Learning how to install a license plate frame is an easy and DIY job for sure.
The main reason why you should learn this is, of course, to avoid losing a license plate somewhere on the road.
If this happens, it means lost time (and perhaps money) getting a new one.
A license plate frame, in most cases, is made out of plastic so, over time, mostly due to weather and road conditions becomes fragile and brittle.
This knowledge may also come in handy if for instance, the bumper has been replaced and the frame has to be re-installed.
The whole replacement will take only minutes of your time. No special tools are needed, in most cases, a flathead and Philips screwdriver will do.
At the end of the article, there’s a video tutorial that can also be seen on our YouTube channel.
HOW TO REMOVE A LICENSE PLATE FRAME?
The first step to learn how to install a license plate frame is to take off the plate and the old frame.
There are various types of license plate frames in terms of materials and systems of holding the license plate in place. The most common (at least from my own experience) are:
The license plate frame comes in one piece (no detachable parts); the plate is meant to be slid into the frame from the left or right side.
The frame has small hinges on the upper or lower side. This means the front can be opened like a door and the license plate released.
There are small plastic padlocks in two or three points on the frame. The padlocks are taken out and the license plate is released (this is the system described in this article and the video).
Of course, there are more systems but these are the basic ones. Whatever the situation may be, it should be easy to figure out how to install a license plate frame. One glimpse should be enough to see what you’re supposed to do.
Also, the license plate frame may be made out of metal (thin sheet metal) which doesn’t change anything regarding the procedure. The basic principle of how to install a license plate frame is the same. Maybe even better as metal frames are perhaps more durable.
So, once you’ve figured out how the plate is held in place then:
1. Take out the license plate. Either slide it to one side, open the frame or take out the plastic padlocks, depending on the type of frame you have.
2. Once the license plate is out, you’ll find two (or more) screws holding the frame in place. These screws have predefined positions (usually with plastic bushings) made by the manufacturer to avoid the need for drilling other holes. If additional holes needed to be drilled, then rust might appear and cause problems over time (especially on the tailgate).
3. Take off the screws using a flat head or Phillips screwdriver.
4. Take off the old license plate frame.
HOW TO INSTALL A LICENSE PLATE FRAME?
Now, once the old frame is removed, do the next:
1. Take the new license plate frame and look at what kind of system it has for holding the plate in place. If it’s meant to be slid in or there are hinges, then immediately proceed with installing the frame.
If there are padlocks (like in this case), then best remove them before mounting the frame.
2. Put the new license plate frame in place. Align the holes on it with the holes on the car. Also, align it with the tailgate or bumper so it doesn’t look crooked once you’re finished.
3. Put the screws back in place and tighten. Don’t overtighten so you don’t damage the threads in the plastic bushings. Also don’t leave them loose so the frame doesn’t rattle when you start the car. An additional one-fourth of a full circle once the screws reach the end should be enough.
5. Insert the license plate back in to place.
If it’s meant to be slid into place make sure that it goes under all of the additional holders on the frame so it doesn’t fall out. When there are hinges, insert the license plate and close the frame until you hear a click sound.
With padlocks, insert all of the padlocks superficially first and then click into place.
6. Check that the license plate frame is firmly in place. Also, start the engine to see that there’s no rattling caused by the vibration of the car.
This example has been shown on the rear of the car, on the tailgate.
If you, however, need to change the front license plate frame, the procedure is the same unless there is no predefined position.
Without a predefined position, you’ll need to make holes in the bumper and that’s what we’ll be talking about in the next part of the article.
HOW TO DRILL HOLES FOR A FRONT LICENSE PLATE?
Most car manufacturers have made sure that you don’t have to do this. Cars are sold according to regulations in each country so if there is a need for a front license plate, be sure that you’ll buy one with a predefined position for it.
But for some reason, a car might not have this. Some reasons may be: buying an imported car that was made exclusively for another market, having to replace the bumper, maybe installing a bull-bar or else.
Well, if you find yourself in a situation like this, the procedure is simple so there’s nothing to be reluctant about.
To avoid confusion, the car shown in the pictures has a predefined position for a frame but the whole procedure is shown as if there wasn’t one.
