If you drive (or have been in a car), you’ve probably noticed those vanity license plates. You know, the custom ones? The ones that you normally see on electric cars about how green they are? Things like “NOGAS” and “COALBAD”. Okay, in fairness these types of vanity plates can be found on all cars. How about that Ford F-350 with “LOW MPG” on the back? Or the Porsche with “CYA BRO”?
Vanity plates are certainly popular, but now that we’re customizing our cars, let’s see if we can determine the worst license plate.
We’re pretty sure we can beat whatever you come up with.
What Is the Worst License Plate?
The Low Hanging Fruit
Alright, let’s get it out of the way first. There is generally a format to license plates and how they’re issued in the United States. Unless you’re Indiana. Because Indiana literally assigns license plates at random, as long as the number hasn’t already been taken by someone else.
A handful of states issue license plates by the county in which they were issued. However, it is much more common for license plates to be assigned in sequential order, depending on the format. Format typically depends on the population of the state, since states with more cars need to have more characters in their license plates. But some prefer different formats, like having 1 letter and 5 digits, or 2 letters/4 digits etc.
With that format, license plates are most commonly issued sequentially. Ergo, whoever got their car after AA0001 will get AA0002. Whoever got AA9999 will be followed by AB0000. You get the pattern.
Patterns in the US range from 1 letter, 5 digits; 2 letters, 4 digits; 3 letters, 3 digits; 4 letters, 2 digits; 7 digits; 2 letters, 5 digits; and 3 letters, 4 digits.
Since these are random or assigned in sequence, you know someone probably has the license plate “POO 6969,” or rather, someone will have it someday.
The point is, if you have to go through every combination within the parameters we set out, you’re bound to get shenanigans. You can come up with them on your own. It’s low hanging fruit and quite boring.
So enters the custom vanity plate. You know, the ones that people pay for so they can have their own text on their cars. Apparently, Virginia has the most vanity plates, according to surveys in 2007. They’re about 16% vanity plates.
A lot of people just are just… Cringy with their license plates. It’s not hard to browse images (or even your friends’ social media) to see people who think “IFARTED” makes for a great vanity plate.
Honestly, it’s all just… Boring. Too easy. Everyone can come up with something stupid that will make you roll your eyes. You know there is a license plate somewhere that simply says “YEET”.
But what if we told you there existed a license plate so terrible, it cost thousands upon thousands of dollars? And not because it was offensive so people keyed their car.
The Null Plate
Some time in 2019, a Californian man named Joseph Tartaro got the vanity plate “NULL.” Most of you probably think that’s a really dumb license plate, and super boring. He spoke about his licensed adventures at Defcon, a convention for hackers. Here’s the backstory.
Most programs return “null” if there’s an issue, or just no valid input. How exactly it’s treated depends on the system, but suffice to say that “null” is a very common catchall for “ignore me.”
For tickets and fines, this was certainly the case. Toll bridge picture couldn’t get the perfect snap of your license plate? Return “null.” So on and so forth for all sorts of tickets and issues.
Normally, “null” wouldn’t be a license plate, so the fines would pile up on car that doesn’t exist. Unfortunately for Tartaro, he made that car exist.
Which meant that he got every single citation that ever errored out or returned “null.” Dating all the way back to 2014–before he’d even had the “NULL” plate.
Apparently, things are still a mess. So if you thought your cringy license plate was bad, at least you’re not getting every ticket issued in California.
So, think you’re familiar with all the American license plates? See if you know their slogans here.