Just the basics
- New York State started offering a new license plate design in 2020
- You can get the new design and keep your current license plate number, whether you have a regular plate or a personalized plate
- You can do it online
- It costs money
- It’s not mandatory
Difficulty level: Easy
Information sources: New York State DMV and tested by staff. Additional information from local news outlets.
What is an Excelsior plate?
In mid-2020, the New York state Department of Motor Vehicles began issuing license plates with a new, white design featuring landmarks including Niagara Falls, the Adirondack mountains, the Statue of Liberty, the New York City skyline, and the Montauk Point Lighthouse.
The new plate design, chosen through a contest, had a rocky launch. After some controversy over talk of mandatory replacements, the first batches of the plates were shipped to DMV offices early in the year for an April 1 launch, but distribution was delayed as the offices shut down in the midst of the pandemic. Then, a manufacturing defect that caused the plates to be too reflective, according to a DMV statement reported by Spectrum News. Those plates were recalled and replaced before they were issued to drivers, the report said.
It’s been 10 years since the last “Empire Gold” design was released. According to WNYC, the last time New Yorkers had gold plates was in 1973.
Do I have to change my New York license plate?
No, you can stick with your undamaged “Empire Gold” or “Empire Blue” plates. But if you’re not a fan of those designs, you have the option to cop the new look.
How do I upgrade my license plate to the new Excelsior design?
You can get the new Excelsior plates with a new registration, or if you want to keep your license plate number, you can pay $25 to “upgrade” ($12.50 for motorcycles), in addition to whatever your renewal costs.
If you have a credit or debit card, the easiest way to get the plates is to just order them online. In the order form, you will need to know what type of registration you have. You’ll also need the name and zip code your vehicle is registered to.
How can I find my vehicle registration type?
Your registration class can be found on your registration sticker, to the right of your plate number. It’s also easy to figure out without going to your car: if you have normal plates for a passenger vehicle, your type is PAS. The code for personalized plates is SRF. Codes for other registration types can be found here.
How can I get new plates if I don’t have a way to pay online?
You can go to your local DMV office. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is by reservation only. You can look up the specific rules and get an appointment for each location on the DMV website.
What do we think about the new Excelsior plates?
It’s tough times. For some people, spending $25 or more on a non-mandatory upgrade might not be an option right now.
If the expense isn’t a big deal though, can’t lie: something about being stuck inside for damn year the whole year makes the first new license plate in 10 years feel … exciting? And let’s be real, “Empire Gold” is actually “Empire Orangeish Yellow” and it didn’t match every car. We still miss the Statue of Liberty plates, though.
Something that sucks about license plates in general:, they are manufactured by prisoners at the Auburn Correctional Facility. According to reporting by the Gothamist, New York prison inmates who work under a program by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) make between 16 cents and $1.14 per hour. DOCCS confirmed to the Gothamist that these new Excelsior plates are no exception.
What should I know about prison labor in New York?
Prison labor, and the low wages associated with it, are not unique to New York. You can read more reporting on it from some of the best journalists in the business, at The Marshall Project.
There is a New York State Senate bill (Senate Bill S3138), introduced by State Senator Zellnor Myrie (Brooklyn) in February 2019 to raise the minimum wage for prisoners to $3. As of the day this article was written, that bill was stalled in committee.
If you would like to share your views on this bill (or any bill) with your New York State Senator, you can look up their information here.
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