state name, while others had the usual upper-case state-name.  Serial format was consistently RS-00000 on this base. 

Summary of repair(/service) towing plate versions issued mid-1980s thru 1999
2000 repair/service towing 1992 repair/service towing 2000 repair/service towing 2000 repair towing
  1. Screened, widely spaced Rep / Ser Towing; upper case state name
  2. Embossed Rep/Ser Towing; mixed case state name
  3. Embossed Rep/Ser Towing; upper case state name
  4. Embossed Repair Towing; upper case state name
 
Reposessors

The reposessor plate was another of several types split out from the previous motor vehicle business plate type at the time that the blue base was introduced.  I gather that these were issued to both automotive finance companies and those involved in recovering vehicles used as collateral for delinquent loans, for the purposes of driving such recovered vehicles that were between owners.  Serial format was RE-00000.  The legend Reposessor appeared along the top edge of the plate. 

1991 salvage yard
1991 salvage yard version 2
(Lutz plate)
Salvage yard operators

The salvage yard plate was also split out from the previous motor vehicle business plate type at the time that the blue base was introduced.  I presume these were issued to operators of automotive junkyards in order to enable them to move driveable vehicles.  It's entirely possible that these plates could have also been used on trucks or other vehicles owned by the salvage yard, similar to the repair/service towing plate type above.  Serial format was WL-00000.  I have no idea what the letters "WL" are supposed to stand for. 

There were several different versions of this plate made on the blue base.  Early issues had the words Salvage Yard screened at the top, while subsequent versions had these words embossed.  Some versions used a mixed-case state name, while others had the usual upper-case state-name. 

Transporters

The transporter plate type was yet another of several split out from the previous motor vehicle business plate type at the time that the blue base was introduced.  I presume these were issued to businesses engaged in driving otherwise unregistered vehicles.  Fellow plate collector Clayton Moore reports that transporter plates "are used by auto auctions to 'transport' repos and lease turn-ins to auction." I suspect this is but one of several ways such plates were used.  Serial format DT-00000 and the legend Transporter in upper-case letters identify this plate type. 

Fleet transporters

This type made its debut some years after the blue base was introduced.  My understanding of the fleet transporter plate type is that it is issued to businesses that own large fleets of vehicles, such as rental car companies.  This plate could be moved from one vehicle to another, and would enable the business to drive a vehicle that had not yet been registered.  Serial format FL0000T and the legend Fleet Transporter in upper-case letters identify this plate type. 

Motorcycle dealers and moped dealers

I have no information about motorcycle dealer plates being issued on the yellow-on-blue base.  They very well may have been, however.  I've pretty certain that moped dealer plates were not issued on this base; they continued to be issued on the previous yellow base. 

Pennsylvania dealer plates, 2000-present (tri-color band bases)

Tri-color plates with blue and yellow bands that fade to white were first introduced in 1999 with 2000 expirations.  They replaced the older bases that were in use at the time.  All yellow plates were replaced with tri-color fade plates on an accelerated schedule, as were all dealer plate types on the blue base.  I believe, but am not certain, that the various motor vehicle business types on the blue base were also replaced on the same accelerated schedule. 

Tri-color plates with solid navy and yellow bands were introduced probably in 2005 for dealers, and later for the various automotive business types, as existing stock of the earlier fade plates were used up.  The original tri-color fade plate style continues to be used and renewed, however. 

All dealer and motor vehicle business plate types continued from the previous blue base, and their serial formats and numbering for the most part continued as well, with serial numbers on the the fade base starting at a point higher than the highest serial numbers used on the blue base.  Plate type legends are consistently found at the bottom edge of both the fade band and solid band base plates. 

2007 dealer
2007 regular dealer

2013 dealer
2013 regular dealer
Regular dealers

Dealer plates continued with the x00-000x serial format.  For some reason, the "G" series was skipped, and the fade band plates were first issued in "H" series and then the "J" series.  Fade band plates were issued up about serial J37-999J and had a dash separator; solid band plates introduced in 2005 started at at about J38-000J and use a keystone separator.  The high for this plate type is currently in the "K" series as of May 2013. 

