Virginia passenger car license plate

Rick Kretschmer's License Plate Archives 

Virginia passenger car license plate

A Pictorial History of Virginia License Plates

Passenger car and rental car plates dated 1973 to present

 

This page presents the history of Virginia passenger car license plates, from 1973 through the present day.  Also included are rental car license plates from 1973 to present and 1973-1975 private light truck plates. 

Latest noteworthy updates to this page
  • February 4, 2019  –  Added a photo of a 1975 light truck plate with a passenger car numbering format.  Added a candid photo of a 2018 expiration passenger car plate.  Updated 2020 and 2021 expiration plate number ranges; added 2022 expiration plate number ranges.  Added placeholder for 2022 expiration plate photos. 
  • February 8, 2018  –  Moved discussion of 1971 and 1972 plates to a new page covering the history of Virginia passenger car plates from 1933 to 1972.  Added a photo of a 2015 expiration Virginia is for Lovers plate.  Updated discussion of the numbering of the current Virginia is for Lovers base.  Updated 2018 and 2019 expiration plate number ranges; added 2020 and 2021 expiration plate number ranges.  Added placeholder for 2020 and 2021 expiration plate photos. 

Introduction

This page addresses sequentially-numbered Virginia passenger car plates dated from 1973 to the present.  From 1910 until 1972, Virginia license plates displayed the year of issuance.  Plates were actually valid through March 31 of the following year, however.  The last non-staggered passenger car registrations used the undated, unstickered 1973 plate, which was valid through March 31, 1974.  Staggered registrations were first issued in October 1972, with the earliest expirations at the end of October 1973.  Virginia has always issued passenger plates in pairs, except for the 1945 and 1946 plates. 

Let me start out by saying that I generally don't collect Virginia license plates, except in cases where I need them as part of a set.  (For example, I have a 1959 Virginia plate in my collection as part of my 1959 U.S. passenger plate set.)  Therefore, unlike most pages on this web site, very few of the plates shown here are actually from my collection, and I haven't meticulously identified each plate that's not from my collection.  However, unless noted otherwise, I did photograph all plates shown. 

So why do I even have Virginia plate pages on my web site?  Well, I've lived in states that bordered Virginia for nearly my entire life, and I regularly travel to or drive through Virginia, so I see Virginia license plates in use on a regular basis.  As a collector, I often have old Virginia plates in my trade box. .  There's also not a whole lot of detailed information already on the web regarding Virginia license plate history.  While I make no claim of being an expert on Virginia plates, I do feel like I can make a contribution by documenting what I do know. 

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, please send me an e-mail.  If you have, or can take, a digital photo of a plate from a year not shown below, send it to me in an e-mail attachment.  I'll add it to this page, and will credit you for submitting it.  For any plates dated 1947 or earlier, please also provide me with the dimensions of the plate, so that I may make the size of the image in proportion to the others. 

Virginia passenger car plates, 1973-1984

1973 1973 version 3 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980
The unstickered plate was issued as a replacement for a 1972 plate in March 1973 and was used without stickers through March 1974.  All but the 1979 plate have natural expirations. 
(1974, 1976, and 1980 – Benzie plates)

Virginia's first modern multi-year base plate made its debut in October 1972.  New registrants were issued this plate with a one year registration expiring in October 1973 instead of the black 1972 plate that would expire in March 1973.  In a major departure from the black and white plates Virginia had issued for decades, this plate had blue features on a painted white background.  Virginia plates have been blue-on-white ever since.  The serial format was xxx-000 and the serial letters used sans-serif dies, both of which had been introduced on late-issue 1971 plates.  Serial dies for numeric digits were the same as had been used for seven-character plates for decades, and for all plates since 1969.  However, on this base and subsequent bases, plate numbers no longer had lead zeroes; the starting number in each letter series on this base was 101.  Sticker boxes with raised white borders were located in the two upper corners, with the state name across the upper top.  The plate had no year or other date stamped on it. 