Regarding tools, you’ll need:
A measuring tape
A washable marker
A drill with a proper sized drill bit
Two or more screws (for metal would be best)
A flathead or Phillips screwdriver, depending on what type of screws you have
License plate frame
Now for the procedure
1. Use the measuring tape and find the middle point of the bumper. This may be tricky as the bumper, is curved at the sides but do your best. If you miss a few millimeters it won’t be noticeable.
2. Mark the middle point with the marker.
3. Measure the license plate holder, find the middle point and mark it.
4. Now align the marked points on the frame and the bumper. This way you’re certain that the frame is centered.
5. Mark where the holes on the bumper are supposed to be. Find two (or more) holes on the frame where the screws will be inserted and stick a marker through them. This way a marking will be left so you’ll know where to drill holes.
6. Before drilling, move away from the car and take a final look at the pre-position of the frame. Maybe even outline the frame on the bumper before drilling. See that it’s even to the naked eye. Bit old school, but a very effective method for last-minute changes.
7. Take the drill and make two holes. In most cases, you’ll only be drilling plastic so you won’t need much force.
8. At this point, you have two options: either tighten the screws directly into the bumper or buy two plastic bushings for this purpose. I would advise buying the bushings as this is a much better solution in terms of longevity, better holding of the frame, and for future replacements.
9. Put the license plate frame in place and tighten the screws. One-fourth of a full circle should be enough once the screw reaches the end.
10. Check that the license plate frame holds firmly. Also, you can start the engine to check for any eventual rattles caused by vibration.
For the end of this part:
Make sure that the license plate is properly centered (or to your satisfaction)before drilling. Otherwise, you can end up making swiss cheese out of the bumper with the drill.
In case of plastic bumpers, make sure the drill bit is the exact match for the screw or plastic bushing. Since you’re drilling plastic everything has to be tightly fitted so nothing doesn’t get loose and fall off over time.
HOW TO MAKE A HOLE IN A LICENSE PLATE?
If for some reason you want or have to skip the license plate frame altogether you always have the option of screwing the license plate directly on to the bumper or tailgate.
This is the worst option in my opinion as you both have to drill the license plate and the bumper. Besides this, the overall aesthetical effect is much worse than with a frame.
But sometimes the situation is such that you have simply have to do this.
If this is the case then you’ll first have to drill holes through the license plate and then go through the procedure of centering it on the bumper, drilling holes on the bumper, and screwing the plate on.
So, once the holes have been drilled in the license plate, the previously explained procedure is applicable. In this part, we’ll only focus on drilling holes.
In case of rear license plates mounted directly on the tailgate, be sure to insert plastic bushings where the holes are and protect everything from rust.
For this task you’ll need a :
Center punch for marking the holes. Its purpose is to make a small hole so the drill bit doesn’t wobble around.
Drill and proper sized drill bit.
Here’s the procedure:
1. Use the measuring tape to define the spots for drilling. Make symmetrical holes on the license plate (minimum two).
2. Mark them with the marker.
4. Take the hammer and center punch to make dents where the marked spots are. Make sure to put the license plate on a firm surface so the center punch can have full effect.
5. Take the drill and drill holes through every center punch mark.
Make sure that the drill holes are the proper size. Too small and the screws won’t be able to go through making tightening the license plate more harder.
Too big and the plate might rattle or just simply fall off over time as the screws won’t hold.
One more thing worth mentioning is to try and find screws with decorative plastic caps. They will both protect the screws from rust as well as give a better overall aesthetic effect. Best choose a color similar to the color of the bumper.
Check the condition of the license plate frame from time to time. Maybe when washing the car, when making some regular check-ups or else.
The moment you notice the frame is damaged or becomes brittle, change it.
Again, learning how to install a license plate frame is easy, no special tools are required and the whole procedure takes only minutes.
Even if you can’t install a frame, the other procedures are also fairly simple.
Frames can also be changed if you want to upgrade the looks and features of your car. You can buy chromed ones, with LED lights, or even frames with an installed camera.
Whatever the case may be, learning how to install a license plate frame will come in handy, sooner or later.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com
HOW TO INSTALL LICENSE PLATE FRAME VIDEO