North Carolina passenger car license plate

Rick Kretschmer's License Plate Archives 

North Carolina passenger car license plate

A Pictorial History of North Carolina License Plates

Passenger car plates dated 1942 to 1974


This page presents the history of North Carolina passenger car license plates, from the 1942 plate through the 1974 plate. 

Latest noteworthy updates to this page
  • June 8, 2023  –  Replaced 1974 plate photo. 
  • May 11, 2017  –  Moved 1956-1974 plate photos and descriptions to this page.  Replaced photos of 1966 and 1967 plates.  Minor text updates. 


This page addresses North Carolina passenger car plates dated from 1942 to 1974; eventually it will be expanded to cover 1913 to 1974.  From mid-1927 until 1980, North Carolina license plates displayed the year of issuance.  Plates and/or stickers supposedly expired each December 31, but at least in the later years, a 46-day grace period effectively extended the registration period through February 15 of the following year. 

I generally don't collect North Carolina license plates, except in cases where I need them as part of a set.  (For example, I have a 1959 N.C. plate in my collection as part of my 1959 U.S. passenger plate set.)  Therefore, unlike most pages on this web site, very few of the plates shown on my North Carolina pages, including this one, are actually from my collection, and I haven't meticulously identified each plate that's not from my collection.  However, unless noted otherwise, I did photograph all plates shown. 

So why do I even have North Carolina plate pages on my web site?  Well, I've lived in North Carolina since 2001, and so I've become very familiar with the current plates from daily observation.  As a collector, I also regularly encounter some of the more common older North Carolina plate types.  There's also not a whole lot of information already on the web regarding North Carolina license plate history.  While I make no claim of being an expert on North Carolina plates, I do feel like I can make a contribution by documenting what I do know. 

My "Pictorial History" pages are intended to be a supplement to the information found in the ALPCA Archives.  I am providing additional details and additional photos not found in the archives, and clarifying information when appropriate.  When the ALPCA archives cover a subject in great detail, I do not repeat that detail here.  I sincerely hope that you find this information useful. 

If you find an error or have additional information, or can provide a photo of a plate that's not shown, please send me an e-mail.  There's a link to my e-mail address at the bottom of every page. 

North Carolina passenger car plates, 1942-1955

1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 version 1 1953 version 2 1954 version 1 1954 version 2 1955
Two versions of the 1953 and 1954 plates are shown, each year with the full state name (version 1) and with the state abbreviation and Drive Safely imperative (version 2) (1942, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1950, and 1952 – Madsen photos / plates;  1944, 1945, 1948, 1953 version 1, 1954 version 2 – Weddington photos / plates;  1953 version 2 and 1954 version 1 – Beard photos / plates)

As the U.S. was entering World War II, North Carolina license plates became much more subdued than in the past few years.  Well, the colors were a bit loud, but what I mean is that the dies for the plate number, state name, and year became much lesss fancy.  Dimensions of these plates was approximately 12 inches by 5 1/4 inches, slightly smaller than today's plates.  Except for 1951 and 1952, plate colors more-or-less alternated between yellow and black.  The location of the state name and the year varied between the bottom and top edge of the plate, and whether single plates or matched pairs were issued also varied from year to year.  No 1943 plates were issued; instead, a small "43" tab was attached to the lower right corner of the 1942 plate, covering the year "42". 

All-numeric serial numbers continued to be used for passenger cars through 1955, but they were also used for trucks during this period.  As far as I know, except for very low numbers reserved for government officials and VIPs, car plates, regular truck plates, and farm truck plates each always had six digits and never used lead zeroes.  Farm truck plate numbers were always in the 900-000 series and above throughout this period, but these were readily identifiable, as they were stamped with the word Farmer during 1942-1949 and Farm Truck beginning in 1950.  1942 regular truck plates (also used in 1943) are reported to have a small letter "B" above a small number in the center of the plate, in place of the dash used on car plates, and were always numbered in the 100-000 series.  I have not seen a 100-000 series 1942 North Carolina plate to be able to confirm or refute this information.  Between 1950 and 1955, regular truck plates bore the legend Truck, and their serials ranged from the mid 700-000 series to the mid 900-000 series, while passenger car plate numbers could get up to at least the early 700-000 series. 

Between 1944 and 1949, passenger car plates were indistinguishable from regular truck plates, except that car and truck plate numbers were in distinct blocks of numbers.  There seems to be much conflicting information and confusion regarding what block of numbers was assigned to what type of vehicle during these years.  I tend to believe the report that truck plates were numbered 100-001 to 199-999 during the years 1942 to 1946, were numbered 800-001 and higher in 1947 and 1948, and in 1949 began somewhere between 760-001 and 800-001 and went up from there.  That would mean that car plate numbers began at 200-001 between 1942 and 1946, and ranged from 100-001 to somewhere in the 700-000 series betweeen 1947 and 1949.  However, I'm not prepared to state any of this as fact. 

Passenger car plate numbers were exclusively all-numeric through 1948.  Between 1949 and 1955, passenger car plates could either be all-numeric or have a single letter followed by up to a five-digit number.  However, only certain letters were used for cars, while other letter prefixes were used for other plate types such as trailers, dealers, and the like.  The specific letters used on car plates isn't completely clear.  It's been reported tha "W" was the only letter prefix used for cars in 1949, but between 1950 and 1955, letters A, N, R, V, W, and X were all used for car plates.  Certainly not all letters were used in the early years, but I expect that all of these were in use by 1955, if not earlier.  One source states that the "X" prefix was used for trailers, but I've had several plate collectors report that they have matched pairs of 1955 X-prefixed plates in their collections, and since pairs were not issued to trailers, it seems a safe bet that these were in fact car plates.  Another source states that the "V" prefix was only issued in 1955, and it was used for trailers.  I don't have any further information to support or refute this claim. 

