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My licence plates are peeling. ServiceOntario said I have to pay $40 to get them replaced. Why is this happening? And why do I have to pay to replace defective plates? — Tim

Why are Ontario's licence plates peeling? The answer, it seems, is yours to discover.

But, one thing is certain: if you have a peeling plate that is more than five years old, you'll have to pay for them yourself.

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"There's been research done through the manufacturer, including engaging the National Research Council," said Anne-Marie Flanagan, ServiceOntario spokesperson "So far we haven't discovered a root cause."

All Ontario licence plates are made by Trilcor Industries. Its name comes from the words trillium, the provincial flower, and corrections - the plates are made by prisoners at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay.

And those prisoners are busy. They make 800 plates an hour - and somewhere between 1.4 - 1.6 million a year.

It's a five-step process. It involves gluing a reflective laminate sheet to aluminium blanks. The numbers and letters then get punched on with an embossing press. Then, those numbers get a foil coating from another machine to make them blue.

Trilcor, which is owned by the Ontario government, only makes plates for Ontario.

Flanagan couldn't say how much it costs to make each plate - but the province now charges $40 per pair (which is set to rise to $50 later this year). That's for ordinary plates - personalized plates start at $310.

Because plates have to be in matching pairs, if just one plates is peeling, you have to pay to replace them both.

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And replacing them isn't optional. If you're driving with plates that aren't visible, you're could get a $110 fine.

The peel deal?

Flanagan said the province first noticed that plates were peeling in 2012. It now thinks some of the problem batches may go back to 2007.

The problem seems to be with the laminate sheet.

"It has happened in other jurisdictions - Nova Scotia, B.C., Illinois, New York and the British Virgin Islands," Flanagan said.

Here's why the replacement is only free until your plates' fifth birthday. Trilcor provides the warranty and it is only for five years. It's paying the province for any defective plates up until plates are five - and not after, Flanagan said.

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If your peeling plates are older, you have to pay for them yourself.

So, how many plates have been replaced? Well, the province said it doesn't know exactly.

"From when we started tracking it in January 2014, until approximately now, 86,000 plates have been returned for no charge," Flanagan said. "It's approximately three per cent of the 2.8 million plates produced in that same time period."

But, that's just since 2014. The province doesn't know how many peeling plates were returned before then.

And what about the plates more than five years old ?

"I don't have that number," Flanagan said. "I don't think there's a way to track that in the system."

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Free replacements in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia has replaced 3,500 peeling plates - all at no charge - since last July. All the peeling plates there were made in 2008, a spokesperson said in an e-mail.

Ontario's Flanagan said she couldn't say the name of the company that makes the laminate sheet. But, Nova Scotia and Illinois have identified the company as 3M.

We contacted 3M to ask what the problem is - and how many plates have been affected.

"In this particular situation, we continue to work with our government and manufacturing partners to conduct significant testing for contributing factors to help us reach a conclusion about the issue," 3M said in an e-mail statement. "In general, delamination issues are not common with our license plate sheeting, which we have been manufacturing and testing for more than 65 years."

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada's pretty big, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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Editor's note: When first posted, this story indicated the warranty on the plates was provided by the laminate sheeting manufacturer. The government-owned Trilcor provides the warranty. 

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