A license plate frame is a great option to personalize your vehicle. It can add some flair and style to your car, truck, or motorcycle, while also protecting your plate from dirt and damage.
But before you buy or install a license plate frame, you need to make sure it's legal in your state. States have different laws and regulations regarding license plate frames, and violating them can result in fines or even tickets.
In this blog post, we'll help you choose the right license plate frame for your state, and give you some tips on how to avoid any legal trouble.
- License Plate and Frames
- Is It Illegal to Have a Frame Around Your License Plate?
- License Plate Laws by State
- How To Choose a Legal License Plate Frame?
- Choosing Your License Plate Frame
- Staying Legal: Regular Checks and Updates
License Plate and Frames
License plates are standardized metal or plastic tags issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or an equivalent authority in each state. They display a combination of numbers and letters that uniquely identify a specific vehicle.
These license plates are typically mounted on both the front and back of vehicles, although some states only require a rear plate. The license plate includes features such as the state name, and a registration sticker indicating the expiration date, and may also showcase state symbols, slogans, or colors.
Frames for license plates are add-on accessories that surround the edges of a license plate. While they can serve a decorative purpose and express personal style or allegiance to a cause, sports team, or alma mater, these frames should not cover any vital information, including the state name, tag numbers, and registration stickers.
Is It Illegal to Have a Frame Around Your License Plate?
Most states allow the installation of license plate frames as long as they do not obstruct or alter any of the information on the plate, such as the state name, registration number, or stickers. If you cover any information on the license plate or make it difficult to read or view, you are most likely violating the law.
Some states have more specific rules about which types of frames are allowed and which are not. For example, several states prohibit frames that cover the edges of the plate, while others ban frames that feature lights, reflectors, or logos. Some states also restrict the use of tinted or colored covers over the plates and frames, as these can make the plates harder to read or identify.
License Plate Laws by State
License plate frames can cause legal problems if they violate state laws or regulations. Regulations vary by state, but certain general rules regarding mounting, location, and visibility are commonly observed in many states.
- License plates should be securely fastened to the vehicle in a horizontal position. Most states require that you do not install the plate upside down. If your vehicle doesn't have a front license plate mounting place, you can get an OEM or aftermarket license plate bracket to affix to your front bumper.
- The mounting location must ensure that the plate is not covered or hidden by any part of the vehicle or external accessories.
Front plates, when required, are mounted on the front bumper.
Rear plates are generally mounted on the bumper or a designated space on the trunk.
Specific height requirements from the ground apply, often between 12 to 60 inches. If you mount your plate too high or low, you might get a ticket.
All states require that license plates remain visible at all times. You are not allowed to use any holders, tinted covers, or frames that cover the license plate's numbers, registration stickers, state name, or expiration date.
Plates should be maintained in a condition that ensures the numbers and letters are legible. An overly scratched, beat-up, or dented plate could cause the reflective background to become less effective and less visible.
The reflective material on the plate cannot be compromised. You cannot use any material that alters the visibility or reflectivity of the plate. Additionally, avoid using lights, sounds, or motions that distract or interfere with other drivers.
Some states have laws against altering or damaging the plate in any way beyond having customizable numbers.
To find out the specific laws and regulations regarding license plate frames in your state, check out this resource: License Plate Laws Differ for Each State in the United States. Alternatively, you can contact the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in your state for clarification.
California License Plate Frame Laws
California license plate frame law doesn’t explicitly prohibit license plate frames per se, but it does ban any frame that covers any part of the plate's information, including the state name.
California also prohibits any frame that has lights, reflectors, or logos on it, as they can alter or obscure the color of the plate.
Furthermore, California license plate laws prohibit tinted or colored covers over the plate and frame, as they can make the plate harder to read or identify.
Are License Plate Frames Illegal in Tennessee?
Tennessee doesn’t explicitly prohibit license plate frames per se, but it prohibits any frame that covers any part of the plate's information.
It also prohibits any tinted material over the plate and frame, even if the information is not concealed.
Furthermore, Tennessee prohibits any sign, poster, or other nontransparent material that obstructs the view of the plate.
Are License Plate Frames Illegal in Texas?
Texas doesn’t explicitly prohibit license plate frames per se, but it does prohibit any frame that covers any part of the plate's information.
It prohibits any frame that has blurring or reflective matter, illuminated device, sticker, decal, emblem, or other insignia that impairs the readability of the plate.
Texas also prohibits any coating, covering, protective material, or other apparatus that distorts visibility or detectability, alters or obscures one-half or more of the state name, alters or obscures the letters or numbers of the plate number, or alters or obscures the color of the plate.
How To Choose a Legal License Plate Frame?
Now, let’s take a look at some tips and factors to consider when shopping for a license plate frame：
1. For License Plates with Stickers in the Top Corner
The registration sticker is typically placed on the top corner of the license plate. Some states use separate stickers for the month and year of registration, with each sticker placed in a separate corner. But most states use a single sticker positioned in the upper right corner of the plate.
