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driving concerns

I purchased vanity plates and five days after I put them on, my car was stolen. I replaced the car and ServiceOntario gave me new standard plates. A few months later, I asked ServiceOntario if could get my vanity plates reissued because they had cost me a lot of money. After they did some research, they replaced them with identical plates for $100. But since then, I’ve been pulled over twice for ”driving a stolen car.” The first time, I explained the situation and showed documentation. The officer told me she would contact the division investigating the theft and inform them. But then, the other day while driving to work, I was pulled over in dramatic fashion by multiple police cars for the same reason. They were surprised that the plates had been reissued and said they couldn’t change them in their system. I’ve spent hundreds on these plates and now I fear I’ll be pulled over any time a cop sees me. How do I keep this from happening again? – David, Toronto

Once a personalized plate has been stolen, it might as well say PLMEOVR.

Even if you get the plate reissued, it will keep showing up as stolen in police databases until that original plate is found, police said.

“If the plate that was reissued is the same as the one that was stolen, then it will continue to return a ‘stolen’ result,” Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) spokesman Bill Dickson said in an e-mail. “The driver should return to the MTO [Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation] to have a new plate [issued] – perhaps with another digit attached – if the original plate remains outstanding.”

When you report a car theft, the officer you report it to submits the licence plate and your car’s vehicle identification number [VIN] to the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC). That’s a national database that all police officers have access to, Dickson said.

Many police forces, including the OPP, use automated licence plate recognition (ALPR), where cruiser-mounted infrared cameras snap photos of up to 3,000 plates an hour – catching cars in both directions.

The system checks the plate to see whether it’s on a transportation ministry hit list that includes expired or suspended licences. It also connects to CPIC to check plates that are reported stolen or associated with warrants or Amber Alerts, he said.

So if your plates have been stolen and they get picked up by ALPR, or if an officer sees them and decides to run them through the system, the car sporting them will get pulled over.

If your stolen vehicle has been found but the plates weren’t, the plates will stay on the CPIC database.

While you could reach out to the original investigating officer and ask that your plates be taken off the CPIC database, they won’t do it until the original plates have been found, Toronto police said.

“If the original plates are still missing, they can be used in the commission of an offence,” Toronto Police Service spokeswoman Constable Laura Brabant said in an e-mail. “So it’s imperative they stay on until actually recovered.”

For that reason, when your plates are stolen – either on their own or along with your car – that number is typically retired and you get a brand new set, the MTO said in an e-mail.

So, if your stolen plate was a standard government-issued ABCD-123, for instance, you couldn’t get that same plate again.

But that’s not the case with personalized plates, also known as vanity plates, where you’ve chosen your own letters and numbers and paid considerably extra for the privilege. In Ontario, personalized plates start at $310. A standard licence plate costs $59. There are more than 1.3 million vanity plates on Ontario roads, MTO said.

If your personalized plate is stolen, you’ll get a standard plate as a replacement. You can keep that new plate. Or, you can choose to have your personalized plate reissued – but you’ll have to wait until six months after it was stolen, the MTO said.

While that six-month wait is meant to give police a chance to find the plates, the MTO said it will reissue a personalized plate after that regardless of whether the original stolen plate has been found.

If you want to replace it with a different plate – for instance, if your old plate was STOLEN, and you want STOLEN1 – you will have to pay $310 for a brand new personalized plate, MTO said.

Have a driving question? Send it to and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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