Bike Racks CANNOT Cover License Plates: 4 Solutions

Are you concerned about your bike rack covering the whole or part of your license plate when putting it on your car? If you are traveling to another destination, using a bike rack may be essential for bringing your bike with you. However, some trunk racks and basically all hitch racks block the rear of the car.
But are bike racks in general allowed to cover your license plate?

A bike rack isn’t allowed to cover your license plate partially or entirely, according to the road rules of the USA. While different states have separate laws regarding this, most states agree that no object may block the view onto a rear license plate, so an extra plate is required.

You must know the rules and punishments when traveling with your bikes on a bike rack. Failing to comply with the laws in your state may result in fines. And then there are other considerations like how one affects the handling and gas mileage of a car.

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Bikes loaded up on the rack and all ready to go? Not if it looks like this. // Photo by Brian Erickson

So, what are the rules for traveling with a bike rack, and how do you follow them to avoid repercussions?

Is a bike rack allowed to cover a car’s license plate?

Most states have pretty clear rules for traveling with bike racks and other fixtures. The rules read that “no permanent or temporary fixture can obstruct part or all of your license plate“. A bike rack is a temporary fixture and thus may not cover your license plate.

The reason for this is quite clear, as it makes it difficult for other motorists or cameras to read your license plate if needed. So, for example, if you are caught speeding or are in an accident, other road users cannot report you. Unfortunately, some people know this and use a bike rack as an excuse to be reckless when driving.

The plate shall be maintained free from foreign materials that obscure or partially obscure the registration information.

William Huey, Michigan State Trooper

As a result, the laws have adapted to make it so that nobody can drive with their bike racks covering even a part of their license plates. They have to be fully visible at all times.

With the facts out of the way, let’s discuss solutions for potentially illegal bike carriers.

What to do if your bike rack covers your license plate

There are two kinds of car bike racks that will block the license plate guaranteed:

Solution 1: Car-model-specific trunk bike racks

For any other style of trunk racks, it’s model specific. As a general rule, car-model-specific trunk racks are designed in a way that neither taillights nor license plates are obscured. They’re usually more expensive, but save a lot of headaches and extra accessories – and maybe some fines.

VW Van trunk bike rack
The trunk rack on my van. Notice how high the bike trays sit to not go in front of the plate and lights.

So, it starts with the actual purchase decision. Getting the right gear can save you this topic altogether. And if it didn’t, there are still ways to deal with this issue.

Solution 2: Additional copy of the license plate secured to the bike rack

With the hitch always being below the number plate and tail lights, there is no way to avert this. As this problem is “built-in” with hitch racks, there are enough solutions to choose from.

Many hitch bike racks come equipped with a license plate relocation bracket.

So, if you notice your bike rack covers part of your license plate or obstructs the entire thing, you must ensure that other motorists can still clearly see the license plate. The easiest way to achieve this is by purchasing an additional copy of your license plate and securing it to the bike rack using a separate license plate mount like this easy-to-use one.

Solution 3: For night-time use, provide illumination for the plate

So most come with their own license plate mounts and tail lights. For the lights to work, the trailer hitch requires wiring to power additional tail lights. For trunk racks, that don’t have electrical connections, there’s still a way to use them at night.

Some of the best bike rack brands, like Thule, have come out with their own battery-powered license plate holder accessory. It’s extremely versatile, and mountable on basically any object.

This way, motorists and cameras can see the entire license plate, even if the bike rack obscures the license plate on your car at any time of day. Ensure the additional license plate is securely fastened to the bike rack, so it doesn’t fly off and cause damage.

Solution 4: Don’t drive with an empty bike rack

Traffic officers may be more lenient towards you if your bike rack contains bikes while partially obscuring your license plate than they will if the bike rack is empty but still making the plate illegible. In any case, this is already a grey area better avoided.

What Is The Penalty For A Bike Rack Covering A License Plate?

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A fine for obscuring license plates is definitely more expensive than a solution for that problem. // Photo by Pixabay

The penalty for covering your license plate is most often a fine. However, there may also be additional measures taken if you drove recklessly or speeded while your license plate was partially or fully obscured. This may include community service or jail time.

Generally, it is up to the traffic officer if they decide to penalize you for having your bike rack obscuring your license plate. In some cases, they will let you off with a warning. At other times, they may give you a fine and tell you to fix it at once.

The severity of your fine depends on how you were driving and what the traffic officer observed. For example, suppose your bike rack is empty. In that case, traffic officers may suspect you are trying to get away with speeding as your license plate is obscured.


It is illegal for your bike rack to cover your license plate in most states in the USA. Each state might have different rules regarding this, and the severity of the punishment for breaking this law also differs between states. If you notice your bike rack covering part of your license plate, you must buy an additional plate and secure it to the bike rack so others can see the plate

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