Nobody Wants $700 Electronic License Plates Because That's Stupid

California has approved the biggest innovation in license plate technology since science figured out how to trap wild letters and numerals onto a plate of metal: the electronic license plate. The state claims they could save up to $20 million per year on postage, but there’s some pretty huge questions about that, as well as about security, cost, durability and pretty much everything.


The electronic plates use an ePaper display like an Amazon Kindle e-reader, and would be equipped with communications hardware to allow it to wirelessly connect to a DMV server to dynamically get registration updates and send data, including, potentially, location data, and send that back to a remote server.

Also, because ePaper-type displays refresh so slowly, they’re not even good for hacking to play Doom on, or whatever.

The plate is made by a company called Reviver Auto, and is called the “Reviver Plate.” While I’m as big a fan of needless technology as anyone, I can’t think of a product I’d be less interested in than this over-engineered slab of idiocy.


There’s so many issues this thing brings up. First, the claim that the California DMV could save $20 million or so on postage may be true, but who is going to pay for the $699 plates? Remember, California takes two plates, so are we talking $1400, or can you get away with one crude metal plate and one repurposed Kindle on your car?

This seems less like saving money and more like car owners paying a shit-ton more money for a freaking license plate. Plus, there’s a $7 monthly fee for the “service” of having a damn license plate.


That basic service plan doesn’t seem to give you access to the telematics and location data the plate is capable of tracking, but, don’t worry, I’m sure that data will get sold to someone who really wants it.


They claim these plates are durable, but compared to a rectangle of stamped metal, they’re not. At all. In fact, the more you think about it, the stupider this gets: You’d be mounting a $700 electronic device on the most vulnerable parts of your car, often right on your bumper. Want to turn a minor parking lot miscalculation into a $700 bill and the inability to legally drive your car around? Then get a Reviver Plate, dummy!

I’ve had wrecks where afterwards I just bent my license plate back into shape over my knee and never thought about it again. That’s not going to work here.


The company also takes pains to point out that if your car is stolen the plate will say STOLEN or if the car is tagged in an Amber Alert, the plate will give a warning, which is great as long as criminals don’t master the difficult and subtle art known as “removing a license plate.”


Maybe they’ll have security screws on it. I bet a crowbar won’t give a shit.

Faking a conventional plate is possible, but not really easy. Sure, you can make a crappy one that passes at a distance, but most people don’t have access to metal stamping and silkscreening machines to make a really convincing license plate. But I’m pretty sure I could take a old Kindle and load in a PNG file and get something that can pass for one of these plates in under an hour. Then add in a 3D-printed frame and boom, fake plate.

The guy in the video there keeps playing up the aesthetic benefits of the electronic plate, but they don’t seem to acknowledge it’s just black and white.


That’s not even beginning to address the issues surrounding plates being hacked, because, duh, they will—for all manner of purposes and reasons and scams—and then there’s the privacy issues, and that they will eventually wear out and break, and that there will be charging and battery issues and on and on.

This is a classic example of assuming throwing more technology at something will solve a problem, in this case a problem that barely even exists. Also, who would even want one of these? There’s nothing cool or appealing about them. Why would you drop $700 on something like this, even if you were loaded?


Put a damn sticker on your metal plate. Or, how about this? Use a normal metal plate but have a small red/green LED on it, with a small bluetooth receiver. You get new registration, it goes to your phone, your phone connects to the LED unit, if your registration is good, it’s green, if not, it’s red.

There. No stickers. No mail. Only $2 of hardware, and no creepy server calling/tracking. If you have no phone, you can still use stickers.


You’re welcome. Keep your dumb e-Reader plates.

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)