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California Vehicle License Plates – Front and Back?

In California, are license plates required to be on both the front and back of a car? This question comes up every now and again, usually by those who have bought a car, but don’t like the aesthetics of having a license plate on the front of the car also. As with any argument about cars, people hold passionately to their views.

Regardless of which side of the argument you fall on, what ultimately matters for your pocketbook is what a police officer can ticket you for. If you’ve bought a new car in California, you’ve likely received — or will receive — this envelope from the California Department of Motor Vehicles containing your license plates.

The law that the envelope refers to is California Vehicle Code section 5200. The general rule regarding where you display your license plates depends on how many license plates the California Department of Motor Vehicles gives you. If you receive two, then one goes on the front of your car and one goes on the rear. That’s California Vehicle Code section 5200(a). If you only receive one, then it has to go on the back of your vehicle. That’s section 5200(b).

If you think you’ve only received one plate, check to make sure that they aren’t just stuck together.

Oh, and in case you’ve ever wondered, yes, license plates — at least in California — are made by prison inmates. Here’s the website of the California Prison Industry Authority.


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Andy Chen

Andy I. Chen is a lawyer licensed to practice law in California and New York. Andy maintains offices in Los Altos, California and Modesto, California. Under the New York Court of Appeals' 2015 decision in Schoenefeld v. State of New York, Andy does not accept cases from those in New York state. He does, however, know many lawyers in New York state and would be happy to make a referral.


  1. Thank you Andy for the post on the requirement on having a license plate being secured to the front of the car too.

  2. Is there any hope to get that law changed? How would a private citizen go about it? I wonder if with a digital plate on the rear a front plate would be required?

    • Take three secondsof thought to figure out why they are required

  3. I have a 1999 Dodge Durango and there is no place on the front of the vehicle to even place my plate. So when were two plates first required in the state of California.

  4. Is it illegal to sale a car with two different license plate numbers? The front and back license numbers don’t match.


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