Personalized license plates are a form of advertising signage. Currently almost every state allows personalized plates, with some restrictions on content and at an increased annual fee.

Steve Reich, who runs approximately 120 vehicles as operations manager for Film Vehicle Services in North Hills, CA, doesn't run any vanity plates on company vehicles because he prefers his vehicles to be more anonymous. Reich explained that how the plates are replaced has an effect. "In California, when you replace a vehicle, you can replace the plate, but in states where the plate stays with the vehicle forever, it becomes a real problem," he said.

Patrick Grove, fleet and property manager, runs about 450 vehicles for the Air Conditioning Co. Inc. in Glendale, CA. Grove said his vehicles are all commercial, light to medium trucks, and he does not allow them because he wants to keep the company image uniform across all of them.

At Mastec Inc. in Fort Myers, FL, Ellen Odom, fleet administrator, said substantially the same thing. "We do not allow personalized plates. We have strict brand specifications for our vehicles." That was echoed and expanded on by Kimberly Deatherage, fleet administrator at Berendsen Fluid Power in Tulsa, OK. "We have vehicles in many different states, and there is a sufficient price increase for a personalized plate. We want our vehicles representing our company, and we would probably end up with some unacceptable plates."

The Leasing Question

If the company decides to allow personalized plates, two important factors need to be considered. First, is the vehicle owned or leased? If it is company-owned, then the decision lies between the fleet manager, the driver, and those who set corporate policies, such as human resources, public relations, and sales.

If the vehicle is leased, another level of responsibility enters the equation: the leasing company. Automotive Resources International (ARI) and PHH Arval will negotiate personalized plates upon a request from the fleet manager, not the individual driver. Lynne Currie, manager of titling for PHH Arval, said, "In our experience, many fleet managers will not give permission to obtain personalized plates as they are more expensive to obtain and renew. Often, it is limited to the executive portion of a fleet, and the executive may be required to pay any difference in the cost between the regular and the vanity plates."

GE Capital Fleet Services does not allow personalized plates on its vehicles. Marketing Communications Representative Sherri Ruesink noted that "Many of our vehicles are on fleet programs within states or have fleet specific or commercial plates. You cannot, in most-states, personalize these types of plates." She added that some fleets would like to, using the plate as an identification number, as "X CO 1, X CO 2." and so on.

Bumper Stickers-Not a Sticky Question

Assuming that drivers are not allowed to personalize their vehicles by adding special license plates to them, can they express an opinion through a bumper sticker? In interviews with several fleet managers across the country, the answer was a resounding "NO." The reasons citied included good taste, sensibilities and keeping a uniform company image. Kimberly Deatherage at Berendsen Fluid Power said, "We want our drivers to keep a professional appearance for themselves and the cars."