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Why some Coloradans will have to give up old license plates they love

One of the reasons you're seeing so many of those retro black license plates on the roads is because Colorado is leaning on people to ditch old plates.

DENVER — In just eight months, the retro black license plate is the sixth most popular style on Colorado vehicles.

In a way, you can thank – or blame – then-Republican, now Democratic State Sen. Kevin Priola, for a bill he sponsored in 2021, requiring most license plates to be replaced instead of being transferred to a new car.

“I just think there’s a lot of people that really value how their car looks, and the appearance, and if they have a black car or a white car, they really want the plate to pop as well,” Priola said.

Why does the state require new license plates when getting a new car?


The regular license plate with green printing on white mountains is on more than five million vehicles. It is far and away the most popular license plate style in the state. It is also the style that needs to be replaced because it has embossed 3D letters and numbers.

“Through the process of driving on dirt roads or using a lot of car washes, the reflectivity gets reduced,” Priola said. “Actually, I passed a gentleman in a pickup today that his front plate was completely metal, so I don’t know exactly how he did it, but there was no color on it.”

The new law requiring license plates with raised letters and numbers to be replaced when transferring to a new car is partially for law enforcement purposes and partially for toll reasons.

“I thought it was a good government, law enforcement, ensuring that folks who were using tollways were properly identified,” Priola said.

New license plates or license plate styles with digitally printed smooth letters and numbers are easy to read by law enforcement, law enforcement license plate scanners and toll cameras.

“We don’t slow down and throw quarters in a big machine like we did back in the day,” Priola said.

In August, Next with Kyle Clark ranked the popularity of 213 license plate styles based on the July 2023 data from the Colorado Department of Revenue.

Using the August 2023 data, Next with Kyle Clark condensed the database into 146 unique styles. For example, the original database includes multiple styles that are essentially green print on white mountains.

Here are the top 10:

  • Green Print on White Mountains: 5,074,814
  • Temporary Registration Permit: 319,216
  • Red Print on White Mountains (Fleet): 185,068
  • Collector Motorcycle/Passenger: 112,475
  • Designer Passenger: 93,606
  • Retired Style Black: 89,036
  • Columbine: 78,671
  • Disabled Veteran: 67,284
  • Wildlife Sporting: 35,556
  • Blue Print on White Mountains (Dealer Demo): 32,319  

Some plates, however, do not need to be replaced when getting a new car.

Special plates, like the Adopt a Shelter Pet or Pioneer Plate or alumni plates like CU, CSU or UNC, are digitally printed.

“It’s flat and smooth. There’s no raised letters to have the brushes at the car washes pull the paint off,” Priola said.

If you just do not want to give up your random set of letters and numbers when you get a new car, you can choose to keep them, at a price.

The state will allow you to request a personalized plate with the random letters and numbers from your current plate, but it costs $60 the first year and $25 each year after that.

SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Full Episodes of Next with Kyle Clark

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