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Massachusetts Has the Coolest Hidden Trick on Its License Plates

Today I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Massachusetts has the coolest hidden trick on its license plates. Most people from Massachusetts have no idea about this trick, but it, indeed, is a trick, and it’s hidden, and it’s cool — and every single other state should do it, too.

The trick I’m talking about is that the last number on virtually all Massachusetts license plates correspond to the month in which they expire. You see above, how the license plate "284 FH8" ends in an 8 and also says "AUG" in the upper left corner, meaning it expires in August? Yeah, that isn’t a coincidence. The next plate, "V 92," ends in 2 and expires in February. And the next one, 215 BG2, ends in 2 and expires in February. This little trick is almost invariably true on Massachusetts license plates.

Before I get into why they do this, let me address the three questions everyone has when I tell them this. First, if a license plate ends in 0, it expires in October. Second, if you have a vanity plate, it expires in November — even if your vanity plate has a number on it. So regardless of whether you’re "JIMMY" or "JIMMY 2," you expire in November. To my knowledge, the only Massachusetts plates that expire in November are vanity plates. And finally, December: This is when all commercial plates (and other unusual types, like bus and trailer) expire. So regular car plates use months January through October, vanity plates are November, and commercial plates are December.

Next, let’s talk why. Frankly, this idea is brilliant for the following reason: It allows law enforcement to check whether your registration is expired without getting up close to your car. In most states, your registration expiration is noted by a tiny little decal that’s barely readable from more than a few feet away. But in Massachusetts, all you need to see is the last number on the plate and the color of the decal, since the colors change every year. You can do this from dozens of feet away with no problem.

Really, it’s a great idea — and since license plates are primarily for law enforcement purposes, it’s one every state should implement. Unfortunately, only two others have: In West Virginia, the first character of the plate is your expiration month, with letters "O," "N" and "D" signifying October, November and December. And in Missouri, the first letter of the plate is coded to the expiration month — with "A" and "B" meaning January, "Y" and "Z" meaning December, and all the letters in between roughly corresponding to their month, i.e. "M" is July — but the codes are confusing and hard to remember, as some months only have one letter, and some letters are skipped entirely.

Really, Massachusetts does it most brilliantly, Massachusetts does it best — and the next time you see a Massachusetts license plate, you’re going to check the final number, and you’re going to see that it corresponds to the month of expiration, and you’re going to remember ol’ Doug.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. No one cares, but trailer plates expire in November not December.  And they would still have to be able to see the little sticker or they won’t know what year they expired in.  More likely, assigning plates across months this way allows them to even out the number of registrations in each month, rather than hope birthdays are evenly distributed (which they are not).

  2. Dear Doug; I am writing you to tell you that you made me go downstairs in my PJ’s to check every license plate on my cars and even the neighbors. apparently, you are correct, unlike your appreciation for the new NSX. Congrats on your first Mill too. 

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