Since Pennsylvania moved into the green phase, which means residents are no longer required to stay at home, an abundance of people are shopping for new and used cars.
But sealing a deal is not always quick and easy.
That’s because PennDOT was closed for a month, restarted with a limited staff and now is feverishly working to fill orders for license plates.
In the meantime, a sampling of notaries and car dealers in Berks County indicated Tuesday, July 14, that they are busier than ever and it’s becoming more difficult to get license plates on demand.
Kim Stingle, owner of The Auto Tag Place in Boyertown and Plymouth Meeting in Montgomery County, said she stayed on top of the situation even before Gov. Tom Wolf issued the stay-at-home order.
She protected her businesses by ordering licenses earlier than normal to ensure she did not run out.
In between customers stopping at her notary in downtown Boyertown on Monday night, July 13, Stingle took a short break to explain the situation.
“You just have to be patient,” said Stingle, who has been a notary for 27 years. “We called PennDOT every day. A vehicle is essential. There are a lot of people driving again and buying cars. People have time on their hands, and they want to buy cars.”
Stingle said the notaries closed March 18 after Wolf issued a stay-at-home order to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
At that time, she had just received an order of 100 license plates for each of her two offices.
The plates cost $16 each and can be sold for $32. Used cars can be transferred between husband and wife, and a parent and child without a new plate.
However, all others require a new plate.
Before the pandemic, Stingle said she was fully stocked with license plates.
She reopened June 6 and ran out June 19.
It took two weeks for more plates to arrive.
“This is our busy time,” Stingle said. “Everyone is unemployed. They are getting income tax checks and want to buy cars.”
Stingle said she keeps a list of clients and calls them when the plates are available.
Diego M. Sandino, PennDOT spokesman, said there is no shortage of license plates and the inmates at the state correctional institutions are continuing to produce them.
“Turnaround time for processing and shipping license plate orders has increased based on the volume,” Sandino said. “For dealers who have situations where their inventory has run low, and we are notified of the issues, we have worked with businesses to ensure they have license plates.”
However, he said, when the pandemic hit Wolf required all nonessential business, including PennDOT, to close.
On April 21, PennDOT deployed a limited staff at its Riverfront Office Center in Harrisburg to fill license plate orders for counties that turned yellow.
Sandino said PennDOT also shipped license plates for emergency responders, doctors, nurses and volunteer firefighters to ensure they could work during the pandemic.
John’s Great Cars, 1133 Lancaster Ave., has been trying to keep on top of the situation, said Anthony Clemente, manager.
Clemente said the dealer ordered plates in June and sent a driver to Harrisburg to pick up a small order of plates for 50 cars and 25 trucks.
“I got a sympathetic ear, and we got them,” he said. “Last week, we sent another driver up, and we did not get them. We haven’t gotten to the point where we did not sell a car. We have been talking to the notaries, and they are having trouble getting the plates. This has never been like this before.”
John Yurconic Jr., owner of 11 offices — including in Reading and Sinking Spring — that provide notary services for vehicles, said car sales are busier than ever and getting license plates is more difficult.
Yurconic said PennDOT was very responsive filling orders before COVID-19.
During the red phase, he said, PennDOT shut down and has not yet caught up.
Yurconic said notaries are fearful of running out and are over ordering to ensure that does not happen.
“The car dealerships are calling the notaries for plates,” he said. “When we think we are running out of plates, we put in orders as soon as possible. PennDOT is trying to restart operations. Notaries and car dealers are over ordering plates, and the consumers are buying more cars than ever.”
Yurconic said the license plate situation is no different than some of the other situations that have occurred, like with paper towels.
“Everyone wants Bounty paper towels because they are doing more cleaning, and there are no paper towels in the grocery stores,” he said.
Overall, Yurconic said, consumers have been understanding.
Richard Hassler, a Womelsdorf notary, said it’s been difficult to get license plates.
“You can’t just drive to the office and get the plates,” he said. “All of the notaries are having this problem. This is our busiest time of year.”
Joy Graham of Haycreek Notary, Birdsboro, said she had license plates in stock because she ordered a lot before the shutdown.
“I made sure I saved them for my customers,” she said.