1975 light truck
1975 light truck
1980 rental car
1980 rental car (Benzie plate)

Two other plate types were also issued blue-on-white plates with serial format xxx-000 in 1973.  For the first time, personal light trucks were issued distict plates, using the passenger car numbering format with the first letter "P". Rental cars were issued plates in the same format with the first letter "R".  Both types continued to have embossed dates, fixed March expirations, and annual reissues for the next two years.  Plates issued for the 1973-74 registration year had "19" and "73" embossed in the upper corners, while plates issued for the 1974-75 registration year had "MAR" and "75" embossed in the upper corners. 

In March 1975, the light truck plate type was eliminated, and since then, personal light trucks have been issued regular passenger car plates with expiration stickers.  Rental cars continued with the Rxx-000 format but were issued plates that were undated and used expiration stickers.  Other than the first letter being "R", these were indistinguishable from regular passenger car plates.

Letters I, O and Q were not used.  Plate number prefix letters progressed through the S series, but skipping the I, O, and Q series since those letters weren't used; the P series, apparently since that letter had been recently associated with light trucks; and the R series since that was reserved for rental cars.  In other words, letter prefixes jumped from NZZ to SAA and then apparently ended at SZZ-999, which was issued in 1979. 

I'm not sure when this base began to be replaced, but I'd guess in late 1979 or after, once the reflective base began to be issued.  In any case, by 1982 the earlier letter series on this base had been removed from use, and by sometime in 1984 this base was completely gone. 

1972-1975 conversion to staggered expiration dates

Starting October 1, 1972, new registrants were issued undated blue-on-white plates with expiration stickers one year out.  In other words, the earliest expiration stickers were dated October 1973.  These initial blue-on-white plates had prefix letters in the F series, and reportedly can be distinguished from later F-series plates by virtue of their oval bolt holes.  F series prefixes were issued first because they were beyond the range of 1972 plates still in use.  Then, as the white-on-black 1972 plates expired in March 1973, they were replaced with undated, unstickered blue-on-white plates with numbers starting at AAA-101 or thereabouts.  These unstickered plates were valid through March 1974.  Then, motorists who had been issued unstickered plates were assigned an expiration date ranging from April 1974 to March 1975, and were issued stickers corresponding to that date. 

1973 base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
1973 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serial letter range FAA to approx. early F series.  Issued to new registrants only.  Expiration months were October through December only. 
1974 –  no sticker  Natural serial letter range includes the A, B, C, and D series.  Unstickered plates replaced 1972 plates in March 1973 and expired March 1974. 
1974 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serial letter range includes the E series and approx. the mid-to-late F series.  January and February, and possibly March expirations were issued to new registrants only. 
1975 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. late F series and G series. 
1976 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. G and H series. 
1977 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. J and K series. 
1978 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. K and L series. 
1979 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. M and N series. 
1980 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serial letter range approx. N and S series on this base. 
1981 through 1985? – No naturals, renewals only; see subsequent sections for sticker colors, latest possible expiration year is 1991. 

Virginia passenger car plates, 1979-present

1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993
The 1981, 1982, 1985, and 1988 plates have natural expirations. 
(1981, 1983, 1984, 1987, and 1993 – Benzie plates.  1985 – Kilpatrick plate.)

In the fall of 1979, Virginia introduced a revised plate design for new registrants.  These new plates retained the blue-on-white color scheme, the numbering format, and the placement of the expiration stickers and state name.  The major differences from the previous design were that the white background was reflective, the state name was screened on the plate using mixed-case letters, and the serial dies were changed so that the characters were significantly wider. 

Numbering for the this base more-or-less picked up where the previous base left of, starting at UAA-101.  I'm guessing that the T series was skipped because plates with the first letter T were used for heavier trucks and trailers, though never in the xxx-000 format.  Plate number ZZZ-999 was reached in 1982, but by then the lower-numbered plates from the previous base had been replaced, so numbering started over at AAB-101.  The previous base was completely replaced by 1984, freeing up all of its plate numbers, and so the 1979 base numbering continued all the way to SZZ-999, this time issuing plates in the previously-skipped P series.  After the S series, the state decided to issue passenger car plates in the T series after all, as well as plates with previously skipped letters I, O, and Q in any or all of the letter positions. 

