by Clint Burgess

2-H-O-T-4-U is just one example of my focus this week: personalized license plates. These hot items have been around for quite some time. In fact, I remember the yellow plates with the green lettering that used to be the norm for these accessories. Today the plates are just like the ones everybody has, or are they?

The allure of a personalized license plate is that they are, well, personalized. Our society thrives on individuality and prides itself on the cars we drive. When the melding of two ideologies such as these happens, the result is a personalized license plate, just for you. Half of the fun of a personalized plate is coming up with something clever to make your plate all its own. Some of the more common plates I've seen consist of things like: YFSCAR, PAID4, WE3SKI, and let's not forget the ever-popular IDESIGN. There are, however, a few stipulations that govern the freewheeling world of personalized license plates. Unfortunately, you have to be able to get your clever idea compacted into seven letters or numbers (six characters for motorcycle plates). You can't use any special characters (there goes having my e-mail address on my car), but hyphens are acceptable. And according to the Washington State Department of Licensing, requests for inappropriate or offensive plates will be refused.

Now it may seem like trying to find a needle in a haystack to get just the right combination of characters on your plate. Again the Department of Licensing comes to the rescue. The department offers a searchable database on the Web ( that allows you to type in your ideas and see if the plate is available. With all of these zany plate ideas, the state has to be cautious -- that's why you can only have one plate with a specific set of characters on it licensed in the state. This database is quick, easy to use and saves the headache of having to continuously resubmit requests. As far as the fees go, there is a $44 initial licensing fee for the personalized plate. There is also an additional $30 annual fee on top of the standard licensing fee that applies. So instead of $33 tabs, add an additional $30.

Spokane Valley resident Becca Dahlke has a personalized plate on her vehicle. "BAZUCCA" are her chosen characters, and they usually leave people wondering. "At least once a week someone will ask me what it means," says Dahlke. "After I tell them, people usually just say, 'Oh.'" Dahlke is a counselor at a summer camp for children with diabetes. "BAZUCCA" is her camp name. "My mom got the plate for me after I came back from camp," she says. "I thought it was awesome."

When asked if she ever gets tired of people inquiring about what her personalized plate means, Dahlke says that it doesn't get old -- but that one encounter with curiosity left her a little shaken. "I was driving on Fancher," she says, "and I was going 10 mph over the speed limit and got pulled over. The officer asked me for my license and registration and took my information." As the officer walked back to the car, he informed Dahlke that the real reason she was stopped was because the officer and his partner were wondering what her license plate meant. True story or friendly police banter? We'll never know, but that's what you get with a personalized plate: lots of stories.

Publication date: 10/07/04

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