2017 multi-purpose dealer
(plate in actual use)
Multi-purpose dealers

Beats me how this plate type was used – I've read the Pennsylvania motor vehicle code subsection addressing this plate type, and I can't make any sense of it.  I think it may be that multi-purpose dealer plates may be used on vehicles actually titled to the dealership, while regular dealer plates may not.  The legend Dealer-Multi Purpose continues in embossed mixed-case letters, but has been moved to the bottom of the plate.  Serial format continues as MP0000D

Farm equipment dealers

These plates have the legend Dealer-Farm Equip. along the bottom of the plate, and serial format FE0000D

Regular trailer dealers

Regular (non-watercraft) trailer dealer plates have the legend Trailer Dealer in mixed-case letters along the bottom of the plate, and serial format TD0000D.  Serial numbers started higher than were used on the previous base. 

Watercraft trailer dealers

Watercract trailer dealer plates bear the legend Watercraft Tlr / Dlr in mixed-case letters along the bottom of the plate, and use serial format WD00000

Why did Pennsylvania think it necessary to distinguish between regular, non-watercraft trailer dealers and watercraft trailer dealers?  I think the difference may be that boat dealers can use this plate type on boat trailers owned by and titled to the business as well as on untitled trailers for sale, while regular trailer dealers may only use their plates on untitled trailers for sale. 

2006 transporter
(McDevitt plate)

2007 transporter
(Moore photo / plate)
Transporters

I presume these are issued to businesses engaged in driving otherwise unregistered vehicles that don't qualify for one of the other plate types.  Fellow plate collector Clayton Moore reports that transporter plates "are used by auto auctions to 'transport' repos and lease turn-ins to auction." I suspect this is but one of several ways such plates are used.  Serial format continues as DT-00000, with the numbers higher than were issued on the previous blue base. 

Fleet transporters

My understanding of the fleet transporter plate type is that it is issued to businesses that own large fleets of vehicles, such as rental car companies.  This plate could be moved from one vehicle to another, and would enable the business to drive a vehicle that had not yet been registered.  Serial format FL0000T and the legend Fleet Transporter in upper-case letters identify this plate type. 

2002 repair towing

2015 repair towing
(plate in actual use)
Repair Towing

While these are seen on tow trucks, they are actually a type of motor vehicle business plate, rather than a type of truck plate.  These plates are issued to vehicle repair and/or towing companies and are not assigned to a specific vehicle.  The plates can be legally used either on vehicles owned by the business, or on unregistered customer-owned vehicles being test-driven or moved. 

Serial format is RT-00000 on both the fade base and the solid band base. 

2006 repossessor
(McDevitt plate)
Reposessors

I gather these are issued to both automotive finance companies and those involved in recovering vehicles used as collateral for delinquent loans, for the purposes of driving these recovered vehicles.  Serial format continued as RE-00000

2004 salvage yard
Salvage yard operators

I presume these are issued to operators of automotive junkyards in order to enable them to move driveable vehicles.  It's entirely possible that these plates may also be used on trucks or other vehicles owned by the salvage yard, similar to the repair towing plate type above.  Serial format continued as WL-00000, and the plate type legend continued as Salvage Yard.  I have no idea what the letters "WL" are supposed to stand for. 

2009 motorcycle dealer
2009 motorcycle dealer
(McDevitt photo of
plate in actual use)


2009 motorcycle dealer
2009 motorcycle dealer
(McDevitt photo of
plate in actual use)
Motorcycle dealers

Motorcycle dealer plates have the embossed letters MCD at the bottom center of the plate.  On the fade base, serials were all-numeric and four digits, with serial numbers higher than those of the earlier base(s) still in use.  The solid band base was introduced in about 2006, and on it the serial format is 000x, with the letter advancing after all of the numbers have advanced. 

2011 moped dealer
2011 moped dealer
(Irazabal photo)
Moped dealers

On the tri-color fade base introduced in 1999, moped dealer plates have a four-digit numeric serial, and the embossed letters MPD at the bottom edge of the plate to identify the plate type.  To date, there have been no moped dealer plates spotted on the tri-color solid band base. 

Related links

Page credits

Thanks to those who have directly contributed to the information on this page:  Brandon Sowers, Kelly Brewer, John McDevitt, Ed Burr, Brad Morrison, Clayton Moore, and Jordan Irazabal. 

Sowers, Brewer, McDevitt, Burr, Morrison, Moore, and Irazabal photos are presumed to be copyrighted by Brandon Sowers, Kelly Brewer, John McDevitt, Ed Burr, Brad Morrison, Clayton Moore, and Jordan Irazabal, respectively, and are used with permission.  Francis, McDevitt, and Lutz plates are from the collections of Jeff Francis, John McDevitt, and George Lutz, respectively. 


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