The standard dimensions of US license plates are 6 inches by 12 inches for all cars, trucks, and trailers. Motorcycle license plates are smaller, as are golf cart plates: both types measure 4 by 7 inches.
There are many different license plate types: passenger license plates, commercial vehicle plates, trailer plates, and motorcycle plates. Each state has its own design for license plates, and some states offer vanity plates that can be personalized with a message or image.
License plates are made out of aluminum, which is durable and resistant to rust.
Before the 1940s, drivers would receive a new set of license plates with the date stamped into the metal every year. Georgia was the first state to add decals with the year, which allowed people to use their license plate for more than one year.
What Are License Plates?
License plates are flat panels attached to vehicles and bear a unique alphanumeric identifier. They serve 2 important purposes:
- They help law enforcement identify vehicles
- They help to ensure that drivers are properly registering their vehicles with the state and paying applicable sales taxes and other fees
A license plate is required in order to legally operate a vehicle on public roads. All states require vehicles to have rear plates. Some states require a front license plate in addition to the rear plate.
An automobile license plate typically contains key information such as the license number and the state of registration. Depending on the jurisdiction, vehicle license plates may also contain the vehicle's engine number or vehicle identification number.
What Are License Plates Made Of?
US license plates are made out of aluminum, which is easy to recycle and resists rust.
There are two types of license plates: flat steel dies and stamped steel dies.
- Flat steel dies are made by taking a sheet of steel and stamping out the desired design. This type of plate is usually used for passenger vehicles and is comparatively less expensive to produce.
- Stamped steel dies are made by taking a sheet of steel and then cutting it into individual pieces that are formed into the desired shape. This type of plate is typically used for commercial vehicles because it can withstand more wear and tear.
License Plate Types
There are several types of license plates in the United States, each with their own purpose.
- The most common type of license plate is the standard vehicle registration plate, which is issued to all cars, trucks, and motorcycles.
- Special interest plates are available for an additional fee and can be personalized with a variety of designs.
- Disability plates are available for drivers with disabilities.
- Vanity plates can be purchased by anyone who wants a custom plate number.
- Digital license plates are available in a few states and feature a digital display in place of a stamped plate.
There are other plate types that are less common, such as off-highway motor vehicle plates, agricultural or farm vehicle plates, historic plates, motor carrier plates, and more.
No matter what type of vehicle you have, there is a license plate for you.
License Plate Design
License plates can vary across the country: each state is able to design unique state license plates, so long as a state adheres to design guidelines set by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
Some states opt for simple designs, with little more than the state name and abbreviation. Others incorporate colorful images or unique fonts, or use their license plates as an opportunity to promote tourism, with scenic pictures or catchy slogans.
License plate numbers are typically between six and seven characters long. The number of characters varies by state, with some states allowing for up to eight characters on a plate. In most cases, the extra space is reserved for vanity plates, which allow drivers to choose their own plate number. These can be used to spell out a name or message or to simply choose a number that is easy to remember.
There are also a few states that issue plates with only five characters. These are typically reserved for handicapped drivers or for vehicles with special historical significance.
What Is The Size Of a Standard License Plate?
The license plate dimensions of a standard license plate is 12 inches (30 cm) by 6 inches (15 cm).
Passenger vehicles, commercial motor vehicles, permanent trailers, trailer coaches, and park trailers must all have valid license plates.
Standard plates have the vehicle registration number, state name, and usually a state motto or slogan.
You'll get standard license plates when you buy a new vehicle, replace lost or damaged plates, or surrender special-interest license plates.
What Is The Thickness Of a License Plate?
While there is no standard thickness for license plates, they typically range from .025 inches (.5 millimeters) to .039 inches (1 millimeter) thick. Thicker license plates are more durable, which is why they are often used on commercial vehicles. However, thicker plates can also be more difficult to attach to a vehicle, and may require special hardware. For most drivers, a thinner plate is sufficient, and it offers the added benefit of being lighter and easier to install.
What Size Are License Plate Screws?
