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Dating Texas Passenger Car License Plates Issued Since 1975

As motor vehicles became more and more popular during the Twentieth Century more and more license plates were required to show proof of registration. With rare exception, the first license plates consisted of only numbers. As registrations passed one million most states decided that seven numbers were too much to read easily, especially in an emergency. In order to provide for more registration numbers without using more than five or six digits they began to use letters along with numbers.

Texas first reached plate number 999*999 in 1927. The manufacturer of Texas' plates in that year was not able to use seven digits, so the letter "A" was placed in the first positon to indicate a number over 999*999. The following year the manufacturer of Texas plates was able to make plates with seven digits and the number 999*999 was followed by number 1-000*000. Various private companies made Texas plates for the next several years and in some years letters were used and in other years plates with as many as seven numbers were used.

Beginning in 1932 numbering on Texas' passenger car plates settled down into a standard pattern. All plates had no more than six digits. Numbers only were used up to the number 999*999. Beyond that number a letter was employed in the first position. This system remained in place until the early 1940s when a switch was made to two letters. Beginning with Texas' 1945 plates two letters were used, followed by two to four numbers.

By the early 1960s the number of passenger cars in Texas had increased such that there was a danger of there not being enough plate numbers for all vehicles using the two-letter four-number pattern in use at the time. In 1964 passenger car plates numbered as high as the YT series had to be made.

To solve this problem Texas did the next logical step and went to a pattern of three letters followed by two to three numbers. This would yield approximately 7.9 million more plates than the previously used two-letter four-number format did.

With a few exceptions Texas issued new plates to all vehicles every year up through the middle 1970s. By the 1970s many states began to use plates for more than one year in order to save the cost of manufacturing several million plates each year. However doing this causes a squeeze on numbering because some plates fall out of use as people move out of state, scrap cars or such. As a result a state that uses the same plates for several years will eventually run out of available plate numbers in the numbering configuration they are using.

The year 1975 was when Texas conducted its last general reissue of license plates to most vehicles. The plates issued in that year were intended to be used for five years, validated for 1976 through 1979 by a sticker attached to the plate. In 1975 the original distribution of passenger car plates to the state's 254 counties ran from the number AAA*10 to MJQ*749. These were the plates that were to be used to replace the 1974 plates that all expired on April 1, 1975, plus some extras for new vehicles, new residents, etc. By the middle of 1975 some of the state's larger counties began to run out of plates in their original assignment and requested more plates to issue. These plates were distributed to the counties in numerical order, beginning with number MJQ*750. Lower population counties did not need any more plates for several years.

As noted above, the 1975 plates were originally intended to be used for five years. Had this been done old numbers that were no longer in use by 1979 would have been reissued as everyone in the state got a new number in 1980. However by the time 1980 came the Department of Transportation had decided that the 1975 plates were holding up well and would be used indefinitely.

By the early 1980s all possible combinations of plate numbers using three letters and three numbers had been manufactured. What was the state going to do once number ZZZ*999 was reached? Texas did what some states had done previously and others have done since and just reversed the numbering format. After all three-letter three-number plates had been made they flipped over to a three-number three-letter format, such as 185*AHF. This occurred in early 1982.

Most states using multi-year plates do eventually have a general reissue and issue new plates to all vehicles in the state. In the strictest sense Texas has never done that. In the late 1980s they did implement a policy to replace plates once they reach the age of eight years. The result of that is that all old numbers are eventually replaced. However one can not specifically say that plates that were made eight years ago are all off the roads. Texas has 254 counties and all of them issue plates at different rates. Counties such as Harris (Houston) and Dallas may issue over a thousand plates in a day while others like Loving or Kenedy won't issue a thousand in a year. A county like Loving may currently be issuing plates that were manufactured eight or nine years ago. Plates are retired after they have been used for eight years, not just because they were manufactured eight years ago.

Over the years as Texas has issued more and more plates they have exhausted the various numbering configurations they have chosen to use for passenger car plates. As previously noted, the original three-letter three-number format used on the 1975 plates was exhausted in 1982. By 1990 the three-number three-letter format adopted in 1982 was exhausted. At that time Texas went to a format consisting of three letters, two numbers and one letter (eg SJR*27F). This format would have yielded more than twice the plate numbers as the previous configuration had, but it did not because the state decided to begin to omit certain letters that had been used previously.

When the three-letter three-number format was originally adopted in 1965 Texas chose to use only twenty letters. The letters A, E, I, O, Q and U were not used for both legibility purposes and to avoid making objectionable words. Since the 1975 plates were to be used for five years more numbers were going to be needed for growth during that five year period. Otherwise Texas was going to exhaust all possible combinations of three-letter three-number plates. By 1974 passenger plates had been numbered well into the "V" series.

