Monday, September 10, 2012

Special License Plates for Antique, Classic or Vintage Trucks

By Rod Hemmick
Special Contributing Author
for Motorheads Performance

Many classic or vintage truck owners like being able to have a special license plate that uniquely identifies your old truck. It is a nice way to show off your ride as something different. Many states, including Texas, even allow the use of YOM or year of manufacture license plates to be registered and used on your vehicle. For example, if you own a 1955 truck, you can register actual 1955 license plates on your vehicle. For many, this is the “ultimate” license plate to display on their vehicle which can be a finishing touch to the authenticity of your special ride. But old trucks are handled differently than vintage cars, so it's important to know the rules.

Since each State has different laws regarding what type of license plates can be issued to Antique and Classic vehicles, there is no one single set of rules on how to get specialty (including YOM) license plates for your vehicle. Furthermore, it is always best to check with the proper authorities in your state as the final authority on these laws. This group of articles applies to the laws for the State of Texas only and should not be considered as a guideline for requirements for other states.

In the State of Texas, your vehicle must be at least 25 years old in order to qualify for special license plates and can be registered as a “Classic” or “Antique” vehicle, depending on your plans for driving your vehicle on public roads. The types of vehicles that qualify are passenger cars, trucks and motorcycles, and you can even register a vintage travel trailer with “Classic” plates.

In this series of articles we will begin by explaining the requirements for registering your old truck. This will include how to get YOM license plates registered on your vehicle as well. To clarify, Year of Manufacture license plates are not a separate category of plates, but rather you can opt to use YOM Commercial or Truck license plates instead of using the currently issued Truck plates. Links to Texas Department of Transportation website for forms and additional information are listed below.

Prior to 1925, both passenger cars and trucks shared the same license plate, there was not a special license plate for trucks. In 1925, a different plate was issued to trucks, but they did not carry the word “Truck” on them. Instead they carried the work “COM” of them which stood for “Commercial”. These 1925 “COM” plates were a different color scheme than the 1925 passenger car plates. So if you are looking for license plates for your 1931 Ford Model A pick-up truck, you would need to have a pair of 1931 “CM” plates for your vehicle.

From the period from 1925 through 1942 “Truck” plates carried either “COM” or “CM” on them designating them as “Commercial” license plates. Due to the metal shortage created by WWII, small metal tabs were used in Texas in 1943 and 1944 to re-validate the 1942 plates. In 1945 the “COM” was dropped and the work “Truck” finally appeared on the license plates and remains to this day. According to the State, if you are registering a vintage truck, you must have either “CM” or “Truck” YOM license plates (depending on the year of your vehicle). You cannot register passenger car license plates to a truck.

While there have been some YOM passenger car license plates issued to vintage trucks, and you may have seen vintage trucks with YOM passenger car license plates, this is an oversight by the county that issued the plates. There are rumors going around that it is ok to register YOM passenger car license plates on a vintage truck, and it is even reported as ok by some web sites, but if the county where you get your plates registered is familiar with the rules governing the registration of YOM plates, they will not approve YOM passenger car license plates for use on a truck.

The basic guidelines for registering your vintage truck with“Year of Manufacture” license plates are as follows:

1. If you are registering “Year of Manufacture” license plates, they must be the same year as the vehicle being registered and must be authentic license plates that were made by the State. (Reproduction license plates are not allowed).
2. License plates were issued in pairs for all years except 1945 and 1946 when only a single license plate was issued. This means that if you are registering a vehicle with “Year of Manufacture” license plates, you must have BOTH plates (unless the vehicle is a 1945 of 1946 vintage vehicle).
3. The license plates must be in good readable condition and they can be restored if they are not in good enough condition. The license plates can have some holes in them and/or some rusted areas, but the readability of the plates cannot be compromised by these holes or rusted areas.
4. The license plates must be the same color scheme as they were when originally issued.
5. The vehicle must carry a current safety inspection sticker and proof of insurance is required.

