We’ve been driving beaters almost since we got married. Our last “new” car was eight years old when we bought it. Every now and then I catch him noticing the new Dodge Challenger, and he knows how much I’d like a convertible PT Cruiser (oh, to take the top down and still be kid friendly).
On Valentine’s Day I teased him about the lack of a red PT in the driveway, even as I started thinking about maybe getting him a vanity plate that hinted at future glory: CHLNGER.
My first call was to Deein McKee at McKee’s Auto Registration in Lemon Grove (619-698-8818).
“You can order personalized plates online at dmv.ca.gov, but the plate will be sent to the DMV,” she said. “You choose it online, but you have to go in and wait in line in order to actually get it assigned. But if you come to us, we can have it sent to our private DMV address — we pick it up for you and get it assigned for $25. You don’t have to wait in line at all.” (McKee also does registration renewal for $29.)
McKee said that it was a good idea to show up with a list of possible ideas and/or spellings for a desired phrase.
“Tons of personalized-plate sayings are already taken,” she says, “but I can check right away to see if what you’ve got on your list is available. And if it is, I can reserve it for you. After that it takes two or three months for your plate to get made. Once it’s ready, you get a card in the mail, and you bring in your old plates and your registration.”
A standard personalized plate costs $49, with an additional $38 a year (above regular registration costs) to renew.
If you want to spend a little more, the extra expense can do the world some good even as it satisfies your vanity. “There are probably 20 different types of plates that you can choose,” says McKee. “The plate with a whale tail gets your [additional] registration donated towards the beaches and public coastlines. The arts-council plate — the one with the palm trees and the sun setting over the ocean — means your proceeds go to California arts and education. The kids’ plate — you can choose a hand, a heart, a plus sign, or a star before your personalized message — puts proceeds toward children’s health and safety. I have the California Memorial plate — there’s a flag in the background, and it says, ‘We will never forget’ at the bottom. Proceeds go to antiterrorist work and a memorial scholarship fund.”
Specialty plates cost $98, with a $78 annual renewal fee, except for the kids’ plate, which is $50 up front and $40 a year after that.
Adds McKee, “They won’t allow anything having to do with sex or gangs, and no cuss words. The computer is programmed to kick back any inappropriate stuff.”
Finest City Registration (858-270-1471, finestcityreg.com) offers the same services as McKee, but in a La Jolla location.
But this is “Best Buys,” and I’m all about the bargains. So I looked into getting Patrick a message he could send without changing the plates. Maybe something snappy around the edges?
Gina at Gunther Gifts in Carlsbad (760-476-9131; gunthergifts.com) told me that her most popular license-plate frames were the personalized stainless steel ($25) with the engraved message and the “superior chrome” ($14.95), “which has engraved plastic strips that attach to the frame. Our most expensive is ‘The Best in Chrome’ [$80] — the inscription is cut out of the chrome and then color is painted into the groove. That one is made from solid brass.”
All Gunther offerings come with a choice of 14 different font styles. “Most plates take three to five days to make, and shipping is $6 to $6.50. You can put anything you want on it — we get some really interesting things.”
If you want same-day service, try Fast Keys & Engraving in Clairemont (858-278-1323; fastkeys.com).
“We have metal frames in black or chrome for $15.99,” said employee Cesar. “We do the engraving on plastic inserts that we glue onto the metal. The inserts come in red, black, blue, gold, white, and silver, and there are four fonts to choose from. There’s room for about 20 letters on the top and 30 more on the bottom. And you can say anything you want.”
Jason at Pep Boys in Normal Heights (619-283-7107; pepboys.com) says, “We have a range of frames from $4 to $30. If you want to personalize something, we sell one for $12.99 that comes with plastic letters — you slide them in, and you can arrange them however you like.”