Does Iowa Require Front License Plates?

Iowa requires front license plates for most passenger vehicles—and it’s especially important in cities with lots of car thefts.
Written by Tiffany Leung
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
Iowa is a “two-plate state”, which means the Iowa Department of Transportation requires most cars to have both
Iowa license plates
mounted on the front and rear of the car.
While the front license plate can be unsightly—especially on a classic car or imports that weren’t designed with the front license plate in mind—they’re required for good reason! Not only does it help regulate traffic laws, but it also helps law enforcement identify stolen cars.
Curious to know the Iowa legal requirements for license plates?
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Does Iowa require front license plates?

Yes—front and rear license plates are required for most Iowa-registered vehicles.
According to Iowa Code
Section 321.37
, registration plates shall be attached to the front and to the rear of a motor vehicle. The license plates must be fully visible, meaning any frame or holder that obstructs any numerals or letters is prohibited. The Iowa Supreme Court holds this to mean any written information on the plate including the state, county, collegiate name, or registration sticker.
These requirements also apply to personalized plates and specialty plates (e.g. collegiate and veteran plates). 


Assuming that front license plates are required for all vehicles in Iowa will keep you out of trouble with law enforcement. Be sure to mount both plates to your car if you’ve received two plates!
Some vehicles are exempt from this requirement. Motor vehicles that have the model year 1948 or older or are reconstructed to resemble such a vehicle may display one registration plate on the rear. However, the second plate must be carried in the vehicle at all times when it is on the road.
Other vehicles that aren’t required to display a front license plate include:
  • Trucks registered for more than five tons
  • Autocycles 
  • Motorcycles
  • Motorized bicycles

What is the penalty for driving without a front license plate in Iowa?

There is some controversy surrounding whether a police officer can pull you over for not having a front license plate. However, since a majority of vehicles are required to have a front plate mounted, you could be fined $120 without it.
Depending on the police officer that pulls you over, you could be given a chance to rectify the issue and be let off with a warning. However, don’t assume this is the norm—it’s much better to avoid being pulled over under all circumstances! 

Which US states do not require a front license plate?

Although front plates seem to be the norm, they aren’t required in every state!
Many of Iowa’s neighboring states require vehicles to display only a rear license plate. Below are the 19 states that have no front license plate requirement. 
  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kansas 
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma 
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • West Virginia

Why Iowa requires a front license plate

While a front license plate can dampen your style, they do play an important role in fighting crime—especially when the plate number is caught on video. Without the front plate, it can limit the ability to locate questionable vehicles involved in serious crimes like robbery, drug smuggling, and violent acts.
Front license plates can also help the police identify any stolen vehicles. Although car theft rates aren’t extremely high in Iowa, mounted front plates will double the chances of locating a stolen vehicle.
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Which states have the highest rate of car theft?

According to data compiled by the Insurance Information Institute, Iowa is ranked thirty-fifth in the country for car theft rate, with the average rate at 148 thefts per 100,000. The top three states with the highest rate of car theft are
New Mexico
, and
The city of Bakersfield, California had the highest car theft rate in 2020, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Although the theft rate isn’t as high, the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area in Iowa ranked #44 in the nation with a rate of 396.53 thefts per 100,000—double the Iowa state average! 
Other Iowa cities with a high auto theft rate per 100,000 include: 
  • Davenport-Moline-Rock Island: 329.05
  • Des Moines-West Desmoines: 262.60
  • Cedar Rapids
    : 254.49 
Aside from highlighting the importance of mounting your front license plates, the average crime rate contributes to your auto insurance rates! By no coincidence,
Davenport insurance costs
are some of the highest in the state.

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