If you are planning on using original “Year of Manufacture” license plates for your vehicle and you do not have your plates yet, here are some guidelines to consider when looking for a suitable set of plates:

1. The “straighter the better” – plates that are badly dented or bent can be more difficult and costly to restore and generally will not look as good when restored as a nice “straight” pair of plates.
2. Avoid plates with serious rust damage if possible – Light surface rust is fine, but plates that are rusted to the point of being brittle or have parts missing due to rust damage (i.e.: one corner rusted off) can be a real challenge and very costly to restore. Also if the State feels that this rust damage can compromise the plate’s readability, they will not register the plates. Plates with “saw toothed” rust damage along the edges of plate are hard to repair and can cause problems when restored.
3. Extra holes in a plate are okay as long as they do not compromise the plate’s readability. These can be left alone or repaired during restoration.
4. If the plates need to be restored you can do them yourself (if you are up to the challenge) or you can have a professional restoration service do the plates for you.

The following link for the Texas Department of Transportation has information on special license plates for vintage vehicles. There is a separate “Antique and Classic” link on this page for each type of registration (i.e.: Classic Auto, Classic Motorcycle, etc.). Costs for each type of plate are listed as well as a link to download the necessary form for registration as well as address information for each County if you plan to mail in your registration paperwork. A fax number and instructions are also listed.

Under the links for Classic Auto, Classic Truck, Classic Motorcycle and Classic Travel Trailer, there is an option to order a personalized plate and even a search box to determine if your desired personalization is available. If ordering by mail, there is a section to include the standard fee and also the fee for a personalized plate.
Forms for these plates may also be downloaded from the following Texas Department of Transportation link. Click on the “Antique and Classic Vehicles” link at the top of this page:
If you have a specific question or problem you can reach the Texas Department of Transportation’s “Specialty License Plates” office at 512-374-5010. Be sure to get the name of the person that you spoke with, especially if they were helpful and/or knowledgeable about the registration process.

If you elect to have your plates professionally restored it can be well worth the cost as a nicely restored pair of license plates can be the finishing touch to a nicely restored vehicle. A poorly done or very “amateur” set of restored plates, while they may be able to pass the State’s registration requirements, may not look so good and can even detract from the looks of a nicely restored vehicle.

Rod Hemmick has been providing professional restorations of YOM license plates for over 18 years. Rod has been member of the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association (ALPCA) since 1981, and has even been used as a reference by the State of Texas in one of their publications on the History of Texas License Plates. Guy Algar and I have been using Rod as an expert resource for the restoration work we do at Motorheads Performance, and he's always been able to come through with the best of information and help for our customers. Rod's knowledge is extensive, and the quality of his restoration work is truly outstanding. For historical information on Texas License plates, contact Rod at

We hope you have enjoyed the first group of articles on classic car license plates. Our next article will appear in two weeks. If you've missed any of my previous articles, here are links for your convenience:

   Year of Manufacture License Plates for Classic Cars, Muscle Cars or Antique Vehicles
   The History of Texas License Plates - Part II
   The History of Texas License Plates - Part I
   Finding Old License Plates
   Old License Plates Are Poised To Draw Top Dollar At Upcoming Auction

Please feel free to contact me via e-mail if you have a particular question that you'd like answered.

We've discussed finding old license plates in a previous article, but sometimes you may find it necessary or more desirable to have an old plate restored, whether for sentimental value, the uniqueness of the plate, or some other reason. Guy Algar and I have used Rod for our license plate needs. He is very knowledgeable about the types and colors of Texas license plates, and what is needed in order to have them accepted by the Department of Transportation for use. What we've learned is that the costs to restore plates correctly is an investment just like the restoration process for your classic car or truck. It's not cheap, but we've come to learn that much time and effort goes into the process so please consider that before questioning a craftsman on why it costs so much!  - Andrea L. Algar, Author & Editor, Motorheads Performance's Classic Car News
Post a Comment