Pennsylvania passenger car license plate

Rick Kretschmer's License Plate Archives 

Pennsylvania passenger car license plate

A Pictorial History of Pennsylvania License Plates

Passenger car plates, part 2:  1977 to present

 

This page covers the history of Pennsylvania passenger car license plates during the era of base plates used for over a decade at a time, beginning in 1977. 

Latest noteworthy updates to this page
  • June 9, 2017  –  Replaced candid photo of a 2017 plate with one I've added to my collection.   Updated discussion of the state doing away with license plate expiration stickers.  Updated 2017 natural plate number ranges.  Added a placeholder for a plate issued in 2017. 
  • November 18, 2016  –  Moved photos and discussion of 1958-1976 plates to another page.  Minor text updates. 
  • August 15, 2016  –  Added a candid photo of a 2017 expiration plate. 

Introduction

From 1906 until 1979, Pennsylvania license plates displayed the year of issuance.  However, plates and/or stickers dated from 1941 until 1979 actually expired on March 31 of the following year.  The last non-staggered registrations bore a 1979 sticker, which actually expired on March 31, 1980.  Staggered registrations were first issued in October 1979, and first expired at the end of September, 1980. Staggered registration stickers have the expiration month and year printed on the stickers rather than the issue year. 

Pennsylvania has consistently issued single passenger plates since 1952.  All Pennsylvania license plates, excluding motorcycle plates, since those with 1956 issue dates have been 6 inches high by 12 inches wide. 

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 are plates that I am still seeking for my own collection. 

Pennsylvania passenger car plates, 1977-2000

undated 1977 passenger 1978 passenger 1979 (old serial format) passenger 1979 (new serial format) passenger 1980 passenger 1981 passenger 1982 (Jan-Aug) passenger 1982 (Sept-Dec) passenger 1983 passenger 1984 yellow Keystone State passenger 1985 yellow Keystone State passenger
Naturals, 1977 issue to 1985 expiration.  Two natural 1979 issues are shown, with old and new serial formats.  Two natural 1982 expiration plates are shown, with different style expiration stickers.  The 1985 expiration plate has an exposed "T" stricker.  Close-ups of 1979 through 1982 stickers are shown below. 

The general reissue of March 1977 swept away the Bicentennial plates that had become so "last year".  Keeping with the tradition of alternating colors, the new base plate had dark blue letters on a dark yellow background, but this time the background was reflective sheeting rather than painted.  At the center of the plate was a large, embossed keystone outline; the legend at the bottom proclaimed Keystone State for the first time.  At the top of the plate were the state name and the two sticker wells in the upper corners.  On this base, there was no etched date in either well, nor was there any embossed date on this plate.  The plate was used during its first year without stickers, and in subsequent years with stickers. 

As was the practice on the previous Bicentennial plates, probably at least initially, even-year stickers were supposed to go in the upper right corner, and the odd-year stickers in the upper left corner.  But sticker placement became problematic to new registrants, because on this base the temporary "T" sticker was now consistently placed in the upper right corner during manufacture.  Motorists therefore usually placed their first expiration sticker over top of the "T" sticker, regardless of whether it was an even or odd year, and then proceeded to apply subsequent expiration stickers in alternating sticker wells. 

Other serial formats not shown above
1977 all-numeric serial 1977 letter in position 6
  1. All-numeric serial
  2. Letter in serial position 6

There were a few significant changes in Pennsylvania license plate issuance during the time this yellow base was issued.  For the first few years, numbering formats followed the same pattern as had been used on the previous few bases.  The sequence of serial formats was 000*000, x00*000, 000*00x, and 0x0*x00.  (The asterisk indicates the position of the keystone separator.)  However, upon reaching serial 9Z9*999 in approximately August or September 1979, the one-letter numbering format was suddenly and unexpectedly discontinued, and new plates began to be issued in the xxx*000 format that was quite common across the U.S. at the time.  A small number of early Axx*000 series plates were issued with 1979 registration stickers.  Staggered registration was then introduced in October 1979, with the earliest stickers indicating a September 1980 expiration, since Pennsylvania initially registers vehicles for 12 inclusive months.  When the 1979 annual stickers all expired at the end of March 1980, renewals were assigned staggered expiration dates ranging between September 1980 and August 1981. 

