Barring some extenuating circumstances, your car needs to have license plates. However, for enthusiasts, these plates can be a major headache—specifically, the front ones. Mounting a front license plate to a car that didn’t originally come with one can require some damaging modifications. And that’s before getting into the various complications, aesthetic and otherwise, that sometimes arise from the installation. But don’t break out the power drill just yet, because there is a non-damaging way to install a front license plate on your car.
Most states require front and rear license plates, but not all cars can accommodate the former
As is the case with emissions testing and safety inspections, not every state requires front license plates on cars. But as of this writing, they’re required in 30 states as well as Washington, DC. They’re also required in essentially every overseas country, Autotrader says, though the UK offers a vinyl sticker alternative.
These regulations are in place mostly because having more plates makes it easier to quickly identify a specific vehicle. True, that helps out red-light cameras, but it also benefits security cameras and crime eyewitnesses. And speaking from experience, it’s helpful having multiple ways of confirming vehicle identities via license plate info.
However, these requirements aren’t set in stone. For example, Ohio ditched its front license plates in 2020. And in 2019, one Texas state representative tried to exempt “’luxury passenger cars’” from the state’s plate laws, The Drive reports. But while that attempt failed, it underlined why US enthusiasts typically don’t like putting front plates on their cars. Simply put, they rarely make US-market cars look good.
Admittedly, some US-market cars’ front license plates are positioned so they don’t interfere with parking sensors and other safety features. Plus, US plates are shorter and wider than European ones, Autoweek explains. That might explain why, when I lived in Michigan, which doesn’t require front plates, many European-brand cars wore Euro plates: aesthetics.
Regardless, the issue here isn’t necessarily that some states have front license plate mandates and others don’t. It’s that not every car has built-in ways of accommodating a front plate, Autotrader points out. And that’s particularly problematic if you buy a used car in a non-front-plate state but register it in a front-plate state. You might be forced to make your own holes to screw in the plate. And that means not just damaging your car, but also risking safety sensor interference.
Don’t want to drill holes in your bumper? Get a front license plate holder
So, what should you do if you have to put a front license plate on a car that didn’t originally come with one? And that’s not just a hypothetical question: I’ve been in this situation twice so far.
Well, besides drilling into your bumper, you could leave the plate on your dashboard so it’s visible through the windshield. However, only Washington, Florida, and Nevada allow that. But there’s another alternative that’s almost as easy: getting a license plate holder.
Also called ‘license plate mounts,’ these holders are essentially separate brackets that aren’t directly attached to your bumper. Admittedly, some kinds of mounts do require you to drill into your car, but in less visible areas, Roadshow explains. But others, such as the one I used on my old NB Miata, attach to existing tow hooks/tow eyes. And the one I recently installed on my rebuilt-title 500 Abarth attaches to the bumper’s scrape protector—no drilling necessary.
How much do these holders cost and how easy are they to install?
Front license plate holders vary in price depending on how they attach to your specific car. The one on my Abarth, a CravenSpeed Platypus license plate mount, costs $93. In comparison, a Cobalt tow-hook mount for an NB Miata costs $70.
Installing the Platypus front license plate holder on my Abarth was simple and straightforward. Jack up the car, remove the two driver’s side screws on the scrape protector and use them to install the base mount. Next, you attach the license plate mounting tab to the mount. And all that’s left is to attach the actual plate mount to the tab and screw in your license plate. With pictures and set-up, it took me maybe 20 minutes.
So, if you need to attach a front license plate to your car, know that it won’t require destroying your bumper.
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