Are You Up-to-Date On Texas’s License Plate Requirements?

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  • 27 Jun, 2024  |
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1 Are You Up-to-Date On Texas’s License Plate Requirements?

Pretty much everyone knows if you want to take your vehicle on Texas roads, it must have a valid license plate. If a car doesn’t have a license plate on its back bumper, the vehicle just looks weird.

So, you know you need a rear license plate, but what about the front of the car? Does Texas law also require drivers to have both front and rear license plates?

Before hitting the road, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of Texas license plate requirements. After all, you don’t want to get a ticket if it could’ve been easily avoided.

Does Your Vehicle Need a Front License Plate?

Chances are, when you pull out of the dealership, your vehicle comes with a temporary rear license plate. This is the paper tag that typically expires within 30 days after being issued.

With that being said, you may be able to extend the tag’s expiration date to 60 days. However, this only applies to passenger and non-commercial vehicles.

So, if the temporary license plate is on the back of the vehicle, what’s on the front? Yes, there’s a license plate holder, but it typically displays the dealership’s tag. Is this legal? The answer is yes, at least temporarily.

As long as your temporary tags are valid, it really doesn’t matter if the license plate holder is empty on the vehicle’s front or advertising the dealership. The laws change once your temporary tags have expired.

According to Texas Transportation Code Section 504.943, all non-commercial vehicles, including light-duty trucks, must have two valid and matching license plates on the front and rear. So, what does it mean to have matching license plates?

The sequence of letters and numbers on the plates must be the same. This also applies if you decide to go with specialized, also known as vanity license plates. Your front and back tags must always be the same.

Don’t worry about potentially mixing up your license plates. Whenever you order permanent vehicle tags, they come in a set of two: one plate is for the front, and the other goes on the back of the vehicle. You can’t order a plate for the front that’s different from the back.

Possible Vehicle Exceptions

While all passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks are legally required to have both front and rear license plates, there are some exceptions. Motorcycles are only required to have rear license plates.

The reason for this exception is pretty straightforward. There really isn’t space on the front of a motorcycle to attach a license plate. Tractors, semitrailers, and trailers can also be exempt from front license plate requirements.

Potential Penalties for Failing to Display a Front License Plate

If you’re driving around without a front license plate, should you worry about any potential penalties? The answer is yes.

Texas law requires all vehicles registered in the state to have front and back license plates.

If an officer like a state highway patrolman or even one working for the city or county notices your vehicle is missing its front license plate, you can receive a traffic ticket. Since it’s a ticket for a non-moving violation, you don’t need to worry about spending time in jail.

As long as you’re not committing other infractions, and your vehicle is safe to drive, it’s probably not going to be impounded. You simply get the ticket and are usually allowed to go on your way. Currently, the fines for not having a front license plate are set at $200. Yes, it’s cheaper to purchase the license plates than pay the traffic fine.

If you can install a front license plate before your court date, there’s a chance you can have the fine waived. Instead of paying a $200 fine, you’re only charged for court costs, usually around $10.

Why You Need a Front License Plate

Having a license plate on the front and rear of your vehicle can seem a little redundant. Even though it can be a little annoying attaching a license plate to the rear and front bumpers, there’s a good reason it’s the law in Texas.

Displaying two license plates makes it easier for law enforcement to identify vehicles, whether it’s in-person or using a system like toll or speed cameras.

Law enforcement has a better chance of being able to read your license plate if it’s on the front and back of your vehicle. This also applies to the state’s camera systems. When law enforcement can more easily identify a vehicle, it helps make the roads safer for everyone.

Additional License Plate Laws

Texas license plate laws go a little further than requiring vehicle owners to have front and rear tags. Some other laws you should know to help you avoid getting a traffic ticket include:

All license plates must be visible: This means your license plate holder can’t obscure any of the letters or numbers on the tag. Dirt, grime, and mud also can’t cover your license plate. So, if you’re going mudding on the weekends in your Jeep or truck, take a few minutes to wash off your license plates before hitting the road.

Don’t forget your vehicle’s registration sticker: The sticker is just as important as your license plates. Your registration sticker must be affixed to the corner of your windshield and visible. In other words, you can’t cover the registration sticker with something else like a parking permit. Fines for driving around with an outdated registration sticker can also be hefty.

If your license plates are damaged, lost, or stolen, you must report the damage to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. There is a replacement fee involved, but it’s significantly less than the fines associated with the traffic ticket.

Keeping Your Vehicle Legal in Texas

In Texas, license plate regulations are characterized by their simplicity and accessibility, making them easy to comprehend and adhere to. All non-commercial vehicles registered in Texas, with a few exceptions like motorcycles, must display both front and rear license plates.

These plates must match and be clearly visible—and don't forget about your vehicle registration sticker; this sticker is essential to ensure your vehicle is legally allowed on Texas roads. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in fines and other penalties.