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CAR INSURANCE INSIGHTS

Love or hate the front plate, it’s a big money maker in many states and currently, 30 states require them. Learn if you need a front plate and what your installation options are.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • Thirty U.S. states currently require front license plates.
  • Install a front license plate using a plate holder, an adhesive-mounted bracket, a tow hook bracket adapter or by drilling holes.
  • Front license plates allow law enforcement to identify a vehicle from both the front and the back of the vehicle.
  • If you drive without a front plate in a state that requires it, you may receive a "fix-it ticket" or a fine of up to $200, depending on the state.

Why do some states require front license plates?

Front license plate

If you question the need for front license plates, you're not alone. In fact, many people consider them downright unsightly. This is especially true of exotic or classic car owners. But many states require them, and most police officers say they come in handy to track down stolen vehicles.

It's hard to deny that law-enforcement capabilities and public safety are enhanced when a vehicle can be identified by an eye-witness or a security camera from either end.

Still not sure where you stand on the whole front license plate matter? Learn which states require them, the penalty for violating the law, and how to mount a front license plate when you relocate to a state that calls for them.

States that require front license plates

Some but not all states require front license plates. Steve Albrecht, speaker, author and retired San Diego police officer, says, "Having two plates (front and back) makes it easier to locate stolen cars. This is especially true with police departments that use license plate reader systems."

License plate readers (LPRs) use a high-speed camera to photograph passing cars and identify the license plate number, which is then checked against a "hot list" of violators and stolen vehicles.

So, which states require front license plates:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Ohio did away with the Front Plate law in 2020, and right now, the Maine legislature is enacting a bill to also do away with front license plate requirements.

What are the penalties for violating the Front Plate law?

Police officers have better things to do than stop every car that violates the Front Plate law. That's not to say it doesn't happen. If you're stopped, you may pay a fine of $100 to $200. In some states, a front license plate violation is merely a fix-it ticket, which means you have to add a plate and then have it verified by the local police.

Once you affix your plate to the front of the vehicle, the ticket goes away. Plus, in most instances, a front plate ticket shouldn't affect your car insurance rates. "A ticket for not having a front license plate is normally an equipment ticket that insurance companies generally ignore," says Penny Gusner, senior consumer analyst at Insurance.com.

If you're still on the fence, it's not just car-theft victims who benefit from front plates. "A big advantage to having both plates is that witnesses and victims have a better chance of seeing the license plate of suspicious vehicles involved in crimes regardless of which way they're driving," says Trooper Tyler Weerden of the Connecticut State Police.

How to mount a front license plate

Although most states require a front license plate, carmakers seldom drill holes or create an indent for a front plate the way they do for rear plates. So, the front plate looks out of place and tacked on.

Vehicle codes differ from one state to the next, so not all requirements are the same for mounting your front license plate. In general, your plate must be:

  • Clearly visible
  • Securely fastened
  • Unable to swing when mounted
  • Mounted right side up
  • No more than 60 inches off the ground
  • Uncovered
  • Intact, with its original reflective coating

Here are some ways you may be able to mount your front license plate.

Use your existing front plate holder

It's easiest to mount your license plate if the vehicle comes with a front plate holder.

  1. Remove the screws holding the bracket for your license plate. If your vehicle is new, you might find the license plate bracket and screws in the glove compartment.
  2. If you can't find the screws, or they just don't exist, you can pick them up at a hardware store.
  3. Place the license plate into the bracket so the holes are aligned.
  4. If your license plate bracket includes a frame, you'll have to line up the holes with the holes in the plate and the bracket.
  5. Insert and tighten the screws.

Use an adhesive-mounted bracket

No-drill adhesive-mounted brackets fit a variety of makes and models and might come with special hardware to clamp onto your bumper or grill.

  1. You'll need to clean the center of your bumper or where you plan to mount your adhesive-mounted bracket.
  2. The back of the bracket is protected with a film. Leave this in place until you're sure where you want it mounted. It comes with a strong adhesive that can be nearly impossible to remove once mounted.
  3. Once you're sure where you want the bracket, remove the protective film and press the bracket firmly to the bumper.
  4. Once your bracket is in place, you can align your license plate and drive the screws through the holes.

Installing with a tow hook bracket adapter

Installing the tow hook bracket shouldn't damage your vehicle's front bumper.

  1. First, remove the tow hole cover. You might have to use a pry tool to remove the over or simply push in the corner of the cover.
  2. Insert the license plate mount stick perpendicular to the opening.
  3. Slowly turn the mount stick clockwise, up to 360 degrees. It should catch. It doesn't have to be extremely tight, just enough to secure and doesn't spin.
  4. Mount the license plate by locating one of the ¼" nuts that came in the package and put it between the license plate mount stick and the license plate itself.
  5. Insert the screw. Make sure the plate is parallel to the bumper.
  6. You can always put an extra nut and screw or use all four that come with the package if you feel the plate isn't secure enough.

Drill holes to install front license plate

If all else fails and you must drill holes in your front bumper to mount your front license plate, you'll want to round up a couple of tools before you start, like safety glasses, a center punch and a countersink bit.

  1. Find the center of your bumper using a tape measure.
  2. Mark the center -- both length and height -- with a felt-tip pen or marker.
  3. Hold either your license plate bracket or just the license plate itself (if you're not using a bracket) in the center of the bumper.
  4. If you decide not to use a bracket, make marks on the bumper for the holes at the top of your license plate's corners instead.
  5. Drill shallow holes into the bumper using a power drill and a 0.32 cm or 1⁄8 inch drill bit. Use a center punch instead of a drill if your bumper is chrome.
  6. Hold your drill perpendicular and use steady but firm pressure to drill into the bumper.
  7. After you drill the holes, you might want to use a countersink bit or some other tool to remove any sharp metal burrs.
  8. Line the holes you just drilled with the bracket's mounting holes and screw in the screws through both the bracket and the bumper.
  9. Screw your license plate into the bracket.

Quick Tip:To help keep rust from forming in the screw holes, dab screws, nuts, and washers with fingernail polish and allow it to dry.

Frequently asked questions

What is a valid license plate?

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Native American tribes and five U.S. territories all have specifications for the appearance of license plates and what makes them valid.

License plates for passenger vehicles usually have five to seven characters, with options for specialty or vanity plates, which can have up to 8 characters in some states. All states use a mix of letters and numbers.

Which state do not require front license plates?

Most states require two license plates -- front and back. There are a couple of states that are in the midst of deciding if they want to continue requiring two plates. Right now, these states do not require two license plates on passenger vehicles.

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • West Virginia

Can I put my license plate in the front windshield of my car?

States have laws that say how license plates must be mounted. These laws don't actually specify if you can (or can't ) place the plate in your windshield. However, it is specified that they are securely fastened, so they don't swing; they must be clear and visible, upright, and so many feet above the ground.

If an officer pulls you over, you may get a fix-it ticket saying you must mount your license plate correctly to the bumper or grill. Besides that, a license plate in your windshield can cause a great deal of harm if you're ever in an accident. It is sharp metal and can become a flying projectile, harming either you or your passengers.

"It's not uncommon for troopers to stop vehicles for license plate violations. Whether a ticket or verbal warning is issued depends upon each situation," says Trooper Weerden.