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Faded license plates can be exchanged for $17 at MVD

A LITTLE LIGHT ON THOSE FADED PLATES: After a recent column had readers sounding off on unreadable license plates, many drivers have commented on a specific kind of unreadable.

As in faded. Really faded.

S. Karni asks via email “who in the MVD chose such non-contrasting colors as pale yellow on pale turquoise? Nobody can read such plates at 40 feet by comparison to ‘old’ plates with dark red on yellow, which provide a good contrast.”

Note: The centennial turquoise plate won the 2010 Best License Plate in the U.S. award. Meanwhile, the state’s balloon plates have been discontinued.

SO WHAT IS A DRIVER TO DO? Bill asks “what is the state’s policy toward replacing old plates? The New Mexico sun has faded many of the older plates. Can we request replacement plates for these?”

Peter Ives called about his pale-when-it-was-new balloon plate, which he says is “fried,” and asks if the state can call them in.

Lou Belmont called to ask what to do with plates so faded they’re unreadable, like his balloon plate. So should a driver replace it or let it go?

Gilbert M. called to say his plate is faded and ask “is it my responsibility to keep it legible?”

And Mary Johnson called to inquire about do-it-yourself touch-ups to sun-faded license plates – and is it OK to go over the numbers/letters with nail polish?

In order: you can get a new plate (but you gotta pay for it), the state is working on a system to replace faded plates, you can be cited for a so-faded-it’s-unreadable plate, and polish is for nails, not license plates.

John Monforte of the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue department, which oversees the Motor Vehicle Division, says “there are a number of license plates out there that are faded, and a driver may be stopped and cited for an unreadable license plate.”

He says “the authority on the replacement plate is (state statute) 66-3-17,” and he cites sections “B. The person to whom the plate is issued may, at any time, apply for the issuance of a duplicate or replacement plate, and upon surrender of the registration plate he then has, along with the payment of a reasonable fee set by the director that will cover the cost of the production and distribution of the plate, the applicant shall be issued a duplicate or replacement plate.

“C. Any peace officer may, upon discovering that the registration plate of any vehicle is illegible because of wear or damage or other cause, issue a citation to the owners or operator of the vehicle. The citation shall provide that the owner shall, within thirty days from the date of the citation, apply for and obtain a duplicate or replacement plate from the division.”

However, Monforte adds “we are looking at … a more formal program in regards to unreadable plates.” In the meantime, vehicle owners “can exchange the plate at an MVD office for $17.”

As for a DIY project with nail polish or permanent marker, etc., Monforte cautions “remember though that a license plate is designed with paint that is specifically chosen for daytime observation as well as night reflectivity. For this reason it should probably not be encouraged.” According to statute 66-3-14, “each registration plate shall have a background of reflective material such that the registration number assigned to the vehicle is plainly legible from a distance of one hundred feet at night. The colors shall include those of the state flag, except prestige and special plates.”

Monforte also checked with Julia Belles, “our deputy general counsel and the most knowledgeable attorney on MVD issues in our state,” who ventures that regarding a home repair of a plate, “my guess is that an officer would probably not cite on that type of an incident and a decent attorney could probably successfully defend against it, but it is probably not good advice.”

As for folks who are driving around with faded plates, A.J. called to point out at least they have them and says “think about all the ones (on the roads) without any!”

Assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the Metro area on Mondays. Reach her at 823-3858;; or P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.