What do red licence plates mean in Ontario?

5 minute read Published on Jul 5, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

A collection of Canadian license plates from different provinces

If you’re an Ontario driver, then you may have noticed some different-looking licence plates. We’re not talking about custom licence plates. Today, we’re talking about red licence plates. There are two main types of red licence plates in Ontario. We explain what they look like and what they signify and offer some general information on obtaining licence plates in Ontario.

Two types of red licence plates in Ontario

There are two main types of red licence plates in Ontario: dealer plates and diplomat plates. We describe each below:

Dealer plates used by motor vehicle dealers

Dealer plates are licence plates that are specifically used by motor vehicle dealers. These plates are only to be used on vehicles that are owned by a car dealership or that are part of the dealer’s inventory. Motor vehicle dealers will only receive dealer plates when they are registered. You can find out more about how to register your car in Ontario here.

Please note that dealer plates have a white background and red lettering. The word “Dealer” is also located on the left side of the plate.

To apply for a dealer plate or be eligible for one in the first place, your motor vehicle dealer must be licensed under the Motor Vehicle Dealers Act in Ontario.

In order to receive a dealer plate, you must provide the following during the application process:

  • Your original dealer number certificate issued by the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council
  • Your driver’s licence or two pieces of identification
  • The fee via an accepted payment method

Diplomatic licence plates used by diplomats

The second type of red licence plate that you might find in Ontario is a diplomatic licence plate. These are far less common than dealer plates. That said, they are worth discussing when on the topic of red plates. Diplomatic plates have the opposite colour scheme of dealer plates in that they have a red background and white lettering. If you notice a car with this type of licence plate, you know that the vehicle belongs to one of the following: a diplomat, a consular, a non-diplomatic embassy staff member, or a foreign head of mission with diplomatic status.

Other types of Ontario licence plates

Standard Ontario licence plates, even old licence plates, do not feature any red colouring. Rather, they are blue and white. Most have white backgrounds with blue lettering, although some have blue backgrounds with white lettering. Custom licence plates also have these colours, the only difference is that they feature a personalised licence plate number:

Personalised licence plates

Personalised licence plates, also known as custom licence plates, feature a licence plate number that is specifically requested by the driver. The driver must pay a fee to be given a personalized licence. In exchange, they can select a combination of letters and numbers to be shown on their plate, so long as the combination they want has not been selected by someone else already.

Temporary licence plates

Temporary licence plates can be obtained if you recently purchased a new car. Having a temporary licence plate on your car can allow you to drive your new car home from the dealership or to an auto body shop or garage to obtain a safety standards certificate.

As the name suggests, temporary licence plates are only accepted for short-term use, typically expiring ten days from the date of purchase. Temporary licence plates are available from ServiceOntario centres. You can also request a temporary driving permit at this time.

Temporary licence plates do not look like traditional licence plates. Rather, they are stickers that you can attach to the upper right-hand corner of your plate.

Please note that if you already have a licence plate at home that is not affixed to another vehicle, you may also have the option of affixing that licence plate to your new car, saving you the hassle of obtaining a temporary licence plate.

Out-of-province licence plates

Although out-of-province licence plates are not a type of Ontario licence plate, you might still notice them as a driver in Ontario. Out-of-province plates are plates from other provinces, such as British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, or Saskatchewan. Since each province has its own licence plates, you can expect them to look a little bit different than yours. The important thing is that the licence plate number is clearly visible and that the name of the province is stated on the plate. Please note that driving with out of province plates in Ontario is legal for a certain amount of time. However, if you are permanently moving to Ontario or plan to be in the province for several months on end, then you might be legally required to switch to an Ontario licence plate.

Renewing your licence plate in Ontario

Driver’s licences, whether you have a red one or a standard one, do not last forever. There will come a time when they expire, and if you wish to keep driving, you will need to renew your plate.

Similar to the documents you need for car insurance, there are also several documents that you need when renewing your driver’s licence in Ontario. To renew your licence plate, you can visit a ServiceOntario centre near you or do so online. Come prepared with the following:

Your licence plate number

Your licence plate number is located on the licence plate of your vehicle.

Your vehicle permit number (RIN number)

Your vehicle permit number begins with a number and is followed by seven digits.

Your car insurance policy number

You must show proof of car insurance. To do so, be prepared to provide your insurance policy number, which can be found on your pink liability slip, on the declarations page of your policy, or on your insurance company’s online portal. Make sure that you have the required types of auto insurance in Ontario.

Your odometrereading

If you choose to renew your Ontario licence plate online, you may be asked to input the odometre reading in your vehicle.

Your home address

You will be asked to confirm your home address. This is to ensure that your licence plate is delivered to the correct address. If you need to update your mailing address, make sure to do this.

Payment of any outstanding fines

You will only be able to renew your Ontario licence plate if you have no outstanding fines. If you have any speeding tickets or red light camera tickets that you never paid for, you will need to pay up before you can legally renew your plate.

Select a renewal length

You may need to select your preferred renewal length when applying to renew your licence plate. The options are usually one year or two years.

Please note that changes to the Ontario licence plate renewal process were introduced by the provincial Government of Ontario in February 2024. Moving forward, many drivers will be eligible for automatic licence plate renewals. However, only drivers with clean driving records will be able to benefit from this offering. If you have a clean record, your licence plate will be automatically renewed before it expires, preventing you from having to visit a ServiceOntario location or log onto the Ontario government’s website.

Get in touch with BrokerLink

If you are curious to learn more about red licence plates or other types of licence plates in Ontario, reach out to an insurance broker in Ontario. All members of the BrokerLink team are fully licensed and can explain how licence plates work, including how to renew yours and how to request a temporary one after buying a new car.

As auto insurance experts, we can also offer insight into right-of-way rules in Ontario and how accidents affect car insurance rates. Get in touch today to request a free auto insurance quote and receive advice on how you can save money on car insurance.

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