Older Raised-Letter Kansas License Plates Subject To Distortion From Surface Blisters


Motorists responsible for replacing worn, damaged plates or risk a ticket

TOPEKA — Ravages of time and harsh weather are creating the blistered and peeling raised-lettered license plates still in use on Kansas vehicles.

“Probably the cause is normal wear and tear,” said David Harper, director of the state’s vehicle and property valuation divisions in the Kansas Department of Revenue.

The older version of Kansas license plates — there are still about 1.1 million of them on the road — have a tendency to deteriorate. It’s not clear how many have started eroding. Newer Kansas license plates in production since August 2018 don’t have that problem.

The revenue department has yet to issue an edict requiring older plates to be replaced, preferring to allow turnover of vehicle ownership and self-motivated drivers to gradually retire the older plates.

Interesting fact: Anyone with an unreadable license plate on a car or truck is responsible for getting it replaced under threat of a ticket.

“Our concern is law enforcement,” Harper said. “Can they read those plates?”

He said an informal survey of law enforcement officers, including local police officers and state highway patrol troopers, was being conducted to determine how common it was for plates to have lettering or numbers that fluffed off in small chunks. Results of that review of Kansas license plates will be a factor in determining next steps, he said.

If an older embossed, or raised-letter, plate was still legible and carried current registration decals there would be no reason to replace it. Plates suffering damage or rendered illegible from abuse, extreme heat or salt intrusion should be replaced, state officials said.

Folks applying for a new plate have an opportunity to retain their same word-and-letter combination on their new Kansas license plate. Motorists need to go to their county motor vehicle office to request a replacement, but those offices no longer warehouse unissued plates. County officials are responsible for collecting old license plates and issuing 60-day temporary plates. The new license plate will be forwarded to the recipient by mail.

This print-on-demand system produces a plate that is flat rather than one with raised letters and numbers. The state division of vehicles reported the process decreased waste by cutting back on inventory and allowing for production of only the plates needed.

Center Industries has been manufacturing Kansas license plates since 1975. Executives of the company told state officials deterioration of the older plates typically began to reveal itself after five years. The bubbled Kansas plate in the above photograph from Douglas County was issued in 2011.

At the production facility in Wichita, Center Industries employees created the new generation of Kansas license plates with digital printers that first apply background art to the surface. The number and letter combinations are subsequently printed on that blue and white surface. Each is transferred to a station where the artwork is applied to metal.

In 2019, the state of New York decided not to renew a contract with Minnesota-based 3M, four years after reports surfaced about problems with peeling on both old and new license plates made with the company’s products.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Derek Nester
Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2021 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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