The sequence in which the T series plates and I, O, and Q plates were issued isn't entirely clear.  I think that after the S series, plates were then issued in the I, O, Q, and T series, in that order.  For all four of these series, letters I, O, and Q could also be in positions 2 and 3.  Then, plates with I, O, and Q in positions 2 and/or 3 were issued in the A to H series, the J to N series, the P series, and the S through X series. 

Again, plate numbers in the Rxx series were issued exclusively to rental cars.  Rental car numbering on the 1979 base continued from the high number on the 1973 base, but I'm not sure where that cutoff was. 

At some point in the mid-1980s, Virginia began issuing month stickers with serial numbers on them.  Beginning in 1989, Virginia began offering the option of one- or two-year registration periods, making it more difficult to pinpoint what the natural serial letter ranges are for expiration years in 1991 and beyond. 

The 1979 base was issued through 1993, but was never replaced, and so these are still valid for use if continually registered, and may still be seen on the road today. 

1980 base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
1980 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serial letter range UAA to well into the U series on this base. 
1981 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the U, V, W, and X series. 
1982 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the Y and Z series. 
1983 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the Z, A, and B series. 
1984 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the C, D, and E series. 
1985 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the E, F, and G series. 
1986 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the G, H, and J series. 
1987 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the K, L, and M series. 
1988 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the M, N, and P series. 
1989 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the S and I series. 
1990 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the O, Q, and T series. 
1991 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the Q and T series, and other series with I, O, or Q in positions 2 or 3. 
1992 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serial letter range includes serials with I, O, or Q in positions 2 or 3 on this base. 
1993 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes serials with I, O, or Q in positions 2 or 3 on this base. 
1994 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serial letter range includes serials with I, O, or Q in positions 2 or 3 on this base. 
1995 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes serials with I, O, or Q in positions 2 or 3 on this base. 
1996 through present – No naturals, renewals only; see subsequent sections for sticker colors. 

Virginia passenger car plates, 1992-present

Passenger car plates, 1992-present

1992-1997 1998 1999-2001 2002 2003 2004
The 2002 plate has a natural expiration.  Possibly the 1998 plate does, too. 

Beginning in 1992, Virginia resumed issuing seven-character passenger car plates for the first time since 1971.  The numbering format was xxx-0000, but unlike probably anywhere else in the world, numbering started at ZZZ-9999 and progressed backwards through the alphabet.  Likely this was done because the recently-introduced landscape specialty plate used the same format and began at AAA-1001.  I guess they figured the numbers would eventually meet somewhere in the middle. 

Seven-character plates required narrower serial dies, and the unique dies first used on the recently-introduced cardinal and landscape specialty plates were put into use for standard passenger car plates.  The embossed border was dropped at the same time.  The screeed, mixed case state name continued briefly on the seven-character plates, probably for the purpose of using up the existing stock of vinyl sheeting.  The blue upper case state name appeared at about the ZXx series. 

Over the next ten years or so, Virginia passenger car plates were issued in reverse sequence, exhausting the Z series in about 1997, the Y series in about early 2002, and then just starting the X series, backwards from XZZ to about XYN.  At that point, in mid-year 2002, a new base was introduced and the reverse numbering abruptly stopped. 

1992 base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
1992 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serial letter range ZZZ to approx. the late Z series on this base.  Probably only rarely issued on this base as replacements for lost or stolen plates. 
1993 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the late Z series on this base. 
1994 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the late Z series on this base. 
1995 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the late-to-mid Z series. 
1996 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the late-to-mid Z series. 
1997 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the mid Z series. 
1998 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the early Z series and late Y series. 
1999 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the late Y series. 
2000 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the late-to-mid Y series. 
2001 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the mid-to-early Y series. 
2002 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the mid-to-early Y series. 
2003 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the early Y series and late X series from XZZ to about XYN on this base. 
2004 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the early Y series and late X series from XZZ to about XYN on this base. 
2005 through present – No naturals, renewals only; see subsequent sections for sticker colors. 
20xx –  white-on-orange sticker   These are issued specifically to rental cars.  I believe 2000 was the first year. 
Rental car plates, 1992-present

When the 1992 base was introduced, with its narrower dies and no raised border, rental car plates had not completely exhausted the Rxx-000 format.  So, that six-character format continued on the new base with the new dies until RZZ-999 was reached.  Then, rental cars went to the same seven-character format as passenger cars, but with the first letter "R", and progressing forward from RAA-1001. 

