License plates rarely remain clean and in good form for an extended period of time. They are exposed to dirt, mud, snow, salt, stones, insects, UV exposure, and weather. Cleaning your car’s license plates is a fairly easy task. All you need is some water, soap, and a sponge.
US license plates are a rectangle measuring 6 inches by 12 inches for all cars, trucks, and trailers. Motorcycle license plates are smaller, measuring 4 by 7 inches. All states require vehicles to have a rear license plate.
Some states require a front license plate, while others do not. Front license plates get a lot more wear and tear than rear license plates.
Regardless of the type of license plate or the state you live in, it's important to follow applicable laws and rules, and ensure that your license plate is clean and installed properly.
We've put together a quick and easy guide on how to clean license plates so you can keep your car looking its best.
Before You Try To Clean Your License Plates
When it comes to cleaning license plates, there are a few things you need to take into account.
What type of license plate are you trying to clean? This will determine the type of cleaner and tools you need. If the license plate is made of aluminum, you'll need a different cleaner than if it's made of plastic.
What’s the license plate’s condition? If it's spattered with bugs, you’ll need different solutions than if it’s rusted.
Having the wrong supplies can make the job harder and take longer than necessary. With the right tools and materials, you can get your license plates sparkling clean in no time!
How To Clean License Plates
Here are the steps to cleaning your car’s license plates.
Get The Right Tools And Washing Materials
Depending on the condition of your plates, you’ll need specific tools and cleaners. Here are some of the most common things used to clean license plates:
How To Clean Plastic License Plate Covers
Over time, plastic license plate covers can become stained and yellowed from exposure to weather and sun. There are a few simple steps you can take to remove dust and dirt, and restore them to their original condition.
- Mix together a solution of warm water and dish soap.
- Apply this to the license plate cover with a soft cloth or sponge.
- Soak and scrub gently to remove any dirt or grime.
- Rinse the cover with clean water.
- If there are any stubborn stains remaining, you can try using a mild abrasive such as baking soda. Apply directly to the stain, then scrub with a brush before rinsing again.
- Dry the license plate cover with a clean towel.
Once it's completely dry, you can apply a protective coating of automobile wax to help keep it looking new. With just a little effort, your plastic license plate cover will be good as new!
How To Clean License Plate Frames
It is important to clean your license plate frame every few months. Depending on the environment your car is in, you may need to do it more frequently. Here are some simple steps to follow in order to clean your license plate frame:
1. Remove any debris that is on the frame, using a soft cloth. Be sure to get in all the crevices and corners.
2. If the frame is made of metal, you can scrub it with vinegar and water to remove any built-up grime. Use a toothbrush or other soft-bristled brush to scrub. For plastic frames, mix equal parts vinegar and baking soda to create a gentle cleaning solution.
3. Rinse the frame with warm water.
4. Dry completely with a soft cloth.
5. Polish the frame with a metal polish, if desired.
How To Clean a Digital License Plate
Like any other piece of electronics, a digital license plate can accumulate dust and dirt over time. This can interfere with the plate's ability to communicate with roadside readers. To keep your plate performing at its best, be sure to clean it on a regular basis.
All you need to clean your digital license plate is a soft cloth and some mild soap. Gently wipe down the plate with the cloth, being careful not to damage the surface. If the dirt is especially stubborn, you can use a cotton swab to lightly scrub at the dirt. Once you're finished, rinse the plate with clean water and dry it with a soft cloth.
How To Replace a License Plate
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License Plate FAQ
How do you clean a stained license plate?
For most license plate stains, all you need is some warm water and a mild dish-washing liquid or detergent. Use a towel or a tissue to dip into the water, then rub the license plate with it until the stain comes off.
You may need to apply some pressure to remove stubborn stains, but be careful not to scratch the surface of the plate. Once you are finished, rinse the plate with clean water and dry it with a soft cloth.
For stains that don’t respond to warm soapy water, try a pencil eraser.
How do I keep my license plate from rusting?