27 states place registration stickers in the top corner of the license plate:
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusets, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.
In these states, you should use a license plate frame that does not have text on the top of the corner. However, a license plate frame with text on top is acceptable as long as the panel with the text does not cover the corners of the plate. Alternatively, you can opt for a frame with a thin border around the edges of your license plate that doesn’t extend beyond them.
2. For License Plates with Stickers in the Bottom Corner
The bottom corner is another common placement for registration stickers on license plates. The registration can be indicated by one or two stickers displaying the month and year when the vehicle’s registration will expire. Most states use one sticker.
There are 18 states that place registration stickers in the bottom corner: Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
In these states, a license plate frame with text on the top panel is an ideal choice; frames with a bottom text panel will also work as long as the frames don’t cover the plate's bottom corners. Similarly, you can look for a frame that has a thin border around the edges to ensure your stickers are visible and legible.
3. For License Plates with Stickers in the Middle or No Stickers
In a few states like Missouri, where stickers are placed in the center of the license plate, you can choose frames with text on the top panel, bottom panel, or both. Additionally, slim or narrow frames that only cover the plate's edges are also a viable option. For those seeking a more pronounced effect, opt for full-size license plate frames that cover the entire plate but feature cutouts or openings to leave the stickers visible.
In contrast, states such as Connecticut and Pennsylvania don't use registration stickers on their plates, giving drivers greater freedom to choose license plate frames reflecting personal taste and aesthetics without worrying about sticker visibility.
some jurisdictions, including New York, have switched to affixing to the lower inside corner of the windshield on the driver's side. This change further broadens the range of license plate frame choices available to vehicle owners in these areas, ensuring that functionality and compliance with local laws are maintained while allowing for stylistic expression.
Some jurisdictions, such as New York, have switched to affixing registration stickers to the lower inside corner of the windshield on the driver's side. This change further broadens the types of license plate frame choices available to vehicle owners in these areas.
Choosing Your License Plate Frame
Here are some factors to consider before you buy one, such as the size, material, and design of the frame.
License Plate Frame Size
Generally, the standard size of a license plate in the U.S. is 6 by 12 inches. Some states may have smaller or larger license plates. On the other hand, motorcycle license plates are not standardized but measure 4 inches by 7 inches in general.
You don't want to buy a frame that is too big or too small for your plate, nor one that covers any important information on it, so be sure to measure your plate before purchasing a frame.
License Plate Frame Materials
License plate frames come in many materials, such as metal, plastic, wood, carbon fiber, and more. Each material has its pros and cons, depending on your preferences and budget.
Metal frames are durable, sturdy, and resistant to rust and corrosion. They can also come in various colors and finishes, such as chrome, black, gold, or matte. However, metal frames can be heavy, expensive, and prone to scratching or denting.
For instance, many slim and narrow frames are usually made of metal or plastic and are versatile enough to pair with a wide variety of license plates, regardless of whether the registration stickers are positioned at the top, bottom, or middle.
Plastic frames are lightweight, cheap, and easy to install. They can be transparent, glittery, or patterned. However, plastic frames can also be flimsy, brittle, and liable to fade or crack over time.
- Wood license frames
Wood frames are natural, eco-friendly, and unique. They can be customized to different types of wood, such as oak, cherry, or bamboo. However, wood frames are bulky, costly, and susceptible to rotting or warping.
- Carbon fiber
Carbon fiber frames are modern, sleek, and high-tech. They can feature various colors and patterns, such as black, red, or carbon weave. However, carbon fiber frames are very expensive, hard to find, and may be challenging to install.
License Plate Frame Styles
The last consideration is the style you want for your license plate frame. This is a chance to get creative and have fun with your choice.
There are many styles available, such as plain, decorative, personalized, or themed. You can choose a style that matches your vehicle's style and color, reflects your personality or interests, or follows the trends in license plate frame designs.
- Matching your vehicle's style and color
You can choose a frame that goes well with the color, shape, or theme of your vehicle. For example, if you have a black vehicle, you can choose a black frame with chrome accents or a matte finish. If you have a sports car, you can choose a frame with racing stripes or logos.
- Reflecting your personality or interests
You can choose a frame that expresses something about yourself, such as your hobbies, passions, beliefs, or humor.
- Trends in license plate frame designs
Choose a frame that follows the latest trends in license plate frame designs, such as LED lights, rhinestones, glitter, or holograms. These frames can make your plate stand out and become eye-catching. However, ensure that this type of decorative frame does not obstruct the visibility of your license plate and registration sticker.
The license plate frames can also have words or phrases on the frames, such as "Princess", "Boss", "Love", or "Peace". They are ideal for those who want to express themselves or who like to stand out from the crowd.