The standard license plate screw size for many vehicles is ¼-inch diameter with a length ranging from ¾-inch to ⅞-inches depending on the mounting needs. These are self-tapping screws that fit vehicles with plastic or nylon screw retainers.
Your vehicle may already have threaded metal holes to attach a license plate.
Motorcycle License Plate Size
Motorcycle license plates vary in size by jurisdiction, but most are around 4 by 7 inches. In some states, smaller plates are used for mopeds (as well as for certain types of trailers and construction equipment).
The most recent state to change its plate size was Maryland in 2008, which switched from 4+1⁄2 by 7 inches to 4 by 7 inches. Minnesota is the only state that still uses 4+3⁄16 by 7+3⁄16 inch plates for motorcycles.
Motorcycle license plates are usually made of metal or plastic, and they are typically white or yellow. The plate should have the motorcycle's registration number, which is assigned by the DMV, as well as the name of the state.
What Size are Temporary License Plates?
Most temporary license plates are 11 inches by 6 inches. Motorcycle temp plates are 7 by 4 inches.
The documents that must be submitted to the DMV vary by state, but they typically include:
- Temporary tag application
- Proof of car insurance
- A valid driver’s license
- An emissions test (if required)
- The car title
- Bill of sale.
Once the paperwork is processed, the owner will receive their permanent license plates. In some states, the temporary license plate is identical in size to the permanent plate, while in others it may be a differently shaped decal that is affixed to the rear window.
Regardless of the size or shape, all temporary plates must be clearly visible so that law enforcement can easily identify them.
What Is The Size Of Digital License Plates?
A digital license plate or electronic plate is a vehicle-mounted identifying device that transmits a radio signal that can be tracked and monitored digitally.
A digital license plates is the same size as a regular license plate: 12 by 16 inches (30 by 41 cm), and mounted within rectangular housing. The display is powered by the vehicle's power supply and communicates with the onboard computer. The internal components are mounted inside the housing.
Digital license plates are permitted to drive in the United States if purchased and registered in one of the following states: California, Arizona, Michigan, and Texas.
Standardization Of License Plate Sizes
In 1905, the United States government standardized the size of license plates for vehicles. Prior to this, vehicle owners were responsible for designing and displaying their own license plates.
Today, vehicle owners must register their vehicles with their state's Department of Motor Vehicles or equivalent organization, and they will be issued standard license plates as proof of registration.
Why Are License Plate Sizes Standardized?
License plate sizes are standardized because it is more efficient and economical to produce license plates of a uniform size. This is due to economies of scale, which refer to the savings in costs that can be achieved when large quantities of a product are produced.
When manufacturers produce license plates in large quantities, they are able to reduce the cost per unit.
Are All License Plates The Same Size?
In 1956, the US states and Canadian provinces formed an agreement with the Automobile Manufacturers Association to standardize all passenger vehicle plates at 6 x 12 inches.
All states have enacted regulations to ensure that all license plates are of a similar size.
What Sizes Are License Plates Around The World?
License plates come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, with each country having its own regulatory requirements. The plates may differ even in color or be made from different materials.
In the United States, standard license plates are 12 inches by 6 inches.
In North America, license plates are standardized in size and shape, but there is still some variation from country to country.
Canadian license plates measure 12 inches by 6 inches. The provinces of Canada and the United States reached an agreement with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the Automobile Manufacturers Association, and the National Safety Council to standardize the size of vehicle license plates.
Mexican license plates measure 12 inches by 6 inches.
In Europe, plates tend to be significantly larger. Japan also has larger plates, typically measuring 14 inches by 8 inches.
However, some countries have smaller plates; Trinidad and Tobago have a standard size of only 9 inches by 4 inches.
European License Plate Size
The dimensions of a European license plate are 20.5 inches (520 mm) x 4.3 inches (110 mm). The characters on the plate must also be at least 80mm tall and 50mm wide. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), an international organization that establishes standards for numerous products and services, governs this size.
The countries that belong to the European Union (EU) use white or yellow license plates.