The blue-on-yellow base continued to be issued to new registrants until early 1984, with natural 1985 expirations.  In mid-year 1983, a new base was introduced; however, existing stocks of the old base continued to be issued simultaneously with the new base until they were depleted, and the yellow bases continued to be renewed for another 15 years.  After the March 1977 reissue, Pennsylvania did not have another general reissue until late 1999.  By 1999, these 1977 bases had become pretty awful looking, and they were replaced as quickly as the tri-color base plates became available, without even waiting for the old yellow plates to expire one last time. 

1979 sticker
1979 sticker (passengers
expired March 1980)
1980 sticker
1980 passenger sticker
(Sept. - Dec. only)
1981 sticker
1981 sticker
(January - December)
1982 sticker type 1
1982 sticker, type 1
(January - August)
1982 sticker type 2
1982 sticker, type 2
(September - December)

Staggered registration stickers contain both the expiration month and year on a single sticker.  All stickers for a given year have the same colors.  For some reason, the 1980 stickers (which were dated September-December only), all 1981 stickers, and the January-August 1982 stickers featured the expiration month in large prominent letters, while the expiration year was so small you had to be inches away to read it.  At a distance, these stickers looked like month stickers only. 

This scheme was not well thought-out for a couple of reasons.  An example of one problem: if a motorist already had 1978 and 1979 year stickers, then received a staggered January 1981 expiration and dutifully placed the January 1981 sticker over the 1979 sticker in the left well, it then appeared that the plate expired in January 1978 rather than January 1981.  A second problem: The 1980 and 1982 stickers had the same color scheme, and two stickers were displayed on the plate at a time. Therefore, beginning in September 1981 when the September 1982 expiration renewal stickers were issued, there would be no way to distinguish between a plate with 1980 and 1981 stickers, and one with 1981 and 1982 stickers, except from inches away. 

Before this second problem actually occurred, the state realized what would happen, and beginning with the September 1982 sticker, the format was changed to display a large numeric month and two-digit year.  This sticker format continues unchanged to the present day. 

Yellow "Keystone State" base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
1977 –  no sticker  Natural serials: all numeric; letter in position 1; letter in position 6; letter in position 2 approx. to early alphabet. 
1978 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serials: letter in position 2, approx. middle alphabet. 
1979 –  red-on-white sticker   Only issued Mar. - Sept. 1979; natural serials: letter in position 2, approx. late alphabet; xxx*000 format, AAA to very early Axx series. 
1980 –  blue-on-white sticker   Only issued Oct. 1979 - Jan. 1980; natural serials: xxx*000 format, approx. early to middle Axx series. 
1981 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serials: xxx*000 format, approx. middle Axx series to late Bxx series. 
1982 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serials: xxx*000 format, approx. early Cxx series to middle Dxx series. 
1983 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serials: xxx*000 format, approx. middle Dxx series to late Exx series. 
1984 –  black-on-white sticker   Natural serials: xxx*000 format, approx. early Fxx to early Gxx series on this base. 
1985 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serials: xxx*000 format, approx. early Gxx series on this base, with expirations early in the year. 
1986 through 2000 – No naturals, renewals only; see subsequent sections for sticker colors.  Latest renewal sticker should be 12/00. 

Pennsylvania passenger car plates, 1983-2002

1984 "Friend" base passenger 1985 passenger 1986 passenger 1987 passenger 1988 "Friend" base passenger
Natural 1984 to 1988 expirations. 

About mid-1983, a new base plate was introduced, but even though six-plus years had elapsed since the last general reissue, this new base was issued to new registrants only.  This plate was dark yellow on dark blue, of course, and this time the keystone separator was solid rather than just an outline as was used on the previous base.  The most notable feature was the use of the state's then-current tourism slogan, with the words You've Got a Friend in across the top of the plate, and continuing with Pennsylvania centered at the bottom.  This entire slogan, including the state name, was embossed using mixed-case letters.  The use of embossed lower-case letters is fairly rare in license plate history.  Anyway, this base plate had only a single sticker well in the lower left corner, with just an empty spot in the lower right corner.  The intent was of course for motorists to only display a single sticker in the well, but many of them continued the practice of the previous two bases by placing alternating year stickers in the two corners.  The serial format continued to be xxx*000, beginning in the HAA series. 

This base was somewhat controversial and unpopular due to the slogan, and it was short-lived.  Some people considered the phrase to be gramatically incorrect.  One account states that the Quakers, a Pennsylvania-based Christian denomination formally known as the Society of Friends, found the slogan to be patronizing.  The serial range got up to the late Rxx series; the highest series reported having been seen is RUY. 

