How to Install & Remove License Plates

If you buy a new or used car, get a custom license plate, or move to a new state, you’re going to need to know how to take off your old license plate and install the new one. 

It’s a simple process that usually only takes a few minutes and a single screwdriver (usually). 

How to Put On a License Plate

In order to remove your old plate and put on a new one you’ll need a screwdriver. 

Take a look at the screws holding your license plate in place. They’ll either be Phillips (cross-head) or flathead screws. 

If your screws have become rusted and stuck, check out our tips below for removing rusty license plate screws. 

Be sure to make sure your screwdriver fits snugly into the license plate screw’s head, otherwise, you may risk stripping the screw. 

Here’s how to install your new license plates:

  1. Unscrew the license plate screws by turning them to the left (counter-clockwise). 
  2. Keep the screws nearby if you’ll be reusing them. 
  3. Remove the old plate from its mounting position. 
    1. If you have a license plate cover, remove that too. 
  4. Align the new license plate so that the holes line up with the license plate holder screw holes in your car’s bumper. 
    1. Be sure that your new registration month and year stickers are on the license plate. 
    2. If you have a license plate cover, align that on top of the license plate’s mounting holes as well. 
  5. Place the license plate screws in the hole and begin to tighten them.
  6. Use your screwdriver to turn the screws to the right (clockwise).
  7. Make sure the screws are snug, but avoid over tightening them or else you may strip the threads. 

Once your new license plate is installed, be sure that your registration stickers are adhered completely to the new plate and easily visibly. 

Be sure to keep your latest copy of your registration documents inside your vehicle’s glove box. 

If you’ve replaced your old license plates, check out our guide on what to do with old license plates in each state

How to Install a Front License Plate

Most states require passenger cars and trucks to have both a front and rear license plate. 

However, not all vehicles make installing a front plate easy to do. 

If your vehicle doesn’t have a factory installed position for a front license plate, you’ll have a few main options on how to install one yourself. 

To install a front license plate, you can either:

  • Take your vehicle to your local dealership and have them install it for you. 
  • Use an aftermarket license plate mount that will either attach to the tow-hook or adhere to the bumper with extra-strength adhesive. 
  • Use a drill to drill pilot holes for the license plate screws into the bumper. 

If you’re looking for a temporary or quick solution, a strong double-sided adhesive tape can work well too. 

You can find license plate screws and other mounting hardware at any auto parts store or online. 

When drilling your own screw holes to mount your front license plate, be sure to take the time to level and align them. 

Additionally, you’ll need to make sure that:

  • The plate is secured tightly and doesn’t swing around after being mounted. 
  • The license plate is mounted in the proper orientation and able to be read from left to right. 
  • It is mounted no more than 60” off the ground (in most states). 

How to Remove Rusted License Plate Screws

If you’re dealing with an older vehicle or license plate screws that have become rusty, you may find it more difficult to remove them. 

Rusty license plate screws can be difficult to remove and easy to strip. 

If you see that your license plate screws are rusty, there are some steps you should take before you try to remove them. 

First, use some penetrating oil and spray it around the screw so it can coat the head and get into the threads. 

Allow the penetrating oil to soak in for a while. 

In many cases, this is all it will take to loosen the rusted screw. 

If you’re still unable to unscrew them, you can try knocking on them with a hammer a few times to loosen the threads. 

If the head of the rusty screw has stripped, you can either cut a groove that will accept a flathead screwdriver or try to use clamping pliers to remove the screw. 

If you have a screwdriver bit that can fit into a socket wrench or license plate screws with bolt heads, the extra torque supplied by the socket wrench handle can help loosen stuck screws as well.  

License Plate Dimensions

U.S. license plates come in standard sizes. 

Passenger vehicle license plates are roughly 12” x 6.”

Standard motorcycle license plates are 7” x 4.”

What size are license plate screws?

License plate screws vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer. 

Most standard license plate screws are self-tapping screws in the following common sizes:

  • ¼-14 x ¾”
  • ¼-20 x ⅝”
  • M6-1.0 x 16mm
  • M6-1.0 x 25mm 

You can find these screws from most dealerships or auto parts stores. 

The head of the screw will either be a flathead or Phillips with or without a bolt head.