MAX Update Number 104: The Front Plate Problem

Reader Contribution by Jack Mccornack
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I like to be a law abiding guy. I want to be a good example, plus the police only give you so many mulligans before they stop giving warnings and start giving tickets. Then again, I really hate dumb laws, and there are plenty of traffic laws which made good sense once but have since reached their sell-by date. I hope I live to be 90, because I want to be able to say “I told you so” in 25 years, when all new cars are streamlined and efficient, and front license plates are reserved for Jay Leno’s Garage and 4th of July parades. Front plates were fine on Model Ts, and they don’t hurt much on most 20th Century automobiles, but someday they’ll be as quaint as engine cranks and manual chokes and exterior rear view mirrors.

But meanwhile, the law is the law, so I wrote this letter to the head of our state’s DoT., Matthew Garrett, Director, Oregon Department of Transportation.

Dear Mr. Garrett,

I am requesting an exemption to Oregon Vehicle Code ORS 803.540(1)(b) for my vehicle license number MAX MPG, primarily because the front license plate reduces my fuel economy by three miles per gallon. Please see attached photo.

Many Oregon custom car owners skirt this rule in one fashion or another, by mounting their front license plate behind their windshield or recessing the plate to fit into their grill or hood, or (as I’ve done for the last 100,000 miles) by not mounting the front license plate at all. It has never been a practical issue for me, and I’ve never had an officer ticket, warn, or even comment about my infraction, but as a law abiding driver (and hopefully, as a good example to other drivers) I would like an exemption, variance or waiver so I can hold my head high when discussing the features of my design.

My objective in building this custom car was to achieve 100 miles per gallon in a practical highway vehicle. Thanks to its light weight, small size, and streamlining, my car cruises at 55mph at 100 miles per gallon, which is pretty spectacular in this day and age. The streamlining is the most important factor in this equation, and clean airflow over the car’s nose is essential for drag reduction. The front license plate disrupts the airflow at the very front of the car, and increases aerodynamic drag all the way from nose to windshield. Also, the turbulence generated by the license plate interferes with airflow to the radiator, which may cause overheating problems or may require me to enlarge the cooling air opening below the plate, which will further increase drag.

Here are my best arguments for why this car does not need a front license plate, and is indeed better off without one:

Many states do not issue front license plates, and Oregon deals with visitors’ vehicles with no apparent difficulty. I understand the advantages of a front license plate for the convenience of, for example, parking enforcement, but the folks who write the tickets are used to walking around to the back of the car when they must. Besides, my car is very small and it’s not much of a walk.

This car is white, and does not need a reflective front plate to be visible in another car’s headlights.

While I have no intention of striking a pedestrian or bicyclist, neither does anyone else and it does happen. My car is one of the safest cars ever made as far as outside parties are concerned. This car weighs a modest 1300 pounds and every facet of the front of the car is rounded. If a front license plate is mounted, the plate will be the only sharp object at point of impact.

Seriously, the front license decreases this car’s fuel efficiency by 3% (5% when mounted upright) at freeway speed. If every car were as streamlined as mine and every car lost three miles per gallon with a front license plate, front license plates would be against the law. I’m not asking you to outlaw front license plates, I merely ask you to make an exception for mine, so I can continue my pursuit of high fuel efficiency without feeling like a scofflaw.


James D. McCornack

Of course, the day will come when I do ask them to outlaw front license plates, but the rest of the car industry will have to catch up with MAX first. Meanwhile we’ll see if MAX can get a permission slip.

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