With more than 12.8 million vehicles registered in Ontario, how are you supposed to make yours stand out?
If you have a clever mind or a sense of humour, it’s likely you’ve considered doing so by having an Ontario custom license plate made. But before you get too clever, know that custom license plates do come with some rules and guidelines as to what kind of content can be put on them. Inappropriate jokes and political messages can get your plate idea rejected.
So how do you get a custom license plate in Ontario? This guide will walk you through the process for ordering your vanity plate, the do’s and don’ts for the message you include, and answers to other questions you might have.
What Is a Custom License Plate?
You might have seen a funny license plate on a vehicle as it passes you on the highway or one that leaves you scratching your head in the parking lot at work. A custom license plate allows you to add some personality to your car using a combination of letters and numbers that you choose. Use them to spell out your business name, nickname, or some other unique message.
While you might hear them called personalized or vanity plates, they are all the same. Outside of the fact that you choose what the plate says, your custom plate works just like any license plate to identify your car within the system. The only difference is that you get to decide what content is on the plate rather than having it randomly assigned by the province.
How Do I Get a Custom License Plate?
If you’re intrigued about getting a personalized plate for your car, there are some set steps you’ll need to follow to acquire one.
You will need three things to order a plate online:
- Driver’s license number or registrant identification number
- What you want the plate to say
- No outstanding balances, fines or toll fees you might have
You can place your order three ways:
If you don’t have a driver’s license number or registrant identification number, you will have to place your order at a Service Ontario location or by phone rather than online.
Here are the specific steps involved if you submit your application online:
- Enter your driver’s license number of RIN
- Choose the type of plate you want
- The graphic you'd like, if any
- Enter the plate content
- Check availability
- Select and confirm your purchase
- Complete the process
You’ll be able to check on the availability of your desired plate combination when you place your order.
How Much Do Custom License Plates Cost?
A custom license plate does cost more than standard plates. For passenger and commercial vehicles, a plate is $310 without a graphic and $336.40 with a graphic. For motorcycles, the fee is $310.
Why are custom license plate costs higher than normal plates? There are two basic reasons. These plates require a custom production run to produce individual vanity license plates, and each application then undergoes review by a special committee.
When it comes time to renew, the fee should be the same as normal, which is $120 in Southern Ontario and $60 in Northern Ontario.
When you apply for your custom plate, as mentioned, there could be a few extra costs if you need to pay off any outstanding fines or highway tolls.
Payment can be made by credit card or Interac Online. You can even purchase a gift certificate to pay for a personalized license plate at any Service Ontario center.
How Long Does It Take to Get One?
You’ll know immediately if your plate content is available and approved if you’re applying online. While there might be some delays due to current safety guidelines, you should still expect your plate to arrive in the mail in about four weeks.
What Types of Things Can I Put on My Custom License Plate?
For the most part, you can be as creative as you like in creating your license plate. However, there are some choices and rules that dictate what you can include on your plate.
The guidelines for what can be used include:
- Any combination of letters and numbers
- No symbols
- Passenger and commercial vehicles - two to eight characters
- Motorcycle - two to five characters
However, your custom license plate ideas can have more than four identical numbers or letters in a row, and interchangeable numbers and letters are not allowed.
One other choice you have for your custom license plate in Canada is a graphic emblem. If you have a specific bit of content in mind for your plate, know that adding a graphic does change the number of characters you can have from eight to six.
There’s a set list of more than 60 options offered by the province in several categories, including:
- Arts and entertainment
- Community organizations
- Sports teams
- Universities and colleges
Examples of different graphic plates include those supporting the Ontario Square and Round Dance Federation and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. You can get one with the Canadian flag or a heart. You can also share your support for your team such as the Ottawa Senators.
Graphic plates can have the slogan on them in French or English. If you choose the French slogan, you will have to go in-person to a Service Ottawa center or order by phone. If you choose the English slogan, you also have the option to apply online as well.
Veteran graphics are also available, but you have to visit a Service Ottawa center to request one.
With some creative thinking, there are lots of different things you can say with your custom license plate. Go for a plate tied to the type of car you have or maybe come up with a pun on your profession.
Some of our favourites include:
- HAVA PUG for a dog owner
- EXPIRED for a hearse
- ILL SUE for a lawyer
- LOL GAS for an electric car
- I AM LATE for anyone
- WHASAAB for a Saab owner
- SHOW OFF for a sports car
- BYE 4NOW for anyone
- A CARTAG for someone with a sense of humor
What Can I Not Put on My Personalized License Plate?
While you have a lot of leeway as to what you can make your plate say, there are some very specific rules about what is not allowed. Ontario rejects thousands of plate ideas every year for being too political, rude, or sexual.
The basic rule is that your plate will be rejected if the combination of letters and numbers is already in use by another vehicle. Beyond that, your idea can be rejected if it is considered objectionable under some set criteria. These include:
- Sexual messaging or meanings
- Abusive, obscene language and derogatory slang
- Religious meaning or messaging
- Drugs or alcohol references
- Political messaging, figures, or dignitaries
- Violence or criminal activity
- Human rights discrimination
- Intellectual property
The committee can also reject your proposed plate if it lacks clarity or is difficult to read. What falls in this category would be anything with more than four identical characters in sequence or interchangeable letters or numbers. For example, if there’s a plate with an S in its combination, an identical request with a “5” instead would not be approved.
Just because your plate is approved one year doesn’t mean it can’t ever be revoked later. After all, language changes, and what seems innocent one decade can be quite risque the next. For example, a clever plate “ASIMIL8” took inspiration from science fiction but was revoked after others took it as aimed at immigrants or indigenous peoples.
You don’t own your plate even though you pay for it and the stickers on it, so the government can keep you from putting even your own name on there if it can be interpreted inappropriately.
Personalize Your Plate
Custom license plates allow you to add some personality to your car or show off your commitment to a cause or team. Let your imagination run wild to come up with a creative saying using any combination of letters and numbers. Just make sure to stay within the guidelines to make sure it gets approved, and you’ll be sporting your new plate in a few weeks.
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