6 Things to Know Before Getting Historic Vehicle Plates

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Historical car plates
Historical car plates | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

People don’t always think about it, but your license plate can say a lot about the car you drive and your dedication to it. While many drivers typically go with whatever is cheapest and most readily available, having the ability to choose a tag that best represents you, the owner, isn’t just a trendy personalization, it’s a an American freedom that few other countries get to enjoy.

In the United States, drivers have the ability to purchase all sorts of vehicle plates, and I’m not just talking about custom truck tags that say “BIGBEAR” because someone’s an overzealous wild game hunter. In this mighty country of ours car owners can support school systems, show military support, send proceeds to wildlife preservation, make a stand against breast cancer, announce their alma mater, hint at their veteran status, or just prove how pumped they are about it almost being football season.

License plates are more than just a vehicular identification device. They are a customizable portion of an automobile that can be matched to an enthusiast’s unique tastes in order to make them all the more expressive, in a somewhat subtle way.

Speaking of matching a plate to the car it comes attached to, our 1991 Honda Accord SE restomod project just turned 25 years old this summer, and that means it’s finally time for historical vehicle plates! While this may possibly be one of the most restrictive forms of registration out there, after some research we have come to the conclusion that this is the best route to take. Once finished, this little unassuming sedan will be driven to car shows, local meets, and cars and coffee, all while remaining in accordance with the limitations placed upon it by the U.S. government’s historical vehicle codes.

So if you are looking to put tags on a car that’s over 25 years old, and don’t plan on driving it every day, look toward your local DMV/BMV website in order to first find out what all is required when applying for historical car plates in your state. Chances are that you will like what you find, and here are six cheats that we think could help you along the way.

1. Easy-peasy

Historic plate directions
Historic plate directions | Source: DMV.org

While certain states will likely still fine the hell out of you for not passing emissions (we’re looking at you, California and New York), for those in the rust belt where straight pipes port out the sides of hot rods, the historical vehicle application process is a total breeze. In Ohio there was literally one form required, which didn’t even need to be notarized. Then all we had to do was show someone at the DMV an ID and a matching car title, write a check, and a week later the plate arrived in the mail. The hardest part of this entire process had to either be finding the title or choosing what song to listen to next while waiting in line at the DMV.

2. It’s cheap as chips

Historic plate registration fees
Historic plate registration fees | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

$22.35 was our final bill for registration of a historical vehicle in the state of Ohio. One plate, one bill, and no annoying annual fees, all in exchange for infinite years of hassle-free weekend cruises and car shows. This was a very nice surprise to find considering annual registration renewals in Ohio typically run around $70 with taxes and service charges. Granted, if you want custom plates you will still have to pay the annual renewal charge associated with keeping them, and in our case, having the ability to go this route down the line when the vehicle is show ready is just an added bonus. 

3. Historic doesn’t mean ancient anymore

1991 4th Generation CB7 Accord
1991 fourth generation CB7 Accord | Source: Honda

Because the year is 2016, by law that means anything from 1991 and prior is now eligible for historic plates (which is kind of mind-boggling since cars like the first generation NSX still look like modern day supercars when they blow past us on the interstate). As far as our own plate goes, it is getting slapped on a far less game-changing Japanese automobile, and while some may argue that calling a 1991 Honda Accord SE a historic vehicle is preposterous, the United States government says otherwise. Plus, we will be retaining those iconic early ’90s automatic seat belts and there isn’t a single airbag in the damn thing. So if that doesn’t make you say “old school,” we don’t know what will.

4. One time should be fine

DMV | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

According to Chapter 4503.181 of the Ohio state historical motor vehicle code, “Historical vehicle and model year license plates are valid without renewal as long as the vehicle for which they were issued or procured is in existence.”

Simply put, that means our one-time fee of $22.35 is good until death do us part, or until for some reason we decide to sell the sedan to someone else, neither of which we foresee happening anytime soon. This is an awesome perk to getting historic plates, as it gives plenty of restoration time to anyone wanting to slowly build a classic, or for grandparents who like to drive the grandkids around on weekends without ever worrying about expired tags.

5. Insurance reassurance

Classic hot rod
Classic hot rod | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

In order to get insurance coverage for classic, collector, vintage, and antique cars or trucks, you need to have a garage, keep your vehicle reserved as a backup mode of transportation, and properly maintain it so that it is always in good working order. With providers like Progressive teaming up with classic car specialist Hagerty, the chances of enthusiasts getting the coverage they need is easier than ever before. The added bonus of insurance running about 42% less than a standard auto policy is another huge perk that Progressive pitches. Just be sure to shop around and compare quotes, because if it’s worth keeping you’ll want it covered from headlights to tail fins.

6. Keep an eye on that odometer

Odometer | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

If there’s one historic registration warning we should make mention of, it would be that certain auto insurance companies limit the amount of mileage placed on historical vehicles. Remember, these are supposed to be our toys that we take to cars and coffee on the weekends, or to car shows and cruise-ins when the time is right, not to work every day. So check with your insurance provider as to what kind of annual mileage they allow, and if you can’t keep the cruising to a minimum, notify them in advance that you will be driving down to a car show in another state and ask for a hall pass.