- Plain frames
Plain frames are simple and elegant. They don't have any embellishments or text on them. If you prefer a minimalist look and don’t want to draw attention to your license plate, the plain frames are the ideal option for you.
Staying Legal: Regular Checks and Updates
To avoid getting fined or ticketed for having an illegal license plate frame, you should periodically check the laws and regulations of your state and any state you plan to visit with your vehicle. You can find this information online or by contacting your local DMV office. You should also inspect your frame regularly for any damage or wear that might affect its legality.
If you find out that your license plate frame is illegal or no longer meets your needs or preferences, update your frame as soon as possible. You can either remove it completely or replace it with a new one that complies with the law and suits your style.
License plate frames are more than just decorative accessories for your vehicle. They can also be a way to express yourself, protect your plate, and enhance your vehicle's appearance. However, before you buy or install a license plate frame, you should consider several factors, such as the legality, size, material, and style of the frame.
By following the above tips on how to choose the right license plate frame for your state, you can ensure that you get the best value and performance from your frame without compromising your safety or breaking the law.
Are License Plate Frames Worth It?
License plates, often crafted from thin metal, are prone to bending at the edges due to car washes and everyday wear. The license plate frames add some flair and personality to your vehicle, protect your plate from damage and dirt, and improve your visibility and security on the road, they also serve as a mobile advertisement for your dealership, catching the eyes of people around your area.
Are There Any Universal Frames That Fit All State Plates?
There are no universal frames that fit all state plates perfectly because different states have different sizes and shapes of plates. However, some frames are designed to fit most standard plates (6 x 12 inches) with minimal adjustment or modification. These frames usually have adjustable screws or clips that allow you to secure them to your plate.
Can I Use a Tinted Cover Over My License Plate and Frame?
No, you should not. Using a tinted cover over your license plate and frame is illegal in most states, as it can reduce the visibility and readability of your plate. Tinted covers can also reflect light or create glare, making it difficult for law enforcement officers or toll cameras to identify your vehicle.
If you use a tinted cover over your license plate and frame, you may face fines or penalties for violating your state's laws.
What Should I Do if My Frame Obscures Important Plate Details?
If your frame obscures important plate details, such as the state name, registration number, or expiration date, you should remove or adjust it immediately.
You can either choose a smaller or slimmer frame that doesn’t cover any part of your plate, or cut out or drill holes in your frame to expose the obscured details.
What Is the Only State With the USA on Its License Plate?
The only state with the USA on its license plate is New Mexico. The state adopted this design in 2017 to celebrate its diversity and history as part of the United States. The plate features a yellow background with red letters and numbers, and a blue USA logo on the top left corner.
What States Have 7-letter License Plates?
States known to allow for personalized license plates with up to seven characters include Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Vermont.
What US State Has the Best License Plate?
It mainly depends on your taste, Here are some states that have good license plates:
Arizona: The Grand Canyon State plate features a stunning image of the natural wonder and a bright blue sky
Colorado: The Centennial State plate has a simple but elegant design with green mountains and white snow
Delaware: The First State plate has a classic and historic look with black letters on a gold background
Hawaii: The Aloha State plate has a tropical and colorful design with a rainbow and flowers
New Hampshire: The Live Free or Die plate has a bold and patriotic slogan and a scenic image of the Old Man of the Mountain
Wyoming: The Cowboy State has a distinctive design that features a bucking horse and rider silhouette over a blue and white background, with the state name and slogan in red. The plate is iconic, recognizable, and represents the state's Western heritage and spirit.
Vermont: The Green Mountain State has a classic design that features a green landscape with mountains, trees, and a red barn, with the state name in white. The plate is scenic, and charming, and showcases the state's natural beauty and rural character.
What State Has the Most Options for License Plates?
The state that has the most options for license plates is Montana. The Treasure State has over 250 different types of plates available for various vehicles and drivers. Some of the categories of plates include:
Standard plates: These are the basic plates that feature the state name and slogan (Big Sky Country) over a blue and white background.
Specialty plates: These are plates that feature logos or designs related to specific organizations, causes, professions, hobbies, sports, colleges, military branches, etc.
Personalized plates: These are plates that allow drivers to choose their own letters or numbers (up to seven characters) to express their identity or message.
Tribal plates: These are plates that feature symbols or designs related to Native American tribes in Montana.
Antique plates: These are plates that are issued to vehicles that are at least 30 years old and are used for display or occasional use only.
Why Does Montana Have So Many License Plate Options?
Montana has so many license plate options because it allows various groups and entities to sponsor their plates and collect fees from drivers who choose them. These fees help fund various programs and services related to the group or entity's mission or purpose.
How Many License Plate Options Does Florida Have?
Florida has about 120 different types of plates available for various vehicles and drivers. Some of the categories of plates include Standard plates, Specialty plates, Personalized plates, and Antique plates.
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