Aaron Widmar
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What Are Historic License Plates & How to Get One for Your Car

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Photo: The News Wheel

According to certain studies, the average life expectancy of a vehicle is 8-10 years. But, with proper maintenance and light usage, a car can last for much longer than a decade. If the automobile lasts well past its original manufacture date, it can qualify for special registration status.

A historic vehicle — also known as an antique vehicle — is a particular classification of motor vehicle that’s available in many countries around the world, including the U.S. Here’s what it takes to get that special historic license plate from your state’s DMV and if you should consider registering.

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Getting & maintaining historic vehicle registration status

The guidelines for what qualifies as an antique or historic vehicle vary by country and even by U.S. state. Generally, the vehicle should meet these qualifications (taken from the Ohio DMV as an example):

  • Be a certain number of years old (i.e. past its manufacture date), typically 20-30 years minimum
  • Owned only as a collector’s item, not for transportation
  • Not be driven to places other than specific automotive exhibitions

To reiterate, vehicles with a historic license plate should not be seen around town running errands or taking joy rides. Historic vehicles are only allowed on the road to be traveling to and from an event like a cruise-in (or a garage if maintenance is needed). That means no cruising through the park; no taking it to the grocery store on a sunny day. A police officer has the right to pull you over and ask where you’re headed if they see your vintage vehicle and suspect you’re taking advantage of the system.

Some states outline a set maximum number of miles the vehicle can be driven each year and require owners to keep a log of every mile traversed. Others limit the distance the vehicle can be driven from the driver’s home address (as noted in the Wikipedia entry).

If you do abide by the rules, registering your old car as an antique has fantastic advantages.

  • Historic registration plates are permanent and will last for the life of the car.
  • The registration is a fraction of what standard vehicle registration costs.
  • Some insurance companies offer discounted insurance packages for vehicles registered as antique/non-transportational.
  • The vehicle gets a unique license plate that boasts its status (style can be customized in some states).

To get your vehicle registered as historic, simply obtain and complete a special application from your local DMV office and submit it as you would a normal vehicle registration (unless your state/country gives specific instructions otherwise).

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