Rust is a common problem for license plates, particularly in areas with high humidity or snow (road salt is a major rust factor). The good news is that there are several things you can do while cleaning the number plate to prevent your license plate from rusting.
First, make sure to clean it regularly with soap and water. This will remove any dirt or grime that could be contributing to the problem.
While cleaning your car’s plate, you may also want to use a wax or sealant, as this will create a barrier against moisture. If the plate already has a light rust on it, you can try using a rust converter, which will turn the rust into a protective coating.
With a little bit of care, you can keep your license plate looking like new for years to come.
Why do some of my license plates smell so bad?
If you've ever noticed that some of your car number plates have a strong, unpleasant odor, there's a reason for it. During the 1970s and 1980s, many plates from the Midwest were coated with a varnish that protected the surface during their first use. Over time, this varnish can fade and cause an unpleasant smell. Fortunately, the problem can be easily remedied by exposing the plate to sunlight, which will help to dissipate the scent.
How to get a new license plate?
To obtain a new license plate, you must register your vehicle in the state in which you live. Displaying a license plate indicates that your vehicle is properly registered. The state will provide a license plate—and any tags required with the plates—once your vehicle is properly registered.
How often should I renew my digital license plate?
Each state has different requirements for how often license plates need to be renewed, but most states require renewal every one to five years. In some cases, the expiration date of the registration and the license plate may not be the same, so it is important to check both dates to ensure that both are up-to-date.
When it comes to electronic license plates, the driver uses an encrypted app to renew the registration. To renew your electronic license plates, you'll need to provide your license plate number, vehicle identification number, a renewal notice confirming your current address, confirmation for your car insurance, your payment information, and your driver’s license.
You'll also need to pay the renewal fee plus any additional fees that may be applicable.
How do you mount a front license plate without drilling holes?
If you’re not sure how to put a license plate on the front of a car with no holes, don’t worry. There is a way to avoid drilling holes into your bumper. You can purchase a specialized bracket that mounts to the tow hook location on the front of your car. These brackets are designed specifically for each make and model of car, so you will need to make sure that you get the right one for your car. Once you have the bracket, simply attach the license plate to it and secure it in place. This method ensures that your license plate is securely mounted without causing any damage to your car.
How can I cancel my license plates?
There are two ways to cancel your license plates. You can either turn them in to your local Department of Motor Vehicles office, or you can destroy them yourself. See the requirements for your state in the article above.
Is it best to remove a license plate when selling a car?
Different states have different requirements for what happens with the license plates following a private vehicle sale.
- In most states, the license plate stays with the seller, who will need to remove the plate from the vehicle. The new vehicle owners of the car will need to apply for their own license plate.
- In a few states, the license plate stays with the vehicle and passes to the buyer.
Our state-by-state license plate guide will tell you the proper protocol for your state.
Some states require that you surrender your license plate when you sell your car. So be sure to check your state's requirements before you finalize the sale.
How to change my license plates?
In most cases, if you want to change your license plates, you need to visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles office locations. However, if you want specialty license plates that support a particular cause, or if you want a personalized license plate number, you may need to submit a completed application and fees. If you're a fan of offroad vehicles, you'll be happy to know that you can now choose offroad-themed special plates in many states.
Those who qualify for disabled parking can get a handicap license plate.
Once your car registration card and address are up to date, you can choose the plate and configuration you want. After you submit your application, you will receive confirmation of your new plate and configuration.
Depending on your state, you may be required to replace your license plate if it is lost or stolen. In these cases, it is important to contact your DMV as soon as possible to begin the replacement process.
By following these steps, you can easily replace your license plate when necessary.
How to get temporary license plates?
Every state has different requirements for issuing temporary license plates (also known as a temporary tag), but commonly required documents include:
- Certificate of Title
- Temporary car tag application
- Proof of car insurance
- A valid driver’s license or ID cards
- Results of inspections or emissions testing, if applicable
- Loan documentation or release, if applicable
Some states require you to show multiple forms of vehicle identification. Typically, one must be a government-issued ID card, while the other can be something like a vehicle registration, bank statement or utility bill.
Check the website of your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for further info.