Vehicle license plates are introduced in Grand Theft Auto III with the player's ability to explore in a three-dimensional environment making plates viewable. The feature has very little use aside from cosmetic purposes.
License plates in GTA III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City are static textures, with all plates in GTA III reading LC R29. In GTA Vice City there are a few different variants of plates, including a Florida one, however all of them are illegible.
License plates are dynamic in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, generating a random 7 character number in the format AB12 3CD, divided into groups of four and three characters. Each of the three major cities in San Andreas have their own plates and some vehicles have their own custom license numbers. Note, however, that during a session of play, all cars of the same model will have the same number plate (for example, all Landstalkers will have the same plates). These will change if a new session of play is started, even if stored in a garage.
For Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, license plates in both games feature a "LC" (Liberty City) and "VC" (Vice City) prefix, respectively, followed by a four-digit number. While still more varied than in GTA III and GTA Vice City, the games only offer a limited number of license numbers, with each of them specific to certain vehicles models.
In Grand Theft Auto IV, license plates do not have an actual letter-number combination. Every vehicle that has a license plate has "LIBERTY CITY" in large blue capital letters, with the exception of the immovable trailers found ingame, which all bear the registration "ON-10N EC". Beneath the registration name is "Liberty City State". These license plates are based directly on current New York license plates, as seen here. It is possible that the plates were intended to have a letter-number combination, much like the vehicles in GTA San Andreas.
The license plates in Grand Theft Auto V are indicated to be registered in the state of San Andreas and are modeled after the design specifications of the Californian baseplate design for 1994—1998 and 2000—present. As opposed to adopting a cursive typeface for the state name, however, the San Andreas plate uses a block typeface reminiscent of Californian baseplates from 1987 to 1994. The plate numbers are also implied to be dynamic, following an eight-character format that consists of a two-digit numbers followed by three letters and a three-digit number (i.e. "12ABC123"), similar to the format used on Californian plates since 1980 ("1ABC123").
Custom plates are typically vanity plates featured on special vehicles, such as vehicles belonging to certain individuals or custom vehicles. Such plates has been seen in use in both GTA Vice City and GTA San Andreas, but for the latter, they cannot be saved in garages as they will simply revert to a usual seven digit plate.
The license plate in GTA III. A handful of vehicles, such as the Landstalker, still feature this plate in GTA Vice City.