Iowa DOT News Release

New license plate design not being considered by Iowa DOT officials

Posted on: October 11, 2010

(Editor’s note: A high-resolution .jpg image of the new lettering system is available at

AMES, Iowa – Oct.11, 2010 – Officials with the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) wish to clarify recent reports that the department is considering new license plates for the state.  The Iowa DOT is not considering a new license plate design. 

The Iowa DOT first issued the standard blue and white plates with the town and country landscape design in 1997. In 1999, the embossed version of the plate was replaced by a flat plate, but the design did not change. This design remains within the recommended standards for license plate function and legibility, and the Iowa DOT plans to retain and continue using this design.

The Iowa DOT recognizes that because Iowa has not reissued plates in more than 12 years, there are some in circulation that are reaching the end of their useful life and are faded, worn or damaged, making them difficult to read.

Rather than reissue all Iowa plates, as has been done in the past, the Iowa DOT is considering a "rolling" replacement cycle that will replace only those plates that have reached an age that is beyond their usual lifespan. This would allow replacement of older  plates without unnecessarily replacing newer ones. 

The Iowa DOT is still considering a number of issues relevant to the “rolling” replacement concept, including the best and most cost-effective method for delivering new plates, the proper age a plate should be retired, and an appropriate date to begin implementing this process.

The only changes in appearance being considered are the sequence of the alpha-numeric characters, and color of the alpha-numeric characters and other text (state and county name) on the plate.

The current alpha-numeric sequence (three numbers followed by three letters) used on Iowa license plates will reach the maximum possible combinations near the beginning of 2012. At that time, newly issued plates will use a reverse alpha-numeric sequence (three letters followed by three numbers). This will not affect the design on the plates.

The Iowa DOT is also considering changing the color of the alpha-numeric characters and other text on newly issued license plates from dark blue to black. If implemented, this will affect only the standard plates and specialty plates that employ the blue and white background. This would not affect specialty plates that employ a special color for the alpha-numeric characters as part of their design, such as collegiate and firefighter plates.

Changing the characters to black will increase the contrast with the background making them easier to read, which is important to law enforcement. It will also make plate production more consistent and cost-effective. Again, this will not affect the design on the plates.

The Iowa DOT will continue to work with Iowa Prison Industries, the county treasurers and law enforcement to develop and implement a final plan that is cost effective and efficient. The Iowa DOT will advise owners of vehicles registered in Iowa of any changes that affect them once final decisions are made.

In the meantime, a motor vehicle owner always has the option to replace plates that have become worn or faded; and Iowa law requires a motor vehicle owner to replace plates that are lost or have become illegible. The fee for a set of replacement plates (other than special plates issued to motor vehicle manufacturers, transporters, wholesalers, and dealers) is $5. A motor vehicle owner that needs to obtain replacement plates should contact the county treasurer in the county where the motor vehicle is registered.


For more information, contact:  Mark Lowe, director of the Iowa DOT’s Motor Vehicle Division, 515-237-3121 or



Iowa highway in the evening