I'll tell you when I first realized that we have a serious problem. It was just a few days ago, when I came up behind a car in traffic with one of those enormous plastic license plate frames. Printed on top was the name of the dealer – something like "ANDERSON MOTORS." And on the bottom, in the same enormous font, were the words "JESUS SAVES".
Now, I should immediately explain that my problem is not with Jesus. On the contrary, I think Jesus sounds like a pretty neat dude, what with all the unique talents he apparently possessed. For instance: it would be cool to be able to turn water into wine, unless of course it happens when you're in the shower.
No, my problem instead rests with this growing epidemic that increasingly has our formerly civilized society in a tight, bone-crushing chokehold from which there is evidently no escape. The epidemic I'm talking about, of course, is the dealership license plate frame.
For those of you who aren't especially well-informed on the dealership license plate frame, allow me to explain exactly what I'm referring to. Here's what happens: you go to a dealership to buy a car. You spend two hours arguing in the hot sun about all-weather floor mats with a 74-year-old salesman named Roger. You get $3,000 less than you expected for your trade-in, because the dealer inspects the paint and discovers the entire vehicle, including the tires, is made from bondo and twine. You insist that you don't want the wheel and tire package, no matter how many times the F&I manager asks: "Are you sure?" You end the experience hours after you started, emotionally drained, tired, hungry, exhausted, and almost completely broke. And then the dealer slaps on a license plate frame advertising its business. On YOUR new car!
If you're a dealer, I completely understand why you'd want to do this. Slap on enough plate frames, and you've got a roving army of free advertisers cruising around the city in shiny new cars, all of which have your phone number, your address, and your website on the back.
But if you're a consumer… well, I've never really understood this behavior. You buy a brand-new car, fresh from the manufacturer, stylish and clean, and you drive around with a cheap advertisement on the back for the people who sold it to you. To me, this is like buying a new suit and showing up to cocktail parties with a little notecard plastered over the breast pocket that says:
BIG AND TALL OF HOUSTON
WE'LL FIND YOU A SUIT, NO MATTER HOW FAT YOU ARE
And then there's another reason why you should avoid the dealership license plate frame: it turns out that in most jurisdictions, it's illegal! Yes, that's right: surprising though it may be, nearly every jurisdiction has a law against blocking out the state name, the state slogan, and the license plate's expiration date. So when you keep your plate frame on the car, not only are you providing free advertising to a random business, you're also violating the law!
Now, I know what you're thinking here, and that is: How could you possibly make tires out of bondo and twine? And my response would be: folks, that was a hypothetical situation. Not everything I write is true. For instance: Big and Tall of Houston can't really make a suit for everyone. Say, for instance, that you look like Grimace, that enormous purple McDonald's character, and you wander into Big and Tall of Houston. In this case, they probably wouldn't make you a suit. They would call the police.
But anyway: what you're actually thinking is probably more along the lines of: How could this be illegal when so many people do it?! And you're right. Just take a quick walk down the street, and you'll find that something like half of all cars include one of these garish dealer plate frames. So how could it possibly be against the law to cover up the state name with your license plate frame, when so many of your fellow citizens do it every day?!
My theory here is that this is one of these laws that's on the books, but just rarely enforced — sort of like panhandling, or using your turn signal, or when you're a celebrity and you murder someone. But here's the thing: even though it's not typically enforced, nothing prevents some enterprising young police officer from using it as an excuse to pull you over. And then all hell might break loose, as I'll demonstrate in the following example.
Say, for instance, you borrow a car from your friend Jimmy to hit the clubs one night. Jimmy bought his car from Anderson Motors' rival dealer, Johnson Motors (motto: "JESUS SAVES – SATAN INVESTS"), and he has the plate frame to prove it. As you're cruising along, a police officer decides you look a bit suspicious, so he pulls you over for the plate frame violation. The next thing you know, you're lying face down on the pavement, under arrest, because it turns out that Jimmy is a mass murderer and the trunk of the car is loaded down with human feet. The next thing you know, you're doing 25-to-life at Supermax. All because of a license plate frame.
So, ladies and gentlemen, I strongly recommend that you remove your dealership license plate frames — not only for the good of society, but also so that you don't spend the next two decades communicating with the Unabomber through a narrow ventilation duct in your windowless cell.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.