License Plate Larceny

December 19, 2023 | By Mike Seate


As someone who’s been buying, selling and swapping streetbikes for over 40 years, I’ve convinced myself of being fairly street smart at this game. I’m careful about where I park my motorcycles when visiting malls, sporting events and other large, exposed parking areas. And I’ve grown downright cautious when it comes to allowing strangers to visit the CRM garage for obvious reasons. But I couldn’t have guessed that even the junk we toss in the shop dumpster could attract thieves, which I found out recently. An official-looking letter turned up in my mailbox from the New Jersey Turnpike Commission, demanding payment for allegedly buzzing through a toll camera aboard- get this- a motorcycle I’d sold nearly 18 months ago.

The license plate listed on the $52 bill was one that had adorned my 1973 Norton Commando 750, but I’d last seen that British classic after helping the buyer load it onto his trailer in April, 2022.

I phoned the buyer who assured me he hadn’t neglected to transfer the title from my name nor had he been given the old, Pennsylvania license plate along with the Commando. In fact, he even sent me images of his new, Michigan title along with all other relevant paperwork to assure me he’d not been to blame for the New jersey citation. Though I routinely buy and sell two or three motorcycles each year, I’ve got a fairly accurate memory of each transaction and I recalled the Norton’s plate being fairly battered and bent having disengaged itself from the moving (and vibrating) bike more than once during 10 years of ownership.

After the Norton left the shop, I tossed the beat-up old license plate into the dumpster and went along my merry way. At some point, some clever, dumpster-diving thief foraged around among the empty Guinness cans and oily shop rags until they unearthed the plate and made off with it.

If you’re like me, your old license plates are barely given much thought: they either become garage wall decorations or are left sitting around the shop until they eventually get tossed out on cleaning day.

I phoned the local notary who handles by motorcycle paperwork, and she advised me to follow the directions listed on official DOT documents pertaining to non-active plates: “Turn them in like you’re supposed to, or idiots will steal them from the garbage cans outside of car and bike repair shops and salvage yards and drive around with them on what are sometimes stolen vehicles. Even if the registration has long since expired, the plates are often used by ner’ do wells until caught during a traffic stop,” she said.

Lesson learned, I’ve vowed to stop carelessly discarding something that would likely cause me plentiful headaches in the future. Who would have thought?