Dirt Cheap DIY: How to Install a Front License Plate Frame on Your Car
Do as I Say, Not As I Did: Install Your Front License Plates Before You Get a Ticket
Installing a front license plate is a dirt cheap (and easy!) DIY project that you can knock out in minutes. The handful of dollars you spend on this project will save you a lot of time and money in the future. Avoid fines and wasted time!
I'll admit it: I cruised the streets of Los Angeles as an outlaw for more than two years. Yes, I was well aware that California state law requires all vehicles to display a front license plate on the outside of the car, but like many car guys I liked the way my 2010 Mazda 3 looked without front plates: clean and smooth and uncluttered.
Like most outlaws, my luck finally ran out and I had to face the facts: If you drive your car without front license plates in a state that requires front plates, you're eventually going to get a ticket, and you're going to kick yourself when you do.
Your luck might run out when your car is parked: Parking officers can ticket your car for no front plates. Or, your luck might run out while you're on the road: Officers can pull you over and cite you for flagrant and egregious violation of the law.
Avoid all the hassle and get legal by installing front license plates on your car yourself.
Tools and Hardware You'll Need
- Socket wrench, with sockets of various sizes (10mm–14mm)
- Electric drill and drill bits
- A bubble level
- Patience (it's a tool!)
- Any screws and washers included with your OEM frame/bracket
- Any hardware mentioned in the frame's installation instructions
Step-By-Step: How to Install Front License Plates
Ok, let's break down the whole process:
1. Order new license plates if you don't already have your front plate
2. Get your hands on an OEM or aftermarket front license plate frame
3. Buy the proper hardware
4. Drill holes (yikes!) and install your new gear
**BONUS** Pay your fines! The most painful step.
How Much Is This Really Going to Cost Me?
- New license plates from the DMV: ~$20
- OEM or aftermarket license plate frame: $10-$30
- Hardware: ~$3
- When all's said and done, this project will cost you around $35 - $50.
$30-50? That's Not Dirt Cheap!
Ok, ok, you win. The truly "dirt cheap" route would be to use double-sided tape to stick your front plates to your car, or to screw the front plates directly into the front bumper without using a correct license plate frame and mount.
I want your plates to look nice, and more importantly, I want your plates to stick to your car even after you've love-tapped the car parked in front of you. Screwing your plates directly into your bumper looks really bad, and double sided tape may not hold up in the rain and snow.
Do it right the first time and you'll be happy with the results for as long as you own the car. It may cost a little extra, but it's worth it.
Step 1: Order New Plates From the DMV
If your front license plate is missing, stolen, or broken, you're going to need a brand new set of two license plates. The DMV doesn't print you a new copy of your existing license plate number, they assign you a totally new license plate number and send you two fresh new plates. One for the back, and one for the front.
Visit your state's DMV website to find the form you will need to replace your plates. That is much easier said than done on not-so-modern DMV websites, so I recommend that you google "replace license plate *name of state*" Using that google search I was able to instantly find the form I needed to replace my plates.
You'll have to pay a fee to replace your plates, but it's not too steep, usually around $20.
The Easier Way to Get New Plates: Use AAA
I've been a member of AAA for years and their DMV services have come in handy countless times. The DMV sucks -- whether you're filling out DMV forms or visiting the DMV office, you're going to spend a lot of time and end up with a headache.
AAA eliminates all the hassle by doing all the DMV paperwork for you. The last thing you want to do is screw up your forms and wait another month to get your plates.
In my case, after a 20 minute visit to my local AAA office I renewed my registration, changed my address, and ordered new plates.
Here's the beautiful part: AAA handed me a brand new set of plates right there on the spot! I didn't have to wait for the DMV to send me anything in the mail, and I slapped on my new registration sticker and replaced my rear plates right in the parking lot.
Step 2: Find the Right License Plate Frame For Your Car
This step is essentially a Googling project—or a trip to your local auto parts store.
I Googled "2010 Mazda 3 Front License Plate Frame OEM" and was able to find a reasonably priced OEM frame with free shipping in minutes.
Amazon.com and eBay are a great place to find this part. If your car is a 2005 model year or newer, finding the right part will be a cinch if you use the right search terms. "Front license plate frame" and "front license plate bracket," along with the year and make/model of your car, will quickly turn up good results.
I recommend an OEM front frame for your car because it should fit the contour of your front bumper, and the holes in the frame should match any holes or screw dimples on the front of your car.
Step 3: Mount Your New Frame
Step 4: Drill the Holes and Install the Plate and Frame
Here's how I installed the front license plate frame bracket on my 2010 Mazda 3. Your experience may vary, but most cars are very similar:
- Using an 8mm drill bit, I drilled a pilot hole into dimples in the bumper that were provided by the factory. Your car may already have holes drilled. If you car doesn't have any holes drilled, look on the front bumper for dimples. See the picture I've posted for an example of bumper dimples. If there aren't any dimples, time to pull out the level and a pen and mark your own holes by placing the frame in the front and center of the car, leveling it using the level, then marking the holes using a pen or pencil.
- If you're not very experienced with measuring/screwing, you might want to stop here and search online for instructions from other people who have already done the job. If it looks too difficult you could have a friend help, or you could take it into a dealer.
- I then placed the front frame bracket on the front bumper and lined up the holes in the frame with the holes in the bumper.
- Using a socket wrench, I screwed in the provided screws.
- Next, using screws I purchased from a hardware store, I screwed the license plate to front frame.
**IMPORTANT** Follow the Directions Included With Your Frame!
Not all frames and brackets are the same, and your frame may have special installation instructions for you to follow. Most instructions are straightforward but a little vague, so think it through before you screw any holes.
On my Mazda, it took me a moment to realize that I would need four screws total: Two to attach the frame to the car, and two to attach the license plate to the frame. Your frame might be different, so look closely.
Other Ways to Do It: Dealers, Installers, or Customize It Yourself
Take it to the Dealer, or a Body Shop, or a Stereo Installer
If all the drilling and screwing doesn't seem like a project you want to attempt, you can take your car into a dealer and have them handle it. They will have the correct frame, bracket, and hardware for your car, but expect your wallet to hurt after the job's done. This isn't the "Dirt Cheap DIY" way, but this is a great option if you're tired of trying to figure out how it's done.
Get Creative and Install it Your Own Way
If you're mechanically handy and creative in the garage, you can whip up your own brackets, or some other way to fasten the plates to the frame. Search around for other custom installs and you'll see that car owners have come up with ingenious ways to avoid drilling into their babies.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.