To yield more numbers in 1975 Texas began to use the letters A, E, Q and U. The letters I and O were still omitted for legibility purposes. This resulted in a net gain of over 5.7 million numbers possible. In 1982 when Texas went to a configuration of three numbers and three letters they continued to omit only I and O. However in 1990 when the configuration of three letters, two numbers and one letter was adopted Texas again chose to avoid having to worry about objectionable words and began to omit A, E, Q and U again. Because of this they actually lost the use of 17 million possible plate numbers. As a result, all possible combinations of plates using three letters, two numbers and one letter were exhausted in 1998. At this time Texas again just reversed the previous pattern and began to issue passenger plates with a pattern of one letter, two numbers and three letters (eg H38*JRH).

This pattern lasted until 2004 when the number Z99*ZZZ was reached. At this time Texas did something they had not done since adopting multi-year plates in 1975 and went back to a numbering format that they had used previously. Once number Z99*ZZZ was reached a configuration consisting of three numbers and three letters was adopted. This is the same configuration used from 1982 to 1990. However considerably fewer numbers were realized this time than had been in the 1980s because they chose to continue the practice begun in 1990 of omitting the letters A, E, I, O, Q and U. Because of these omissions this pattern lasted less than three years. Number 999*ZZZ was reached in the fall of 2007.

Earlier in 2007 Texas had started to issue its first plates with seven digits since 1930 when plates in the "exempt" classification began to use an 000*0000 pattern. Because of this it was generally expected that once passenger plates reached 999*ZZZ in 2007 a seven-digit pattern would follow. However this was not the case. After number 999*ZZZ was reached the state reverted to the original 1975 to 1982 pattern of three letters followed by three numbers.

The writing was on the wall, however, and in 2008 Texas did begin plans to introduce seven-digit passenger plates. Several proposed designs were created and put to a vote by the public via the internet. The winning design was expected to be introduced in 2009. In the meantime the state issued passenger plates in a three-letter three-number format, still omitting the letters A, E, I, O, Q and U. The new seven-digit plates began to be shipped to the county tax offices beginning in June 2009. The numbering pattern of these plates was two letters, one number, one letter and three numbers, eg AB1*C234. Still only twenty letters were used on the plates so the first number was BB1*B001, not AA1*A001. Oddly, the state did not complete the 2007-to-2009 series of plates in the AAA*000 pattern before the seven-digit plates were introduced. The last six-digit plates manufactured were in the "V" series. There were no plates produced in the "W" through "Z" series this time.

The three-letter three-number pattern (and its reverse) issued from 2004 to 2009 each yielded approximately 7.9 million plate numbers. The seven-digit configuration Texas adopted for passenger plates in mid-2009 would have yielded approximately 71.9 million plate numbers, or nine times as many as the AAA*000 (or 000*AAA) pattern, had it been issued to completion.

Not long after the seven-digit plates began to appear in 2009 complaints were voiced by law enforcement personnel that the dark blue sky of the plates made them difficult to read. To address this concern the blue was lightened on plates that began to be issued about a year and a half later. This may have made the letters and numbers a little easier to see, however the confusing mix of letters and numbers was still difficult to read. To address these issues the state went to the opposite extreme and in 2012 changed the plates to have a plain white background. This change also brought a change in the numbering configuration used on passenger plates even though the state had only used about 15% of the capacity of the confusing two-letter, one-number, one letter, three-number configuration's capacity.

It was late July 2012 when the first plain white "Texas classic" plates began to be issued. The numbering configuration of these plates was a more sensible three letters followed by four numbers, eg BHY*2973. The state continued to omit the letters A, E, I, O, Q and U, reducing the potential capacity of this configuration from 175.7 million to just shy of 80 million plate numbers.


From 1925 through 1974 Texas issued a new pair of plates to all vehicles every year with the exception of the World War II years. These plates were clearly marked with the year of validity. The 1975 plates were also marked with the year but it was not quite so obvious. It was stamped into the sticker well located in the upper-right corner of the plates. Shortly after 1975 newly-made plates did not have this date since it was not needed; by then plates were validated by a sticker placed in one of the sticker wells on the plate. So how does one date a plate that has no sticker on it? Texas has never issued stickers in pairs so the plate on the front of a car has not been dated since 1975. Also sometimes stickers get scratched off. Additionally, since 1994 Texas has not issued plate stickers at all, rather issued a windshield sticker to show proof of validity. So how does someone know when a plate was issued if it has no date?