During 1953 and 1954, most passenger car plates had the standard North Carolina yy legend (with "yy" representing the year), but some had an alternate legend N.C. -Drive Safely- yy.  1953 plates mostly have tab slots surrounding the embossed year, but some do not.  Late-issue 1955 plates were made with 1956 serial dies, these dies are still used today for six-character non-passenger plates. 

1942 –  black-on-yellow  –  North Carolina 42 (bottom)  –  Numeric serials only  –  Two plates issued
1943 –  yellow-on-black  '43 tab affixed to bottom right corner of  black-on-yellow  '42 plate  –  One tab issued
1944 –  yellow-on-black  –  North Carolina 44 (top)  –  Numeric serials only  –  One plate issued
1945 –  black-on-light-yellow  –  North Carolina 45 (bottom)  –  Numeric serials only  –  One plate issued
1946 –  yellow-on-black  –  North Carolina 46 (top)  –  Numeric serials only  –  One plate issued
1947 –  black-on-yellow  –  North Carolina 47 (top)  –  Numeric serials only  –  One plate issued
1948 –  yellow-on-black  –  North Carolina 48 (top)  –  Numeric serials only  –  Two plates issued
1949 –  black-on-yellow  –  North Carolina 49 (bottom)  –  Numeric serials and "W" prefix  –  Two plates issued
1950 –  yellow-on-black  –  North Carolina 50 (bottom)  –  Numeric serials and selected prefix letters  –  Two plates issued
1951 –  red-on-white  –  North Carolina 51 (bottom)  –  Numeric serials and selected prefix letters  –  Two plates issued
1952 –  white-on-dark-red  –  North Carolina 52 (bottom)  –  Numeric serials and selected prefix letters  –  One plate issued
1953 –  yellow-on-black  –  North Carolina 53 or
N.C. -Drive Safely- 53 (bottom) 
–  Numeric serials and selected prefix letters  –  One plate issued
1954 –  black-on-yellow  –  North Carolina 54 or
N.C. -Drive Safely- 54 (bottom) 
–  Numeric serials and selected prefix letters  –  One plate issued
1955 –  yellow-on-black  –  North Carolina 55 (bottom)  –  Numeric serials and selected prefix letters  –  Two plates issued

North Carolina passenger car plates, 1956-1966

1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966
(1956 – plate owned by a fellow plate collector whose name I didn't get;  1958 – Beard photos / plates;  1964 – Benzie plate)

Beginning in 1956, North Carolina began a new numbering scheme for its passenger car plates.  The serial numbers consisted of one or two letters, followed by one to four numeric digits; lead zeroes were not used.  In other words, serial formats x-0, x-00, x-000, x-0000, xx-0, xx-00, xx-000, and xx-0000 were all used for passenger cars.  Due to the number of possible combinations, format xx-0000 was by far the most common.  All of these formats were used on passenger car plates through 1972.  1956 also was the first year for North Carolina to adopt the North American standard 12 inch by 6 inch plate dimensions. 

Plate colors alternated between  black-on-yellow  in even years, and  yellow-on-black  in odd years, through 1966.  The location of the state name, the year, and the safety slogan Drive Safely were consistent from 1956 to 1960, and then varied over the subsequent years.  The slogan was last used in 1963.  Also, the presense or absence of a painted border, and the number of digits in the year, varied during the last few years in this time period.  The idea was apparently to make each year's plate a little different looking than the plates from any previous years, perhaps to keep people from trying to use a prior year plate, with the year altered or covered in some way, in place of a current year plate.  I suspect these deceptive practices may have become a problem during 1958, 1959, and 1960. 

North Carolina passenger car plates, 1967-1974

1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974

For 1967, North Carolina introduced plates with reflective backgrounds.  The reflective sheeting applied to the bare metal plates was white in color, so beginning this year all North Carolina passenger car plates have had a white background.  Or at least they once had a white background; the sheeting on many of these 1967-1974 plates has become badly mottled and/or discolored to an ugly yellowish-gray color.  The embossed areas of these plates continued to be painted; the color alternated between green and red, with the exception of the 1972 plate which used blue.  Again, the location of the state name and year, and the number of digits in the year varied in order to make each year's plate a little different looking than the plates from any previous years. 

The serial number formats introduced in 1956 continued through 1972.  A new format xxx-000 was introduced in 1973 and replaced all of the previous passenger car formats.  In this new format, lead zeroes were again not used, nor was the number 100, so each three-letter alpha series consisted of plate numbers 101 through 999 only.  In all likelikhood, serial letters G, I, O, Q, and U were also avoided.  Note that also beginning in 1973, non-passenger plate types began using serial format xx-0000, which had become available since it was no longer being used for passenger cars. 

1967 –  green on reflective white   1971 –  green on reflective white  
1968 –  red on reflective white   1972 –  blue on reflective white  
1969 –  green on reflective white   1973 –  red on reflective white  
1970 –  red on reflective white   1974 –  green on reflective white  

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Page credits

Thanks to those who have directly contributed to the information on this page:  Judy Beard, Curtis Barwick, Kenny O'Dell, Roland Rhodes, Richard Baucom, Trent Culp, Steve Weddington, Pete Madsen, and Chris Benzie. 

Beard, Weddington, and Madsen photos are presumed to be copyrighted by Judy Beard, Steve Weddington, and Pete Madsen, respectively, and are used with permission.  Benzie plate is from the collection of Chris Benzie. 

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