I'm not aware of any Friend plates being issued with 1983 expiration stickers. 

"Friend" base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
1984 –  black-on-white sticker   Natural serials: HAA to approx. early Hxx series on this base. 
1985 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serials: approx. early Hxx to late Jxx series. 
1986 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serials: approx. early Kxx to early Mxx series. 
1987 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serials: approx. early Mxx to early Pxx series. 
1988 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serials: approx. early Pxx to late Rxx series on this base. 
1989 through 2002 – No naturals, renewals only; see subsequent sections for sticker colors.  Latest renewal sticker should be 6/02, or perhaps 8/02. 

Pennsylvania passenger car plates, 1987-2002

1988 blue Keystone State passenger 1989 passenger 1990 passenger 1991 passenger 1992 6-character passenger
Natural 1988 to 1992 expirations with 6-character plate numbers. 

1992 7-character passenger 1993 passenger 1994 passenger 1995 passenger 1996 passenger 1997 passenger 1998 passenger 1999 passenger 2000 blue Keystone State passenger 2001 blue Keystone State passenger
Natural 1992 to 2001 expirations with 7-character plate numbers. 

Undated Pennsylvania passenger car plate
This T-stickered plate was
issued late 1991 or early 1992.

In late 1987, the tourism slogan used for the previous four years was summarily dismissed, and the legend Keystone State made its reappearance.  The legend and the state name also inexplicably reverted back to all upper-case letters.  Otherwise, these plates were identical visually to the previous "Friend" base.  The legend was placed at the top of the plate, and the state name and single sticker well continued at the bottom.  Once again, this plate was issued to new registrants only, and the bases introduced in 1977 and 1983 continued to be valid with appropriate stickers.  The serial format remained xxx*000, and started in the SAA series on this base. 

During 1991, serial ZZZ*999 was reached, exhausing the format.  A new serial format xxx-0000 was begun, starting in the AAA series.  These were the first 7-character standard passenger car plates ever issued by Pennsylvania.  Adding the seventh character necessitated shrinking the keystone separator back to the size used from 1958 to 1970.  The serial numbers reached the early Cxx series, specifically to the CEG series according to several reports, when this base stopped being issued in June 2000. 

I'm not aware of any blue Keystone State plates being issued with 1987 expiration stickers. 

Blue "Keystone State" base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
1988 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serials: xxx*000 format, SAA to approx late Sxx series on this base. 
1989 –  white-on-black sticker   Natural serials: xxx*000 format, approx. late Sxx to late Uxx series. 
1990 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serials: xxx*000 format, approx. late Uxx to late Wxx series. 
1991 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serials: xxx*000 format, approx. late Wxx to late Yxx series. 
1992 –  black-on-white sticker   Natural serials: xxx*000 format, approx. late Yxx series and Zxx series to ZZZ; xxx-0000 format, AAA to approx. beginning Axx series. 
1993 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serials: xxx*000 format, approx. late Zxx series to ZZZ; xxx-0000 format, approx. early Axx series. 
1994 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serials: xxx-0000 format, approx. middle Axx series. 
1995 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serials: xxx-0000 format, approx. late Axx series. 
1996 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serials: xxx-0000 format, approx. end of Axx series and beginning of Bxx series. 
1997 –  white-on-black sticker   Natural serials: xxx-0000 format, approx. early Bxx series. 
1998 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serials: xxx-0000 format, approx. middle Bxx series. 
1999 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serials: xxx-0000 format, approx. late Bxx series. 
2000 –  black-on-white sticker   Natural serials: xxx-0000 format, approx. end of Bxx series and beginning of Cxx series on this base. 
2001 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serials: xxx-0000 format, approx. early Cxx series on this base; no naturals after 5/01 expiration. 
2002 –  blue-on-white sticker   No naturals, renewals only.  Latest renewal sticker should be 6/02, or perhaps 8/02. 

Pennsylvania passenger car plates, 2000-present

2000 www.state.pa.us passenger 2001 www.state.pa.us passenger 2002 passenger 2003 passenger 2004 passenger 2005 www.state.pa.us passenger 2006 www.state.pa.us passenger
Natural 2000 to 2006 expirations. 

