Shifting Plates…

No, I’m not talking about tectonic plates. I’ve had enough of earthquakes and tsunamis in this part of the world to last a lifetime. I’m talking about license plates. For Bert, my pickup truck.

To me, the process of registering a vehicle in Thailand seems very alien. It’s something that my imaginary Ministry of Complications might dream up. I naïvely expected Bert to arrive with a set of license plates, and that would be the end of the story.

I have lived places like Québec where at one time it was necessary to pay money and change the plates every year, but eventually they decided that was silly, and like everywhere else I can think of, cars came with plates, and the car kept them.

Here in Thailand, when cars are legally registered to an owner, they have white plates with black letters/numbers. When I was in the final stages of ordering Bert, I was asked if I wanted red plates. “Errm, you mean I can get matching plates?”

As an aside; here in Asia everything has to be qualified. So I’m not supposed to say “red” but “red color” or even “red in color.” It always makes me wonder “as opposed to what?” Red in weight, or red in diameter”?

No, not matching plates … the red plates turned out to be temporary plates … kind of trade plates, that are owned by the dealership. It seemed I had the choice of renting these plates until the white ones appeared, or driving with no plates at all. Surprisingly, people really do the latter. I assume they carry some kind of documentation to prove they’ve just bought the vehicle, and the police turn a blind eye. Or maybe it’s legal, but that would seem bizarre even for Thailand.

So, delving further into the odd world of vehicle licensing, I learned that the arrival of the white plates can take several months. I bought a new vehicle with the express idea of driving it. Doesn’t everyone? I wasn’t about to drive around with no plates, so, I opted to rent the red ones.

When I asked the people at the dealership if there were any restrictions on driving with red plates, they assured me there weren’t. But I can sense when people are telling me what they think I want to hear, rather than telling me the truth. Googling was needed.

Bert With Red Plates
Bert With Red Plates

It’s very clear there are several restrictions. With red plates I’m not supposed to leave the province, nor should I drive between sunset and sunrise. On top of that, I have a log book and I’m supposed to record every journey. But both Googling, and asking friends and dealer-persons revealed that in reality no one gives a poo. It’s considered okay to drive anywhere, anytime, and not worry about the log book.

Fine. I don’t often leave the province and I don’t often drive at night. Plus, I’ve ignored the log book. So far I’ve had no problems.

But, I have two long trips planned, and whereas I’m sure Thai people have ways to explain to the police why they are driving out-of-province on red plates, I figured I would find that tough, so I decided to investigate further.

The first thing I learned is that the Dept. of Land Transportation has a same-day service. Walk in early morning to apply for white plates, and collect them the same afternoon! Hmmm. There must be more to this than meets the eye. So, why do people wait several months to get the white ones?

As far as I can figure, there are two reasons…

  • People like to show off with the red plates. “Look at me, I have a new car. Aren’t I wonderful?” Some people show off with their red plates for months, or even years!
  • More importantly, when the dealer applies for the plates, the Department calls the manufacturer to make sure the vehicle has been paid for. Ah ha. A light bulb moment. So, turning that around, if the dealer doesn’t apply for the white plates, they don’t have to pay the manufacturer! Sneaky. Great way to improve cash flow!

Anyways, I decided I hadn’t moved to Thailand just to help a Ford dealer’s cash flow, and figured if I already had the reputation of being a difficult and obnoxious farang, I might as well live up to the description. And I decided it best if I didn’t involve any nice Thai friends in my quest. What I had in mind could involve people losing face.

I thought about going to the dealer to see if I could explain why I wanted my white plates. They normally pretend not to speak English, until I turn up there without a translator, and then somehow we find a way to communicate. But I figured they had the most to lose, and would continue to stall. Then I remembered…

Shortly after Bert was delivered, I had a nice e-mail and a phone call from the Ford Customer Service people in Bangkok. Their English was perfect. I also realized it was in their best interest to help, because then they would get paid!

So late one evening I fired off an e-mail, and early the next morning someone called. They had already spoken with the dealer people, they advised I needed to go with one more piece of paper, and the white plates would be ready within a day. Ha! Success. Almost.

Bert With White Plates
Bert With White Plates

I delivered the paper. I enquired about plates. And I was asked if I wanted to rent some red ones! I think they’re a couple of Fiestas short of a full showroom. “I want white plates” I said, as politely as possible. “Oh, they will take a few months. You can use the red ones.”

I figured that conversation was going nowhere and decided I needed to send another e-mail to Customer Service. As it happened, I didn’t need to. They had followed-up with the dealer, confirmed I had delivered the right piece of paper, and told me my white plates were ready and I could go any time to get them fitted. So, I did!

That’s impressive. Great Service. Thank you Ford.

Now, if only they had waited for three more customers I would have had an easy to remember number. It’s not too hard tho.


...has been travelling the world for more than sixty years; having lived and worked in five countries and travelled to many many more.

He likes to write about his travels - present and past - along with his other main interests of Drones, Information Technology and Motorsport, and he adds a few general twitterings along the way.

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