Sometime during the 1990s, Virginia decided to stop issuing distinct plates for rental cars.  Instead, they began issuing regular passenger car plates to rental cars, but with distinct year stickers.  Rental car year stickers are always colored white-on-orange, regardless of the year.  I believe the earliest rental car expiration year sticker was for the year 2000, so this practice probably began in 1998 or 1999. 

The old R-series plates were not recalled, however.  I believe that when the switch to orange year stickers was made, yet-unissued R-series plates remaining in invetory were then issued as regular passenger car plates to ordinary motorists. 

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Passenger car plates, 2002-present

2003 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2007 2008 2009
Two 2003 expiration plates are shown; the first uses a cellophane sticker for the red features at the bottom, while the second has the red features painted onto the plate.  You can't tell the difference from the photos, however.  Both were made using leftover blanks from the previous base with the state name in blue.  Two 2007 expiration plates are shown, with the orignal and revised 400th Anniversary text and graphics.  All plates shown in this section have natural expirations. 
(2005 – Benzie plate)

In July 2002, the state decided it was high time to start promoting the upcoming 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement, which would take place in 2007.  The passenger car plate design was tweaked to add the text 1607 400th Anniversary 2007 in red along the bottom of the plate, with a line drawing of a 17th century sailing ship between the "400th" and "Anniversary".  The numbering format was unchanged, but the plate numbers began at JAA-1001 and went forward.  I assume the "J" stood for "Jamestown". 

Initially, the red features at the bottom of the plate were actually printed on a clear, cellophane-type sticker that was affixed to the previous, plain base plate.  Shortly afterwards, the red features began to be painted directly onto the previoius, plan base plate.  These two early versions of the 400th Anniversary plate are readily apparent due to the blue state name.  Eventually, the state apparently used up its old stock of plain sheeting with the blue state name, and began making plates with the red features at the bottom actually incorporated into the sheeting at the time of manufacture.  Such plates have a red state name. 

2004 rental car
2004 rental car

There does not seem to be a clear break point between the blue and red state names.  From what I can gather, plate number prefixes through JAX always had the blue state name, those between JAY and JDC could have either blue or red state names, and those starting at JDD always have the red state name.  I'm not sure whether there was a clean break point betwen the cellophane and painted red features at the bottom of the plate, but if there was, it was somewhere in the JAx series. 

The 400th Anniversary plate numbers exhaused the J series and continued into the early K series.  Then, a short time later, in 2006, starting with the KCX series, the features at the bottom of the plate were changed to add color and elaborate on the nature of the anniversary.  The text at the bottom center was changed to read Jamestown / America's 400th Anniversary, while the 1607 date in the lower left corner was replaced with a colorful graphic of three ship sails, and the tiny text Jamestown / Virginia 1607-2007.  The year 2007 in the lower right corner remained unchanged. 

Jamestown plates were issued through January 2008, getting as high as the KNP series. 

2002 and 2006 base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
2002 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serial letter range JAA to approx. the early J series on this base.  Probably only rarely issued on this base as replacements for lost or stolen plates. 
2003 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range JAA to approx. the early J series. 
2004 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serial letter range JAA to approx. the early-to-mid J series. 
2005 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the mid J series. 
2006 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the mid-to-late J series. 
2007 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the late J and early K series. 
2008 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the early-to-mid K series on these bases. 
2009 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the mid K series on this base. 
2010 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the mid K series on this base, probably only issued with January expiration months. 
2011 through present – No naturals, renewals only; see subsequent sections for sticker colors. 
20xx –  white-on-orange sticker   These are issued specifically to rental cars. 