Sometime during the late 1990s, it dawned on Pennsylvania officials that the state could not go on forever without a plate reissue of some kind.  Some of the yellow plates were over twenty years old, and since in Pennsylvania the plate stays with the owner and not the vehicle, there were a significant number of these still on the road.  After two decades of use, many of them had become pretty ratty looking and even unreadable. 

The decision was made to replace all plates, both the yellow and the blue bases, with a new design.  The yellow plates were replaced first, on an accelerated basis between September 1999 and February 2000.  Yellow plates with January expirations were replaced first, and those with December expirations were replaced last, as quickly as the new plates could be made.  Serials on this new base began in the DAA series; the last of the tri-colored plates that replaced old yellow plates were issued in the DDN series and originally had a December 2000 expiration sticker. 

According to information provided by the state, the blue plates were then replaced over a two-year period between July 2000 and June 2002, as they came up for renewal.  Blue plates registered in even-numbered zip codes were scheduled to be replaced between July 2000 and June 2001, and those registered in odd-numbered zip codes between July 2001 and June 2002.  However, it's reported by one license plate collector who's a Pennsylvania resident that this deadline was later exteneded to August 2002.  I'm not clear about why this would have been necessary.  The new plate was issued to all new registrants beginning July 2000, with the earliest expiration date of June 2001.  The remainder of the DDN series not issued as yellow-base replacements were issued this way. 

Undated Pennsylvania passenger car plate
This plate was issued circa
mid-year 2004.

This plate has the familiar sticker well to the left of the state name, both of which were moved back to the top of the plate.  However, it's not unusual for collectors to come across plates on this base with no stickers.  There are two reasons for this.  One is that the old "T" (for "temporary") stickers introduced in 1975 were no longer placed on the plate pending the arrival of a real sticker.  Instead, the bare plate was issued along with a temporary window sticker.  Second, is that residents of Philadelphia were initially required to display "real" (not temporary) window stickers to indicate their plates were valid rather than plate stickers.  This was done because theft of plate stickers was apparently a problem that was both significant and primarily limited to Philadelphia for some reason.  Apparently some Philadelphia residents did not like being singled out with different stickers, and so for a while they were given the option of receiving a plate sticker or a window sticker.  Reportedly, Philadelphia window registration stickers were discontinued in December 2003. 

Serial formats and dies continued from the previous base, with the serial numbers starting in the DAA series.  Other than the serial number and the keystone separator, the remainder of the plate is screened.  This base was the first Pennsylvania standard passenger car plate to ever have more than two colors, and the first to have any screened elements.  It also has the distinction of being the first license plate anywhere in the United States (and perhaps in the world) to display a web address, www.state.pa.us, which is the address of the state government's home page. 

The highest observed letter sequence on this base is FYC.  Some very late Fxx series plates were issued with natural early 2006 expiration stickers on this base before the existing stock was used up.  The latest reported natural 2006 expiration on this base is April.  This base plate continues to be renewed with stickers. 

In an apparent reaction to the late-1970s yellow plates having been on the road for over twenty years, state law was revised to require plates to be replaced after ten years of use.  This meant that these tri-color fade plates would have been due for replacement beginning in late 2009.  However, in November 2008, the law was again revised to eliminate the requirement to replace plates solely because of their age.  This was passed as a cost-saving measure, justified, I'm sure, due to the worsening economy and projected state budget shortfalls.  Now, instead, individual plates will be replaced free of charge if they're determined to be illegible by a law enforcement officer or a certified inspection mechanic.  So, gradually, one at a time, these tri-color fade plates will be removed from the road, but they will not disappear completely anytime soon. 

Tri-color fade band base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
2000 –  black-on-white sticker   Natural serials: DAA series to approx. early Dxx series on this base. 
2001 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serials: approx. early Dxx to late Dxx series on this base. 
2002 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serials: approx. end of Dxx to middle Exx series. 
2003 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serials: approx. middle Exx series to early Fxx series. 
2004 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serials: approx. middle Fxx series. 
2005 –  white-on-black sticker   Natural serials: approx. late Fxx series. 
2006 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serials: some early year expirations in very late Fxx series; otherwise no naturals, renewals only. 
2007 and beyond – No naturals, renewals only; see subsequent section for sticker colors. 

