How to Check Available Custom License Plates

To search available vanity plates in your state, it’s easiest to contact your local DMV—you’ll need to fill out several forms in-person or online and pay a fee.
Written by Jason Tushinski
The DMV is the place to go to check if the vanity plate you want is available. Whether in person or online, both processes will require filling out forms, selecting several combinations of your preferred vanity plate name, and paying a small fee.
  • Most states allow residents to purchase personalized license plates online—and charge a plate fee of approximately $100. 
  • The combination of letters and numbers on your vanity plate must adhere to your state’s license plate regulations. 
  • Keep in mind, self-expression has its limits. The DMV will likely reject any specialty plate applications with inappropriate or vulgar plate monikers.

How to check if a number plate is taken

If you want a vanity plate for your passenger vehicle, you’ll have to visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) service center to get the ball rolling. In some states, the county clerk’s office may handle vanity plates. 
Once you’re in the right place, you’ll have to see if your license plate name is taken and fill out some paperwork to order your plates. Depending on which state you live in, there may be a variety of specialized plate types to choose from, including themed plates—where your fee supports the non-profit organization featured on it.
Expert Tip Vanity plates are not the same as disability placards or plates. If you’re someone who needs greater accessibility while parking or getting in or out of your vehicle, you should visit your state DMV’s website for more information on disability services for drivers. 

Vanity plate costs

In most cases, vanity plates for a new vehicle will run you around $100. 
The exact cost can vary depending on where you live—but you’ll be required to pay for the price of personalized license plates along with your regular vehicle registration fees. And, like your registration renewal, you’ll also have to renew your vanity plate on a yearly basis.

Vanity plate restrictions

While a vanity plate can be a great canvas to show off your personality, they can only go so far. 
Be sure to keep your character count within your state’s plate configuration limits, and heed any instructions regarding the use of numbers and/or letters in your plate. 
While it’s always fun to show off your personality, inappropriate or illegal connotations will likely wind up rejected by the DMV.

How to get vanity plates at the DMV

Once you’ve pinned down local DMV office locations and determined your (appropriate) plate design, here’s how to place a plate order: 
  • Paperwork: To obtain vanity plates, you’ll have to give your local DMV or county clerk the requisite information they’ll need about you and your vehicle, such as the current plate number, registration, and VIN. You’ll also have to choose specific character combinations for your plate, in case your preferred moniker isn’t available.
  • Pay and wait: Once ordered, you’ll have to wait a few weeks before your plates arrive. Some DMV and county clerk offices only order vanity plates at certain times of the year. Keep this in mind when ordering your new plates. 

How to order vanity plates online

Most states will allow you to view online what vanity plate options are available and place an order right from your computer or phone. Use the DMV’s online services to find out whether you can order vanity plates online in your state:  
  • Find your state’s DMV page: Locate the section of the website devoted to vehicle titles and registration. 
  • Select the License Plates and Placards tab: This is where you’ll find the selection for vanity or specialized license plates. 
  • Enter any required vehicle details: Enter the zip code where your car is registered (if prompted) to see your local vanity plate options. 
  • Fill out the required forms: Complete any online paperwork to obtain your vanity plates. Note any restrictions about what you can put on your vanity plate, as well as the fees for ordering the plates.
  • Pay fees and wait: Similar to going into the DMV in person, you’ll have to wait a few weeks to receive your vanity plates once you’ve ordered them online.
Not every state lets you purchase personalized plates online—so double-check with your local DMV if you can order vanity plates online in your state. If not, you’ll have to visit the DMV or county clerk’s office in person.
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Most states allow residents to view vanity plate options and order them online, but not all of them. If your state doesn’t allow online ordering, you’ll have to check the availability and apply for your vanity plates in person at your local DMV or county clerk office.
Umm, not quite. There is certainly leeway in terms of what you can and cannot put on your vanity plates, but ultimately you’ll have to follow your state’s rules.
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