Since Texas has always shipped plates to the counties in numerical order it is pretty easy to determine the approximate age of a plate. Below are several tables which show the month and year that the author first saw a particular letter series of Texas passenger car plates on the roads. This marks the earliest occurance of each letter series. This does not necessarily mean that the dates listed are when a particular plate was issued. As previously noted, Texas has 254 counties and each county issues plates at different rates. One county may be issuing plates in the "N" series the same day another county is issuing plates in the "J" series.

The tables below should be used as a general guide. If you are looking for a plate for your child's birthyear of 1986, for example, plate number 788*ZSK is not what you are looking for as it would have not been issued until 1989 at the earliest and more likely 1990. Also if you see a plate numbered 935*VDJ that has a 1979 sticker on it you'll know that the 1979 sticker was not issued to that plate since plate number 935*VDJ was not even manufactured until about 1987.

Most classifications of Texas plates are also assigned to the counties in numerical order. At times it seems like Texas issues just as many truck plates as passenger plates. Indeed, there might be some counties in West Texas that register more trucks than cars. Over the years the author has kept records on the first sighting of truck plates also. Tables similar to those below for truck plates can be found by following this link.



This table is for passenger car plates in first go-around of the the AAA*000 format, which was assigned to the counties for issue from 1975 until number ZZZ*999 was reached in 1982. It shows the date that the author first saw plates in the given letter series on the roads of Texas. By letter series I mean the first letter on the plate. For example, plate number JXE*169 is in the "J" series.

These plates can be differentiated from those issued from 2007 to 2009 because all of the 1975/1982 AAA*000 format plates have sticker wells in the upper corners and are colored black on white.
The "A" through "M" series were part of the original distribution of plates to the counties in 1975
  N   April 1976     U   May 1979
  P   December 1976     V   December 1979
  Q   June 1977     W   April 1980
  R   December 1977     X   November 1980
  S   July 1978     Y   April 1981
  T   December 1978     Z   November 1981



This table is for passenger car plates in the first go-around of the 000*AAA format, which was assigned to the counties for issue from 1982 until number 999*ZZZ was reached in 1990. It shows the date that the author first saw plates in the given letter series on the roads of Texas. By letter series I mean the first letter on the plate. For example, plate number 579*UGB is in the "U" series.

These plates can be differentiated from those issued from 2004 to 2007 because all of the 1982/1990 000*AAA format plates have sticker wells in the upper corners.
   A    March 1982      N    June 1986
   B    July 1982      O    (not used)
   C    January 1983      P    August 1986
   D    May 1983      Q    December 1986
   E    November 1983      R    April 1987
   F    April 1984      S    August 1987
   G    September 1984      T    January 1988
   H    February 1985      U    May 1988
   I    (not used)      V    September 1988
   J    June 1985      W    November 1988
   K    September 1985      X    February 1989
   L    December 1985      Y    July 1989
   M    January 1986      Z    November 1989



This table is for passenger car plates in the AAA*00A format, which was assigned to the counties for issue from 1990 until number ZZZ*99Z was reached in 1998. It shows the date that the author first saw plates in the given letter series on the roads of Texas. By letter series I mean the first letter on the plate. For example, plate number FGH*43C is in the "F" series.
   A    (not used)      N    April 1994
   B    March 1990      O    (not used)
   C    August 1990      P    September 1994
   D    February 1991      Q    (not used)
   E    (not used)      R    January 1995
   F    May 1991      S    June 1995
   G    November 1991      T    November 1995
   H    April 1992      U    (not used)
   I    (not used)      V *    December 1995 *
   J    September 1992      W *    January 1996 *
   K    March 1993      X    January 1997
   L    June 1993      Y    May 1997
   M    November 1993      Z    October 1997



This table is for passenger car plates in the A00*AAA format, which was assigned to the counties for issue from 1998 until number Z99*ZZZ was reached in 2004. It shows the date that the author first saw plates in the given letter series on the roads of Texas. By letter series I mean the first letter on the plate. For example, plate number W98*FCN is in the "W" series.
   A    (not used)      N    August 2001
   B    February 1998      O    (not used)
   C    July 1998      P    January 2002
   D    December 1998      Q    (not used)
   E    (not used)      R    April 2002
   F    April 1999      S   July 2002
   G    August 1999      T    December 2002
   H    January 2000      U    (not used)
   I    (not used)      V    April 2003
   J **  March 2000 **      W   July 2003
   K    August 2000      X    December 2003
   L   December 2000      Y   March 2004
   M    April 2001      Z    August 2004



This table is for passenger car plates in the second go-around of the 000*AAA format, which was assigned to the counties for issue from 2004 until number 999*ZZZ was reached in 2007. It shows the date that the author first saw plates in the given letter series on the roads of Texas. By letter series I mean the first letter on the plate. For example, plate number 612*HDY is in the "H" series.

