Is My Bike Rack Illegal?

Before heading out on the road, you may realize that your bike rack is blocking the license plate. Do you need to worry about being pulled over and receiving a ticket?

If your bike rack is obstructing the view of your license plate, it may be illegal, depending on your state.

While some states have exemptions that allow bike racks to partially obscure the license plate, many states do not allow it to be blocked. You must check the laws for your state to see if the law applies to you.

Types of Bike Racks That May Block the License Plate

If you’ve determined that your state has laws against blocking the license plate with a bike rack, you should know what types of bike racks this applies to. This is especially important if you haven’t purchased a bike rack yet or must purchase a new one to comply with state laws.

Recommended: Types of Bike Racks

1. Hitch-Mounted Bike Racks

Hitch-mount bike racks are attached to the hitch on the back of your car and extend upward. Since the hitch is directly in the center of your vehicle, it typically sits right in front of the license plate.

This type of bike rack is the most common to block the license plate. Although they typically don’t fully block the license plate when empty, they will obscure certain parts of it depending on the angle you’re looking at it.

Hitch-mount bike racks usually block the license plate more when the bikes are loaded. This could result in getting pulled over by police depending on the law in your state.

2. Trunk-Mounted Bike Racks

Trunk-mount bike racks are attached to the rear of the car using foam contact points and straps.

Although this type of rack less commonly blocks the license plate, some trunk-mount racks have contact points that rest on top of the license plate. This can partially or fully obscure it, even without bikes loaded onto the rack.

There are versions of trunk-mount bike racks that are specifically designed to avoid blocking the license plate, which is discussed below. You should still check the law in your state, since the license plate may still be blocked once the bikes are loaded.

Bike Racks That Won’t Block the License Plate

There are some bike racks that are designed to avoid blocking the license plate. The license plate will always be blocked to some degree once the bikes are loaded if you’re using any type of rear-mounted bike rack, but there are also bike racks that avoid this issue entirely.

Roof-Mounted Bike Racks

Roof-mount bike racks are attached to the roof of your car instead of the rear. This is the only option that will entirely avoid blocking the license plate under all conditions.

Roof-mount bike racks will allow you to leave the rear of your car free from any obstruction since the bike will rest on top of the car.

If you’re state has strict laws against blocking the license plate, this type of bike rack is best for you.

Recommended read: How Much Do Bike Racks Cost?

Some trunk-mount bike racks are designed for easy visibility of the license plate, especially when there are no bikes loaded.

Here are a few of the best trunk-mounted bike racks that won’t block the license plate.

1. Saris Bones

The contact points on the Saris Bones bike rack rest outside of the license plate, making it easy to view.

The Saris Bones is a very popular and safe trunk-mount bike rack. The rack is made of high-quality materials and is designed to be very study and compact. It fits most cars and clears low-profile spoilers.

The Saris Bones comes in a 3-bike capacity and 2-bike capacity.

Recommended: Best Trunk-Mount Bike Racks (2020)

2. Hollywood Racks F1B

The Hollywood Racks F1B bike rack also has contact points that rest outside of the license plate area. It is a great bike rack for the price that holds up to 3 bikes and fits most types of cars.

While the strapping mechanism is not as stable as the Saris Bones, the bike rack is cheaper. Consider your specific situation, such as how often you’ll use it or how far your trip is, to determine which bike rack might be best for you.

Ways to Fix a Bike Rack Blocking the License Plate

If your state has laws against blocking the license plate with a bike, you’ll need to fix it to avoid being pulled over by police and fined.

1. Obtain a Temporary Paper License Plate

Some states allow you to obtain another license plate to remain visible when a bike rack is in use. You must typically pay a small fee and attach the temporary plate (made of paper) to the rear windshield.

This will allow police officers to see your license plate while your bike rack is attached and loaded with bikes. This temporary plate should be removed along with the bike rack when you are no longer hauling bikes.

2. Relocate the License Plate

If the license plate isn’t visible while your bike rack is attached, you may relocate it to make it visible again. The process of relocating depends on the type of vehicle and bike rack, but with some adjustments it is possible.

This may be easy, but some states also require the license plate to be illuminated at night. This means you will have to make a system to keep light on the plate if you’re driving at night.

You should also check for other laws in your state regarding the proper attachment and visibility of the license plate.

3. Purchase a New Bike Rack

If you are unable to properly relocate the license plate or obtain a temporary plate, you may simply have to purchase a new bike rack to avoid being fined by police.

By purchasing a bike rack that won’t block the license plate, you’ll be able to avoid this issue entirely. You won’t have to worry about obtaining a temporary plate or relocating the license plate to be visible.

For many people, this may be the best long-term solution. Read the section above about bike racks that won’t block your license plate.

Other Ways Your Bike Rack May Be Illegal

Blocking the license plate may not be the only way your bike rack could violate the law.

Some states require bike racks to be removed when they are not in use. This means you shouldn’t be driving around with an empty bike rack. Check your state’s law to see if this applies to you.

Additionally, an unsafe bike rack can lead to legal problems.

Although an unsecure bike rack isn’t illegal itself, an improperly secured rack could violate the law when something goes wrong. If your bike rack fails, the bikes will fall onto the road, potentially damaging other cars or injuring others.

Unsecured loads on your car will also result in expensive fines and potentially even jail time! Unsecured load fines in the United States range from $10 to $5,000, with 16 states including jail time as a possible punishment (Source). Although some states may not heavily enforce these laws, it’s important to think about before hitting the road.

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