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Thousands of Ontario licence plates deemed defective

Last Updated Sep 22, 2016 at 5:24 pm EDT

Thousands of Ontario licence plates have a new destination; the trash.

A CityNews investigation reveals that 132,000 plates have been returned and replaced free-of-charge to Service Ontario centres since January 2014. That’s a 65,000 jump in returned plates since April of this year. The problem? Peeling, bubbling lamination, which makes the plates’ numbers and letters unreadable.

“Service Ontario is aware that some individuals have experienced an issue with the reflective lamination bubbling or peeling off of their licence plates,” Ministry of Government and Consumer Services spokesperson Anne-Marie Flanagan tells CityNews. “A small percentage of plates have been returned due to this issue.”

And only those that are five years old or newer are replaced at no cost to the driver.

Etobicoke driver Reid Patterson learned that the hard way. “It is a concern and I do want to have it changed eventually, but I’m not willing to spend the $40 it takes to change it,” he says of his nine-year-old, peeling plate.

“I went to the car wash one day and it fell off,” he explains- noting that older plates seem to last much longer. His attempt to save $40 could cost him — driving with an illegible plate can result in a $120 ticket under the Highway Traffic Act.

Defective license plates (CITYNEWS)

The plates have been manufactured by Trilcor staff — inmates serving sentences at Central East Correctional Centre (CECC) in Lindsay, Ont., since 2006. Although defective licence plates have been reported for years, a third-party analysis of the manufacturing process wasn’t commissioned until 2015.

“To improve the quality of our plates, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services engaged the National Research Council to conduct an objective, third-party investigation of de-lamination with the expressed intent of isolating the root cause.” Flanagan explains. CityNews was only able to obtain a copy of the report through a Freedom of Information request.

The report notes that “poor sticking of the reflective sheeting onto the aluminum was observed for almost all of the samples except those of the motorcycle format.”

It goes on to find that “since the embossing step is also generating some stresses in the different layers of the reflective sheeting and since that poor sticking is taking place, the multi-layer arrangement is then prone to puncture and water penetration.”

It notes that de-icing water solutions used on roads in winter is likely to add to the corrosion, largely because of the materials used and the lamination process employed. It recommends that Trilcor contact its reflective sheet supplier and suggests “a thicker layer of adhesive material will probably help.”

Defective license plates (CITYNEWS)


Ministry of Correctional Services spokesperson Andrew Morrison tells CityNews that “In 2015, the supplier of the reflective sheeting implemented changes to its production process which is consistent with changes implemented in other jurisdictions. We are monitoring the situation to see if these changes improve the plate quality.” It is not clear if this has resulted in a thicker adhesive.

The study’s other major recommendation is that Trilcor review its laminating procedure and suggests that it may “slow down the rolling process, apply (sic) less pressure or make a new procedure allowing air to be removed as the roller is moving forward.” Morrison says that the Ministry investigated the production but that no changes have been made to the process, because “no changes to the process were required,” despite the National Research Council’s recommendations.

In 2015/2016 Trilcor staff produced over 1.5 million licence plates. It’s still too early to tell if changing materials without changing the production process will result in fewer defects.

Patterson says his plate is embarrassing and resents that he’ll be charged to replace a plate with a known-defect.

“Does the government want to give me 40 bucks to replace it? I don’t think so.”