A PC-based car license plate recognition system has been developed. The system recognizes Chinese characters and Japanese phonetic hiragana characters as well as six digits on Japanese license plates. The system consists of a CCD camera, vehicle sensors, a strobe unit, a monitoring center, and an i486-based PC. The PC includes in its extension slots: a vehicle detector board, a strobe emitter board, and an image grabber board. When a passing vehicle is detected by the vehicle sensors, the strobe emits a pulse of light. The light pulse is synchronized with the time the vehicle image is frozen on an image grabber board. The recognition process is composed of three steps: image thresholding, character region extraction, and matching-based character recognition. The recognition software can handle obscured characters. Experimental results for hundreds of outdoor images showed high recognition performance within relatively short performance times. The results confirmed that the system is applicable to a wide variety of applications such as automatic vehicle identification and travel time measurement.