A vanity license plate. It's like having a Twitter on your car, except you're limited to using 6 to 8 characters, you're stuck with the message for about a year, or have to pay immense fees to change the plate entirely, and you have the privilege of paying an extra $78 a year to retain that status on top of the initial $98 fee for getting the plate.
Believe it or not, despite the title, I'm actually a fan of vanity license plates. Primarily because it showcases one's creativity when restricted to 7 characters. That and it shows the lengths people will go to get attention, much like Twitter users.
However, there are strings of letters that shouldn't be on license plates because they might force people to damage your car, cause you to explain what the tags mean when filling up with gas, or demonstrate a marked lack of originality. All of which don't justify the $78 to retain vanity plates. That money's better saved for future oil changes or clutch replacements.
Author's Note: All of the prices mentioned in this article are those of the California DMV. It definitely varies in other states. I also apologize for anyone who may take offense to the third thing on this list. I may be mad because those letter options are already taken in California. And I also learned that the only collegiate plate one can get in California is for UCLA and not Berkeley. The Cal Alumni Association should really get on that.
There's no point to getting a license plate which half the country will disagree with in some way, shape, or form. No one wants their car to be the target of some deranged person with differing political views. This is a problem with living in California. Believe it or not, California is not all Democrats, as the electoral college may make you think. We are, after all, a state that elected a man who was out-acted by a chimpanzee to be the governor. As well as an Austrian man who once pretended to be pregnant and Danny DeVito's twin.
So there are more than a few counties where a politically-tinged license plate, either pro or anti Republican/Democrat may make you endure a "difficult" time. Like damage to your car, people who at 75 mph make it a point to tell you Obama is a socialist, and the car with the Obama 2012/pro-gay marriage/new liberal cause bumper sticker that'll cut you off in traffic.
Car model names
Putting your car model name is basically screaming that your car is important. It's also redundant. Car owners probably get it because they're tired of being asked what their car is in the parking lot and gas station. This is the explanation a Lotus Elise owner gave me. But if the owner bothered getting the plate, they probably don't mind talking about cars.
In the end, nonetheless, you will come off a tool. Even if you volunteer at the homeless shelter and help Habitat for Humanity, once you walk back to your car, people will think it's a result of court-mandated community service. And that's unfortunate, because they probably do own and operate a cool car.
Him/Her: What does "JALOPNK" mean on your license plate? (California only allows 7 characters.)
Me: It's an automotive blog I really like. You ought to read it.
Him/Her: Cool. Do you write for them?
Me: No, I just write an article now and then, and exasperate the weekend editor about why he didn't rise to a challenge with WTCC driver Robb Holland until he caves in and posts the piece.
Him/Her: Oh. (Walks away thinking, "That guy is spending $78 a year on that plate? And who's Robb Holland?")
The novelty will eventually wear off, and then you're stuck with paying tens of dollars a year to retain the plates, without reimbursement from Gawker Media. You're better off spending that $78 to go the Jalopnik Film Festival and putting the initial $100 fee for getting the plate towards transportation to New York. It would be a much better experience.
Your own name
Whatever you do, even if risking not getting the BMW X6 you always wanted, do not put your first name and/or last name on your plates. Other than showing a complete lack of imagination, putting your name or surname on your tags ensures putting the "vain" in vanity plate. We'd like to think these license plates are reserved for those girls who appear on My Super Sweet 16 and anyone with the last name Kardashian.
But desis are the prime offenders. Which upsets me. And despite being Indian, I struggle to find an explanation why. Maybe it's because desis are more likely to have arranged marriages and therefore don't have to deal with a boyfriend's or (more likely) girlfriend's disgust. Or perhaps it's a result of attempting to differentiate between all the minivans and Japanese midsize sedans in the parking lot after parties. I just don't know.
(And if you were wondering, no one in my family, including me, has names on their license plates. We'd rather spend $78 a year on chai.)
So what else shouldn't be on vanity tags that the DMV wouldn't reject?
Satish Kondapavulur runs Clunkerture, named because "Clunker.com" was $82 at auction and would've taken 30% out of the balance of his Eagle Vision for LeMons fund. In between contemplating cross-country runs, he spends much of his time attempting to convince others that his MkV Jetta 2.0T Wolfsburg is indeed a sports sedan.
First photo credit goes to Blogspot. All other images except the "GORE WON" image (taken by me in Berkeley, go figure) were posted in some way, shape, or form on Gawker Media sites, so rest of the photo credits goes to them.