Ontario special orders licence plates to meet high demand

Since 2012, thousands of vehicle owners around the province have had their plates blister, peel or fade.

Plate collectors like the 'limited edition' plates with Nova Scotia lettering

Thousands of drivers have returned Ontario licence plates that have blistered, peeled or faded. (Jim Becksted)

A rash of blistering Ontario licence plates, coupled with a bump in new-vehicle sales, has forced the provincial government to special order 100,000 plates from a Nova Scotia manufacturer.

Since 2012, thousands of vehicle owners around the province have had their plates blister, peel or fade, which is a "common issue" when using reflective backgrounds for licence plates, according to a statement from the Ministry of Correctional Services.

Anyone with defective plates can have them replaced for free, if the plates were issued within the past five years.

The large number of replacements has contributed to the increased demand for Ontario plates, which are normally manufactured by inmates at the Central East Correctional Centre near Lindsay, Ont.

"To ensure demand is met for the year 2016/17, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has entered into a one-time agreement with an external manufacturer," the ministry explained in a written statement.

Nova Scotia font on Ontario plates

To get replacement plates immediately, the province turned to Waldale Manufacturing, which produces plates for every other province.

A special order of additional Ontario licence plates has created some confusion among drivers who are noticing the differences in fonts. (Jim Becksted)

The first batch of 35,000 plates was produced using fonts for Nova Scotia plates, which caused some confusion for drivers.

David Ludberg of Windsor, Ont. thought he was looking at a counterfeit plate when he was sitting in his truck at an intersection on Huron Church Road.

"Then I thought: Come on, no one counterfeits licence plates," he said. "I started looking around and seeing more and more of these plates on the road."

The senior project engineer at Woodbridge Group, a Detroit company that specializes in particle foam technologies, also noticed other people asking about the fonts on social media.

Collectors dig rare font

Plate collectors were quick to notice the new fonts when they hit Ontario roads last October. Jim Becksted, a collector from Toronto, added one to his collection of nearly 400 Ontario plates that date back to 1911.

Toronto licence plate collector, Jim Becksted, rushed out to get a rare licence plate that uses a font from Nova Scotia licence plates. (Matt Embro)

"It is very different. It's the first time Ontario had to go this route, so it's very unique, it is very rare," he said of the outsourced plate. "When you put them side-by-side, there's quite a big difference."

He and other collectors were eagerly hunting for the rare plates, knowing how difficult it would be to track down one of the 35,000 after the run was completed.

"Gotta get one, gotta have it," Becksted said of the excitement surrounding the rare plate. "It's just the little kid in us that comes out. It's a new toy."

Plates completely illegible

The faulty Ontario plates have been a long-standing issue for vehicle owners around the province. 

Heather Soulliere was pulled over by police after the blue colouring of her licence plate numbers peeled off her plate entirely. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

Heather Soulliere of Windsor, Ont. noticed peeling on her plates when the blue colouring of the letters started separating from the white background.

Eventually, she was pulled over by police when the blue lettering completely disappeared.

"You could see the imprint, but no colour," she said. The officer "let me know that, no matter what, it is a serious issue. Police officers need to see your plate from a distance."

Figures show licence plate production in Ontario spiked in 2015-16 with the numbers expected to climb even higher in 2016-17.

Ontario licence plate production

  • 2011/12 = 1,351,560
  • 2012/13 = 1,491,262
  • 2013/14 = 1,311,366
  • 2014/15 = 1,381,847
  • 2015/16 = 1,566,910
  • 2016/17 = 1,233,175 (as of Dec 2016)