These plates can be differentiated from those issued from 1982 to 1990 because all of the 2004 to 2007 000*AAA format plates are of the "landscape" scene design and do not have sticker wells in the upper corners.
   A    (not used)      N    June 2006
   B    November 2004      O    (not used)
   C    January 2005      P    August 2006
   D    April 2005      Q    (not used)
   E    (not used)      R    September 2006
   F    May 2005      S    October 2006
   G    August 2005      T    January 2007
   H    September 2005      U    (not used)
   I    (not used)      V    March 2007
   J    November 2005      W    April 2007
   K    January 2006      X    May 2007
   L    March 2006      Y    June 2007
   M    May 2006      Z    August 2007



This table is for passenger car plates in the second go-around of the AAA*000 format, which was assigned to the counties for issue from 2007 until the pattern was abandoned in 2009 (during the "V" series). It shows the date that the author first saw plates in the given letter series on the roads of Texas. By letter series I mean the first letter on the plate. For example, plate number TVJ*505 is in the "T" series.

These plates can be differentiated from those issued from 1975 to 1982 because all of the 2007 to 2009 AAA*000 format plates are of the "landscape" scene design and do not have sticker wells in the upper corners.
   A    (not used)      L    July 2008
   B    September 2007      M    September 2008
   C    October 2007      N    November 2008
   D    December 2007      O    (not used)
   E    (not used)      P    December 2008
   F    February 2008      Q    (not used)
   G    March 2008      R    January 2009
   H    April 2008      S    March 2009
   I    (not used)      T    May 2009
   J    May 2008      U    (not used)
   K    June 2008      V    June 2009



This table is for passenger car plates in the seven-digit AA0*A000 format, which was assigned to the counties for issue from 2009 until the pattern was abandoned in 2012 (late in the "D" series). It shows the date that the author first saw plates in the given letter series on the roads of Texas. By letter series I mean the first letter on the plate. For example, plate number CX9*L225 is in the "C" series.

Because each letter series in a seven-digit pattern yields so many more plates than a letter series in a six-digit pattern I'm splitting each letter series into its two halves. The first half would be xB1 through xM9 and the second half would be xN1 through xZ9, where the small "x" is the letter series.
(Remember that the letter "A" is not used)
   A    (not used)      CN1    March 2011
   BB1    July 2009      DB1    September 2011
   BN1    February 2010      DN1    March 2012
   CB1    July 2010      E    (not used)



This table is for passenger car plates in the seven-digit AAA*0000 format, which has been assigned to the counties for issue since 2012. It shows the date that the author first saw plates in the given letter series on the roads of Texas. By letter series I mean the first letter on the plate. For example, plate number BMJ*0163 is in the "B" series.

Because each letter series in a seven-digit pattern yields so many more plates than a letter series in a six-digit pattern I'm splitting each letter series into its two halves. The first half would be xBB through xMZ and the second half would be xNB through xZZ, where the small "x" is the letter series.
(Remember that the letter "A" is not used)
   A    (not used)      NBB    (yet to appear)
   BBB    July 2012      NNB    (yet to appear)
   BNB    January 2013      O    (not used)
   CBB    May 2013      PBB    (yet to appear)
   CNB    October 2013      PNB    (yet to appear)
   DBB    February 2014      Q    (not used)
   DNB    June 2014      RBB    (yet to appear)
   E    (not used)      RNB    (yet to appear)
   FBB    October 2014      SBB    (yet to appear)
   FNB    March 2015      SNB    (yet to appear)
   GBB    July 2015      TBB    (yet to appear)
   GNB    November 2015      TNB    (yet to appear)
   HBB    March 2016      U    (not used)
   HNB    July 2016      VBB    (yet to appear)
   I    (not used)      VNB    (yet to appear)
   JBB    November 2016      WBB    (yet to appear)
   JNB    April 2017      WNB    (yet to appear)
   KBB    (yet to appear)      XBB    (yet to appear)
   KNB    (yet to appear)      XNB    (yet to appear)
   LBB    (yet to appear)      YBB    (yet to appear)
   LNB    (yet to appear)      YNB    (yet to appear)
   MBB    (yet to appear)      ZBB    (yet to appear)
   MNB    (yet to appear)      ZNB    (yet to appear)


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