Pennsylvania passenger car plates, 2005-present

2005 visitPA.com passenger 2006 visitPA.com passenger 2007 passenger 2008 passenger 2009 passenger 2010 passenger 2011 passenger 2012 passenger 2013 passenger 2014 passenger 2015 passenger 2016 passenger 2017 expiration passenger passenger issued in 2017
Natural 2005 to 2017 expirations. 

In late December 2004, Pennsylvania began issuing a modified version of the blue/white/yellow tri-color license plate.  In Pennsylvania, the initial registration period is for 12 months inclusive; therefore, the earliest issues of this new base had November 2005 expirations. 

This plate differs from the previous base in several subtle, but noticeable ways.  The blue and yellow bands no longer fade to white gradually, but rather have distinct boundaries; the blue band is now dark blue rather than light blue; and the fonts used for the word "Pennsylvania" and for the web site address have been revised.  The size of the keystone separator has been enlarged slightly.  Perhaps most significantly, the web site address itself has been changed to visitPA.com.  This site proclaims itself to be the official tourism web site for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  This plate design is not a replacement for the previous tri-color fade design.  Rather, it's a "mid-course adjustment" to the tri-colored base, and is being used concurrently. 

Undated Pennsylvania passenger car plate
This plate was issued late
2013 or early 2014.

Plates with no expiration sticker affixed are issued by car dealers; the motorist is also given a temporary paper registraiton slip indicating an expiration date to display in the rear window.  Once the title and registration is processed by the state DMV, an expiration sticker for the plate is mailed to the motorist. 

The state has announced that it will no longer issue expiration stickers after December 31, 2016, but instead rely on law enforcement using plate reader technology to identify plates whose registration is expired.  Presumably, new plates would be issued and used without stickers, but there's no word on what motorists who already have stickers on thier plates, which of course will eventually expire, are supposed to do to avoid being stopped by law enforcement when traveling out-of-state.  However, there is legislation pending that would require license plate expiration stickers to continue to be issued and used, so there's no telling what will end up happening.  Stay tuned. 

Tri-color solid band base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
2005 –  white-on-black sticker   Natural serials: late year expirations in very early Gxx series beginning with GBA. 
2006 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serials: approx. early Gxx series. 
2007 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serials: approx. middle Gxx series. 
2008 –  black-on-white sticker   Natural serials: approx. late Gxx series. 
2009 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serials: approx. very late Gxx series to early Hxx series. 
2010 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serials: approx. early-to-middle Hxx series. 
2011 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serials: approx. middle Hxx series. 
2012 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serials: approx. middle-to-late Hxx series. 
2013 –  white-on-black sticker   Natural serials: approx. very late Hxx series to early Jxx series. 
2014 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serials: approx. early-to-middle Jxx series. 
2015 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serials: approx. middle-to-late Jxx series. 
2016 –  black-on-white sticker   Natural serials: approx. late to very late Jxx series. 
2017 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serials: approx. very eary to early Kxx series. 
2018 –  blue-on-white sticker   No naturals and few renewals; a small number of renewal stickers issued for months early in the year. 
Discontinuation of expiration stickers

Pennsylvania ceased issuing expiration stickers effective January 1, 2017.  Newly registered vehicles are now issued plates without expiration stickers.  Until inventory is depleted, these plates still have a sticker well in the upper left corner which now serves no purpose.  A slightly redesigned plate, with no sticker well and with a white outline of the state map where the sticker would have gone, will be issued to new registrants going forward.  Indeed, as of this writing in June 2017, a few of these new plates are starting to appear on the road. 

Those few motorists whose registrations expired in early 2017 and who renewed them in late 2016 did receive 2018 expiration stickers, but I'm sure there aren't many of those around.  Motorists renewing existing registrations in 2017 and beyond don't get a new sticker, either, nor do they get anything to cover up their old sticker.  They've been told to continue driving with the now-expired sticker displayed.  While that probably works fine in-state, where law enforcement officers are familiar with the situation, it greatly increases the chances that Pennsylvania motorists will be pulled over by police when traveling out-of-state.  I imagine some people are going to scrape the outdated expiration stickers off their plate, but that would make the plate also look suspicious to an out-of-state cop.  I've seen some expired stickers covered with a completely plain white, reflective sticker. 

Tri-color solid band base natural serial letter ranges
2017 issues – No expiration sticker; natural serials: approx. middle Kxx series and up. 

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Page credits

Thanks to those who have directly contributed to the information on this page:  Bill Stephens and Ned Flynn 


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