License plates provide easy access to information about a particular vehicle, which helps to hold auto owners and drivers accountable for their actions. The unique license plate number allows others to track down the vehicle owner and, from there, identify the driver.
License plates show the county and state in which the vehicle is registered, and also whether the registration is up to date. It is illegal in Tennessee to operate a vehicle if it does not have a license plate. Note that a license plate is sometimes referred to as a registration plate in state laws.
All states impose license plate display requirements for vehicles on public roads and most laws are quite similar state to state. A few of Tennessee's laws are surprising, however, and even residents may not know all there is to know about license laws, found in Tennessee Codes Section 55-4-1.
What Is a Tennessee Vehicle License Plate?
The Tennessee license plate is an aluminum plate marked with the registration numbers and characters that have been assigned to the vehicle. Tennessee law states that a license plate belongs to the owner of the vehicle and cannot be transferred to other persons.
When the car is sold, the plate does not transfer with it. Rather, it remains with the owner and can be transferred to another vehicle they own for a $1 fee.
What Do Tennessee License Plates Look Like?
Tennessee license plates may be redesigned every eight years, under state law, if funds are approved in the General Assembly’s annual budget. They are issued through Tennessee’s local county clerk offices when registration is renewed.
If Tennessee drivers renew online, the new plates are mailed to them and they are charged $5 for mailing costs.
Tennessee's most current license plate design appeared in 2022, replacing the one launched in 2006 which had been modified several times. The new version is blue with white letters and contains the seal of the state in the center.
The phrase "The Volunteer State" is printed on the top left corner to the left of the state map. The county name is written at the center bottom of the plate. The plate has three alphabet letters – all consonants – and four numbers separated by the state's flag emblem.
How Many License Plates Are Required in Tennessee?
Most states require that every vehicle on the road have two license plates attached to a vehicle, but Tennessee is one of the “rugged nineteen” states that require only one plate.
It shares this category with Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Where Is the License Plate Located?
In Tennessee, the law specifies a mandatory location for the license plate, but it is not the same for all types of vehicles. All personal vehicles (noncommercial motor vehicles) must have the license plate attached to the rear bumper of the vehicle.
This is also the case for trucks weighing less than three-quarters of a ton that have a pickup or panel body style, as well as all motor homes, regardless of size and weight.
License plates for motorcycles, trailers, semi trailers and dealer plates should also be placed on the vehicle's rear. However, large trucks that weigh more than three-quarters of a ton and truck tractors in Tennessee must have a license plate attached to the front of the vehicle.
One License Plate Required
Two license plates are not required in Tennessee: it's a one-plate state. Most vehicles must have the plate attached in the rear. Note that only trucks weighing more than three-quarters of a ton and truck tractors attach the plate in the front.
How Many Different License Plates Are Available?
The state of Tennessee offers vehicle owners a large selection of license plates, available to those who wish to pay more for such plates. Tennessee has over 100 specialty license plates currently available on the TNDMV website. There are a lot to choose from.
Are There Rules for Attaching License Plates?
In Tennessee, as in all states, the license plate must be securely attached to the vehicle in a horizontal position. It should be attached on all corners in a clearly visible location on the rear of the vehicle and should not swing.
When the plate is fastened to the vehicle, the bottom edge must be more than 12 inches above the ground. That helps the owner keep it free of debris and in good condition so that it is easy to read. Tennessee law does not permit any tinted materials to be placed over a license plate, whether or not the tint conceals the printing on the plate.
A violation of any of these Tennessee laws is considered a misdemeanor, but not the type of offense that sends an owner to court. It is simply necessary to correct the issue and pay a fine. Subsequent fines are higher than the first fine and court costs can be added.
Are Temporary Tags Available?
In certain specific circumstances, temporary tags can be ordered from the Tennessee Department of Revenue. For example, motor vehicle dealers are permitted to issue temporary operation plates, called dealer drive-out tags or green tags. These can be used by a buyer of automobiles and motorcycles while waiting for permanent vehicle registration plates.
Similarly, trailer manufacturers can issue five-day temporary plates for trailers, called yellow tags. These can be used by those who buy trailers and need to transport them to their home state.
In addition, vehicle owners can apply for red tag, or temporary operation permits, if they are having problems with the vehicle's title. Note that these red tags cannot be issued for vehicles that fail inspection requirements or for salvage vehicles.
Are License Plate Lights Mandatory in Tennessee?
The simple answer is yes. The owners of motor vehicles that came out of the factory with license plate lights – all or almost all vehicles – must keep those lights in good repair. The plates must be illuminated at all times when the vehicle headlights are illuminated.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.