Used car dealer plates get name change

Posted April 25, 2011, at 8:32 p.m.

LISBON, Maine — Richard Lussier hopes to change used car dealers’ reputation as shady characters who sell vehicles that are all used up.

“It’s a matter of pride,” the 82-year-old owner of Lewis Auto Sales in Lisbon said. “There’s a stigma that we’re trying to get one over on people.”

So he led a change in the terminology where it means the most — on the cars.

This week, the state has begun issuing plates to dealers that dump the word “used.” Instead, dealer plates now are stamped on the bottom with  “preowned car dlr.”

“It was time for this to happen,” Lussier said.

He asked his local legislator, Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon, to see what he could do. The lawmaker sympathized.

“It’s just an image thing,” said Crafts, who ran his family car dealership, John Crafts Auto Sales in Lisbon, for years. He talked with Secretary of State Charlie Summers, who made the change.

The new plates will start appearing on the road any day,  said Caitlin Chamberlain, a spokeswoman for Summers’ office.

“They are being made on an as-needed basis,” she said.

Lussier planned to order his plate — complete with signature number “797″ — on Monday.

“That’s been my number for years and years,” Lussier said. His neighbors and the police know his dealership’s cars by the number and trust them, he said.

Lussier began selling cars in the 1950s.

He opened a local Saab dealership in 1960, keeping it for more than a decade before going back to selling used cars. He hadn’t realized there was something disreputable about selling previously owned vehicles until he went to a bank as a used car dealer.

Bankers seemed to treat him like a second-class customer, he said.

People he would meet for the first time also would recoil a little.

“I’d be on a plane and say ‘used cars’ and people’s expression would change,” he said.

“What’s lower?” Lussier asked. “Lawyers?”

He first approached Crafts about the plate change two years ago. Crafts took the suggestion to then-Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. He liked the idea.

“I didn’t follow it up,” Crafts said. When Summers took over, he thought to bring it up again.

He was about to follow up with Summers when the new secretary told him it was all set, sharing a sample plate.

Crafts gave the sample plate to Lussier, who unveiled it last week at a dealers’ car auction in Richmond.

“They loved it,” Lussier said. “The dealer plate hasn’t changed in a long, long time.”

He planned to sign up for the new plate on Monday, paying whatever fee is needed to get a plate right away. He is not due for a renewal until June.

“It’s just going to get us more respect,” he said.

Either way, Lussier plans to use his new plate the moment it comes in.

He beamed at the thought.

“I’m going to drive all over hell,” he said.

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