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License Plates

There are no “vanity” license plates in Switzerland, just like there are no vanity plates in Italy.

Well, kinda.

The car of the Neighbour of the Beast!

See, in Italy, the way I grew up with, the license plate is tied to the specific car for its entire life: when a new car is bought it gets a plate, and it stays with that VIN forever, even if the car is sold, until it gets officially destroyed (there is paperwork involved). If your license plate is stolen, you are in a world of trouble: issuing a new one is a hellish (and costly) procedure.

In Switzerland, on the other hand, the license plate is personal: it gets issued to a person, and only linked to a car while one owns it. More than that: the plate is mounted in a way that makes it fairly easy to remove it, and the law allows you to have one set of plates for more than one vehicle (you just need to inform the DMV-equivalent of the switch IIRC)… you can even get a discount on your vehicle tax if the second one is of a different class and gets secondary use (classic example, using the same plate on your car and on your RV/Camper that you use only for vacations and trips). When you sell your car, you keep the license plates, and put them on your new car (or you hand them back).

But… what about vanity plates?

Well, technically Switzerland has no vanity plates, but there is a sort-of-exception: plate numbers get reused all the time, and are originally issued progressively, with the exception of very low numbers. Plates with 4 digits or less are the Swiss (or at least Ticinese) vanity plates: they are sold at annual auctions by the DMV (the few that become available) and very low numbers can cost A LOT (like… 5 digits lot).

I heard that “TI 1” (Ticino’s number one plate) is on a Rolls Royce in Lugano. Spiffy cars often have very low digit counts on the plate, or some special number: I know a man in a nearby town gifted his two sons with 83 and 85 (or something like that… the years they were born). I remember seeing TI 7777 on a fleet car of a Casino.

So yeah, they managed to invent a way to make something exclusive when it was fairly prosaic.

Bonus oddities: licenses can’t be sold privately. It’s yours for life, but you can inherit them. Five digits licenses can be exchanged between two willing parties if they convene at the DMV and pay a small sum (I have no idea why). And finally… yes, people did find a way to circumvent the prohibition on selling licenses, in a very Swiss way. If you have, say, a 1984 Ferrari GTS (Magnum PI’s car), and you paid for a special license (1984), you create a company which owns the car as its only asset and then… if needed, you can sell the company!
The license goes with the owner… which is the company, not a person.
Yes, that’s a LOT of effort for a number on a couple of metal plates.

Oh and a final oddity: did you know? License plates are searchable on the DMV’s website, and you get name and address of the owner. Madness!
Luckily, you can ask for it to be unlisted for privacy reasons (und I diiid!).