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Passenger car plates, 2008-present

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
The 2010 plate has a natural expiration.  I'm not sure whether the 2015 plate does.  The 2012 plate bears a somewhat-faded orange rental car year sticker. 
(2010 and 2015 plates photographed in actual use)

In Janaury 2008, Virgina resumed issuing the same plain, seven-character plates that had preceded the 400th Anniversary plates.  These were again issued in reverse order, picking right up where they had left off in 2002.  I would guess that the state had kept the unissued leftovers for that five year period, and issued those first.  Newly-made plates looked just like the older plates, with a blue, uppercase state name and a blank space at the bottom of the plate.  The letter series for those plates issued in 2008 therefore began in about the XYM series and worked its way backwards to the WJZ series in 2014.  Then, once again, the backwards progression abruptly stopped. 

In 2009, the state began offering three-year registrations for motorists living outside of metro areas where bi-annual emissions inspections were required.  This was in addition to the one- and two-year registration options already available statewide since 1989.  While three-year registrations are fairly uncommon, they do nevertheless make it even less clear what letter series are natural expirations in what year.  The earliest three-year registrations would have 2012 expiration stickers. 

Resumed 1992 base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
2008 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serial letter range includes the late X series on this base, working backwards from XYM.  Probably only rarely issued on this base as replacements for lost or stolen plates. 
2009 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the late X series on this base, working backwards from XYM. 
2010 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the late-to-mid X series on this base. 
2011 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the mid-to-early X series. 
2012 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serial letter range includes roughly the mid-to-early X series and the late W series. 
2013 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes roughly the early X series and late W series. 
2014 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serial letter range includes roughly the late-to-mid W series on this base. 
2015 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes roughly the mid W series on this base. 
2016 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serial letter range includes roughly the mid W series on this base. 
2017 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes roughly the mid W series on this base, probably only issued with expiration months early in the year.
2018 and beyond – No naturals, renewals only; see subsequent sections for sticker colors. 
20xx –  white-on-orange sticker   These are issued specifically to rental cars. 

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Passenger car plates, 2014-present

2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
The plates shown have natural expirations. 
(2015: Jackson photo and plate; 2016 and 2018: plates photographed in actual use)

In March 2014, Virginia introduced yet another variation of its blue-on-white, seven-character passenger car plates.  This plate features Virinia's long-running tourism slogan, Virginia is for Lovers, which has been around at least since the 1970s if not longer.  Below the slogan is a 21st century addtion, the web address for Virginia's tourism department. 

Once again, numbering started going forward again, this time starting at VAA-1001.  Since the plain base had worked its way backwards to the mid-W series, it would have been only be a matter of time before the numbers on the Lovers base advanced to the point where they met up with already-issued plate numbers, and a new block of numbers would have to be chosen. 

However, the state didn't let it get that far.  Once VZZ-9999 was issued in December 2017, forward numbering inexplicably stopped once again, and plate numbers again began being issued in backwards sequence starting from UZZ-9999.  It appears that plates in the WAA to WJY letter series are not going to be issued anytime soon, perhaps ever. 

2014 base plate sticker colors and natural serial letter ranges
2014 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serial letter range VAA to approx. the early V series on this base.  Probably only rarely issued on this base as replacements for lost or stolen plates. 
2015 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range VAA to approx. the early V series on this base. 
2016 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serial letter range VAA to approx. the early-to-mid V series on this base. 
2017 –  red-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the early-to-mid V series on this base. 
2018 –  white-on-green sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the mid-to-late V series and the very late U series. 
2019 –  blue-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx. the mid-to-late V series and the late U series. 
2020 –  white-on-red sticker   Natural serial letter range includes approx the late V series and the late-to-mid U series. 
2021 –  green-on-white sticker   Natural serial letter range approx the late-to-mid U series, going backwards. 
2022 –  white-on-blue sticker   Natural serial letter range approx the mid U series, going backwards. 
20xx –  white-on-orange sticker   These are issued specifically to rental cars. 
20xx –  yellow-on-black sticker   These are issued specifically to private cars used to transport paying passengers via services such as Uber or Lyft.  I believe these came out in mid-year 2015 and so 2015 is the earliest year for these. 

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Page credits

Thanks to those who have directly contributed to the information on this page:  Christopher Jackson. 

Jackson photograph is presumed to be copyrighted, and was submitted by and is used with permission of Christopher Jackson.  Kilpatrick plate was from the collection of Dave Kilpatrick.  Benzie plates are/were from the collection of Chris Benzie. 


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