Nothing appealing about peeling licence plates

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Ontario licence plate
Ontario’s redesigned licence plates will be released in February.

TORONTO, Ont. – Every licence plate carries a fee, but Joe Keenan of Ayr Motor Express is frustrated by the costs associated with plates that peel apart because of manufacturing defects.

“The defective plate fiasco has dogged us for years,” says the president of the fleet headquartered in Woodstock, N.B. “It’s long past the time for the government to take ownership of both the problem and the solution.”

The issue recently came to a head when one of the fleet’s loads of expedited freight was put out of service in Thunder Bay, Ont. While everything was mechanically sound, the equipment was grounded because the plate was no longer legible, he says.

“We emailed proof of registration and images of the new plates, waiting in our Brampton office for the trailer’s return,” Keenan adds. “Knowing full well that we could not buy another plate outside business hours in Thunder Bay – and knowing that the delay would prevent us from delivering expedited freight – the officer refused to release the trailer.”

The load was only released after the replacement plate was flown in from Toronto.

For many years, the Ontario government has downloaded to plate owners all responsibility for replacing plates when reflective laminate bubbles and peels. For a freight carrier operating across Canada and the United States, the burden is onerous, unreasonable, and misplaced,” Keenan says.

“Nearly half of the Ayr Motor fleet of 700 trailers was issued defective plates. It’s unthinkable to have that many trailers sit idle. So, instead, we pay to get new plates without first returning the old ones: more than $20,000 in fees alone.”

Ontario first became aware of the problem with delaminating plates in 2012. About 439,000 of them were returned and replaced between April 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2018.

Several factors conspired against the plates, including extreme pH levels, the cleaners used in industrial washes, and free chloride ions, says Harry Malhi, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.

Chlorides can be traced to de-icing activities.

“The current licence plates are guaranteed by the manufacturer for up to five years,” Malhi says, adding that plates with worn areas or bubbling around the characters should be brought to a Service Ontario center for replacement.

Ontario is not alone, of course. Jurisdictions such as British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland have all had issues with peeling plates.

But redesigned Ontario licence plates to roll out on Feb. 1, complete with a new “open for business” tagline, are expected to be stronger than those that have faced the problems.

“The new licence plate is a new look and feel for what is a materially enhanced, effective product that will last longer,” Malhi says. “The plate uses high-definition HD sheeting that is stronger, brighter, and longer-lasting than Ontario’s current licence plate technology.”

The province issues 580,000 commercial plates per year.

Keenan suggests the issue involves more than the plate design, though.

“At the very least, government representatives ought to be respectful and reasonable when geography and the clock are against us installing new plates at the optimal moment,” he says.



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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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