• Tom Fowler

Iowa Front License Plate Law


Registering a Motor Vehicle in Iowa


Registering a Motor Vehicle in Iowa


When you register a vehicle in Iowa, you are automatically given two license plates. One for the front, one for the back. The moment you first start driving, you are taught that you might be pulled over for not having a front and/or rear license plate, which leads many to believe that those who don't have a front plate were not told the same thing, or that the regulations in Iowa have changed.


The controversy over mandating an Iowa license plate on the front and rear of automobiles has resurfaced in the 2019 legislative session.


Iowa law currently demands state-issued license plates to be mounted to the front and back sections of most vehicles, with the exemption of historic cars from 1948 or earlier. Senate File 419 would describe an antique vehicle as one that is at least 25 years old and would expand the number of vehicles exempt from having two license plates attached to their vehicles to include vehicles that require modifications to secure a plate, according to the bill's floor manager, Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan.


Iowa House and Senate on Different Paths in Front of License Plate Debate


The House decided to allow antique or classic automobiles that are at least 25 years old to be driven without a front license plate. The plan also directs the Iowa Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety to conduct research on the issue.


“The objective of this study is to address law enforcement's concerns for public safety, as well as the rising quantity of life safety equipment being placed in the front bumper by auto manufacturers,” stated Bondurant Representative Brian Lohse.


Iowa is one of 31 states that require front and rear license plates. The majority of sports cars and high-priced luxury automobiles do not have a place for a front plate.


Originally, House File 540 would have repealed an Iowa statute that required all vehicles to carry both front and back license plates. However, because of concerns that it would impede law enforcement officials, legislators reached an agreement to exempt only individuals driving classic or sports automobiles such as Ferraris and Corvettes.


Unresolved Debate Over Front License Plates


The law was approved by the House on a 96-1 vote on Wednesday. However, 34 members of the Iowa Senate voted two weeks ago for a different approach to this issue. The Senate proposal would prohibit officers from pulling over a car only because it is missing a front license plate. This proposal would also allow car owners to forego mounting a license plate on the front of their vehicle if doing so would necessitate drilling holes or using adhesive to secure the plate to the front bumper.


"We're not removing license plates from all cars," Zumbach explained. "We're removing them off old vehicles and vehicles that no longer have a location to mount them. The rest of the automobiles – the great majority of cars we'll see driving down the road – will still have a front plate. I believe that the impact of those kind of drivers, as well as the few automobiles that will be affected, would be quite bad."


Iowa Senate Passes Bill Expanding the List of Vehicles not Needing Front License Plates


The Iowa House approved the bill on 7 March 2016 that would free you from affixing a second license plate to the front of your vehicle, for sport and antique vehicles only.


Those drivers have claimed that the front license plates detract from the appearance of their pricey vehicles.


Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, a retired state trooper, voted against the legislation. He said he welcomes the revisions that narrow the bill's implications, but he is concerned that it is the first step towards eliminating the front-license plate requirement entirely.


He stated that officers frequently use technology that reads license plates while driving, and he is concerned that eliminating one of them could make it more difficult for them to do their job, particularly when it comes to hunting down Amber Alert victims.


Importance of License Plates


According to the National Sheriffs' Association, motor vehicles are involved in 70% of severe crimes in the United States, including robbery, drug smuggling, assault, murder, and other crimes. By removing the front plate, we restrict their capacity to locate a questionable car by 50%.


A front license plate is a crucial tool for tracking down porch thieves, burglars, and violent criminals in this day and age of comprehensive security video monitoring private and public property. So frequently, it is the unnoticed front license plate, captured on video, that provides our officers with the first step in investigating crime and locating the stolen property.


As stated in the fiscal note estimate, the cost to cease enforcing the front license plate infringement ranged from $26,120 to $77,370. Citations issued during the current fiscal year are estimated to produce roughly $93,000 in fines of $30, plus court expenses and criminal services surcharges.


Can You Drive without a Front Number Plate?


If you are stopped for neglecting to display a front license plate, you could face a $120 fine.


Being pulled over for merely not having a license plate, on the other hand, may change everything. Iowa Senate Bill 419, which would make failing to display a front plate a secondary penalty, was approved by a vote of 29-17 on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. The law may increase the number of vehicles that are exempt from displaying a front license plate.


Senate Bill 419 is still awaiting passage in the Iowa House before being referred to the Governor.


In the meanwhile, if your car is registered in Iowa, you must have both license plates. You may be pulled over and penalized if you do not have a front and/or license plate and do not have a temporary license on the car. If you are in an accident and don't have a front license plate, you could be penalized as well. Contact an experienced vehicle accident attorney or a Des Moines personal injury law office for more information.


Decal license plates


Non-profit groups can apply to the Office of Automotive and Motor Carrier Services (OVMCS) for decal approval that recognizes their business or mission. The foundation was established to be in charge of producing, coordinating, and developing the posters.


If approved, some organizations may also charge persons who want to display the approved decal plates.


Fallen Peace Officer plate


According to the Iowa Department of Transportation, drivers in Iowa who want to honor a fallen law enforcement officer can now acquire a custom license plate with a “Fallen Peace Officer” logo.

A numbered “Fallen Peace Officer” plate costs $35, with a $10 annual validation fee, and a personalized plate costs $60, with a $15 annual validation fee.


The Iowa Department of Public Safety collects $35 for each new license plate purchased and $10 for each renewal. It distributes all monies in the form of subsidies to charitable groups to help rebuild the lives of law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty's surviving families and devastated coworkers.


When considering funding submissions, the Iowa DPS prioritizes Iowa Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) and similar charitable organizations that provide similar support.


Order Your Specialty or Personalized Plates


If you've been seeking a unique way to personalize your vehicle, a personalized license plate could be just what you're looking for. A personalized license plate is a terrific way to add a little flair and your own distinct personality to your vehicle.


For a modest cost, you can have two parts of your license plate customized in Iowa. First, you can select from a variety of plate styles, and second, you can make a personalized plate inscription. Between these two factors, you should be able to find the ideal license plate for you and your vehicle.



Renew a Vehicle Registration in Iowa


Renew a Vehicle Registration in Iowa


What You Need

Renewal via Mail or In-person

  • Your IA registration renewal notice OR

  • Information about your vehicle registration

  • Fees for registration renewals - If paying by check, make it payable to your county treasurer.

Online Renewal

  • Your license plate number in Iowa

  • Online registration renewal PIN, which you can find on your renewal notification, OR

  • Vehicle registration audit number, which you can find on your most recent car registration renewal receipt

  • Payment (E-checks, VISA, Discover, and MasterCard credit/debit cards are all accepted)


Caveats and Exceptions to Renewing your Vehicle Registration in Iowa


Vehicles may be renewed without penalty within a three-month period surrounding your renewal month. This includes the month before your renewal month, the month of your renewal month, and the month after your renewal month. If the last day of the three-month period comes on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, renewals can be performed without penalty on the first working day of the following month.


If you misplaced or never obtained your renewal notice, you may be able to renew online or in person. You are required to supply your current registration renewal receipt audit number as well as information about your car.


When renewing your Iowa DMV vehicle registration online, you may be charged an extra service cost.


For information regarding vehicle laws and regulations in the state of Iowa such as window tint laws and motorcycle helmet laws, talk to a specialized lawyer.