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Why Don’t Tesla Drivers Think They Need Front Plates?

Spoiler alert (car joke): They do.

2:59 AM CDT on August 18, 2021

four teslas: one red, one white, and two blue. none of them have front license plates.
Em Cassel|

Four Teslas. Zero plates.

Earlier this summer, I started noticing something about Teslas. 

First, I started noticing Teslas. Elon Musk’s futuristic electric cars have gone from a notable rarity (“My Lyft last night was a Tesla!”) to an inevitability (“Of course there are two Teslas on the destination charger at the Edina Galleria.”)

But something about the cars felt off. They were so… round, or something. The shape felt weird. They looked fine, and yet somehow too smooth? It took a while to pinpoint the source of that weirdness: Unlike just about every other car around them, many Teslas don’t have front license plates. 

With the incongruity identified, I saw them everywhere: on the highway, at the liquor store, in the parking ramp at the mall. It felt like at least a third of the time, they were missing one of two plates. 

Confirmation bias? Perhaps. But consider the following: Each Tesla pictured above was photographed between 3:54 p.m. and 6:35 p.m. on Saturday evening. That’s not a huge window! 

I haven’t been going out of my way to find them—it is the Teslas that are finding me. And I’m not talking about cars with temporary dealer tags; these are full-fledged Model X’s and Y’s. Cars have to have front plates, right? So why do you see so many Teslas around the Twin Cities without them?

The answer was one Google search away: Luxury car people don’t like how front plates look. It’s apparently a common enough feeling that Teslas don’t even have front plate mounts installed. 

That isn’t a problem for people in states like Pennsylvania or Tennessee or Kentucky, where drivers are only required to display a rear plate. But in most states—including Minnesota—front plates are nonnegotiable. 

From Minnesota State Statute (M.N.) 169.79: “No person shall operate, drive or park a motor vehicle on any roadway unless the vehicle is registered in accordance with the laws of this state and has the license plates or permit confirming that valid registration or operating authority has been obtained.”

The statute does outline some exceptions. Classic cars, motorcycles and scooters, and small trailers need only a rear plate. Farm vehicles, like road-tractors, need one front plate. 

“If the motor vehicle is any kind of motor vehicle other than those provided for in subdivisions 2 to 4,” the statute states—and Teslas are not—then “one plate must be displayed on the front and one on the rear of the vehicle.”

Existing Tesla models may not come with a front plate mount attached to the car, but the company does provide one that drivers can affix themselves. You can install the holder by drilling into the front nose of the car, or you can attach it with adhesives. Here’s a guy in Maryland who “ruined” his Model 3 (aesthetically, that is) by taping a plate on the front:

A mount isn’t hard to find or install, but many Tesla drivers don’t want to install front plates. Dig around the forums on the dealer’s site, and you’ll find people like this:

Or these two:

Get a load of this guy:

Shoot them all into space IMO.

Not all Tesla drivers are this way, of course. There are kind and helpful people in these forums who point out that it’s not worth the risk (and not all that much of a hassle) to put your front plates on. Plenty of Twin Cities Teslas are tooling around with the requisite sheets of stamped metal, and they’re reading this thinking, “What the fuck! #NotAllTeslas!”

And look, I don’t really care if you have a full set of plates on your car. We’ve all let our registrations lapse or driven around with a tail light out or whatever. I certainly don’t think it’s good or safe for police to pull people over for these kinds of minor traffic infractions. (Though it does make you wonder… how many of these luxury autos, available mostly to the affluent, are getting pulled over for driving without a front plate?)

But the Tesla thing smacks of a certain privilege. As if because you spent $90k on a Model X you’re somehow above the rest of us morons whose aerodynamically challenged Subaru Outbacks and Ford Tauruses came with front plate mounts.

Take a look next time you pass or park near a Tesla. Does it have a front plate? Does that driver think they're better than you?

Impossible to say. For the second question, at least.

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