Plate Take-tonics

So yesterday I park the car in a nice, highly visible spot with plenty of nearby foot traffic. Ten minutes later, I come back to find the front license plate is gone.

Now, I can understand there's some potential value to license plates, particularly if you're a criminal, need to make a stolen or abandoned vehicle look like it's registered and up-to-date, or merely want to make sure your current getaway vehicle doesn't show up under its own plates the next time you cruise past an officer. Or, you know, you're a secret-agent-hero type evading the bad guys.

But a front plate? In Washington, the required annually-renewed license tabs are on the back plate. While passenger cars in Washington are still required to have a front plate, the state stopped sending month and year tabs for the front plates years ago. These days, front plates are bare.

So why would anyone steal a front license plate, and leave the rear plate alone? My only guesses are:

  • The thief intended to take both plates but was interrupted or scared off. (But then why not start with the back one?)

  • Some sort of frat initiation or prank, (i.e. collect five front plates to join the High Purple Order of Jaeger Guzzlers)

This happened in the morning on the way to a rehearsal. That evening I was unable to purchase gasoline because I didn't have a front plate: the station attendant remotely disabled every pump I pulled up to, figuring I'd removed the plate to prevent it from being photographed on the station's security cameras. Maybe he thought I'd removed the back plate too. The nice police officer the attendant also called to confront me explained—after checking my license and registration and confirming the gig bag in the back seat contains a bass, not a rifle—that sometimes folks remove their plates before performing a "pump-and-run" wherein someone fills their tank and flees the station without paying. With gas prices these days, I can see why that behavior might be on the rise.

And honestly, I would have tried to pre-pay if I could have found a doorway which seemed to lead to the attendant. This is one of those stations which has a built-in McDonalds or something: the only apparent way "in" is into the order-a-burger area. The station attendant's booth seems separate, with no obvious customer access.

But I made a new friend, Officer Bob. He let me off with a warning.

The fun continued today. Getting new license plates is straightforward, but can only be done by selected licensing locations. Turns out the location two blocks from my house is not one of those, so I'd have to drive (hi Officer Bob!) to get new plates. Which I did. And as soon as I reached the counter to begin the process, the licensing office's computer systems went down for thirty minutes. They must have known I was coming.

But I did eventually get new plates.

The fun continued when I got home. I kinda knew this was going to be the case but had avoided looking closely—my way of putting off the inevitable as long as possible: when my perp removed my front plate, he, she, or they were none-too-gentle. In addition to the plate, they also managed to pull out the lugs where the #14 screws were holding the plate onto the front of the car, leaving some nice rough, large-ish holes in my front bumper.

A fun trip to the hardware store revealed no products which would let me reliably mount the new plates in the existing holes, mainly because there's not a lot of space between the plastic outer bumper and the metal of the car frame behind it. If I had an inch and a half of clearance (instead of a quarter inch) I probably could have rigged something.

So instead I drilled new holes in my bumper and mounted the new front plate as best I could. We'll see if it holds.

In the meantime, if you see anyone driving around with the Washington license plate 123-PPQ, give'em a nice, stiff wedgie for me. Or call the police.

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