Vehicles in cross-border travel are required under the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic to show an identifying sign of the nation of registration on the back of the vehicle. This symbol can be put independently from the registration plate or integrated into the registration plate. Vehicles registered in the EU no longer need to carry an international code plate or registration stickers when traveling inside the European Economic Area, thanks to registration plates in the standardized EU format.
Why Are Visible License Plates Important?
License plates provide a visible identifier that helps law enforcement to identify a vehicle involved in a crime, and it also ensures that all drivers on the road are properly registered and insured. Additionally, license plates help prevent stolen cars from being driven, as the license plate can be used to trace the vehicle back to its rightful owner.
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License Plate FAQ
What is the size of the plate numbers?
The United States uses a 6-inch by 12-inch license plate for passenger cars. The required size of numbers and letters on the plate is 2 inches tall. Motorcycles and trailers use a 4-inch by 7-inch plate, with 1-inch tall letters and numbers. Commercial vehicles use a 6-inch by 12-inch plate with 3-inch tall numbers and letters.
What is the size of a New York state license plate?
New York state license plates are 12 inches by 6 inches and made of aluminum. The serial format is ABC-1234. There is also a slogan on the plate that says "Excelsior," which is the state motto of New York. The NY license plate design was last updated in 2010.
What will happen if my license plates are larger or smaller than the state standard?
If your license plates are larger or smaller than the state standard, you may be pulled over and issued a ticket by police. You may also have your plates confiscated and be forced to apply for new plates.
Is it legal to make your own license plate?
In most states, it is legal to design and create your own license plate—so long as you follow your state’s guidelines for doing so. First, you will need to obtain the proper permission from your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV.) In some cases, you may also be required to submit a design for approval. Once you have been granted permission, you can start working on your plate. You will need to choose a material that is sturdy enough to withstand the elements and that can be easily attached to your car.
The DMV allows customized or personalized license plates, usually accompanied by a yearly fee. Nevertheless, the DMV discourages drivers from making adjustments or changes to license plates, such as altering license plate size.
What is the size of a license plate frame?
License plate frames are 6"x12" as a standard size. License plate frames that are 7"x14" can be used for license plates in some states, but they may be considered oversized.
What do you do with old license plates?
Most people don't give much thought to their license plates once they get new ones. However, old plates can actually be recycled or reused in a number of different ways.
If you’re wondering what to do with your old plates, one option is to simply send the old plates back to the DMV. In most states, the DMV will recycle the plates or sell them to a scrap metal dealer.
Alternatively, if your state allows it, you can sell your old license plate online. There are a number of websites that specialize in buying and selling collectible license plates.
Finally, you can take your old license plate to a recycling center. While you won't get any money for recycling the plate, you'll be doing your part to help the environment.
How do you put a license plate on a car?
The process of attaching a license plate to a car is relatively simple and can be done in a matter of minutes.
- The first step is to remove the old license plate from the car. This can be done by unscrewing the screws that hold it in place.
- Once the old plate is removed, drill holes into your new license plate. Next, secure the new plate to the car with screws. Be sure to use screws that are the appropriate size and type for your car.
- Clear the license plate and mounting surface of any debris. This will help ensure that the new plate adheres properly.
- Fix the sticky pads to your license plate and press it onto your car.
- Make sure that the plate is level and securely attached before driving.
With a little time and effort, you can easily put a license plate on a car.
How to change my license plates?
In most cases, if you want to change your license plates, you need to visit your local DMV office. However, if you want a specialty plate that supports a particular cause, or if you want a personalized plate number, you may need to submit a completed application and fees.
Once your registration 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 state’s Department of Motor Vehicles as soon as possible to begin the replacement process.
How to get new license plates?
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 much do license plates cost?
The license plate cost might be included in your registration, or billed separately. Some states allow you to transfer license plates from your old car to your new one, while others require brand-new plates. For more information on how much license plates cost in your state, you should contact your state’s DMV office.
Should I take my license plates off if I am selling my car?
Different states have different rules about what to do with your license plates when you sell your used car in a private party sale. A couple of states mandate that the plates stay with the car; the rest of the states require the seller to remove them. Some states allow the seller to transfer the plates to a different vehicle.