Skip to Content

Do Rental Cars Have License Plates?

Do Rental Cars Have License Plates?

Some travelers want to know in advance what style of license plate their rental vehicle will have, since there are a few obvious identifying marks on rental vehicle license plates that could potentially make the car a target for vandals and thieves in some areas.

Just all other vehicles currently on the road, rental cars have to have valid license plates as well. These license plates may look different or have unique symbols that are only used on rental vehicles, but they are still required by law to have proper registration and identification in the form of a license plate.

Read on to learn more about license plates on rental cars.

Can You Tell If a Car is Rented?

While very few rental cars will blatantly advertise their company on the side of the car in large text, but they generally they will advertise their company in some smaller and less obvious way. The most common option is using a license plate frame that has the rental company name and phone number.

License plates themselves are normally very regular looking, without any obvious markings identifying them as being for a rental car. 

However, some companies and some license registration offices will specifically have minor marks for fleets of rental cars.

These markings or other identifying factors could be a unique color variation on the tag itself, similar to custom or limited edition license plates for individuals.

This is one of the more common ways a rental company will mark their vehicles, and in some states it is required by that area’s DMV.

A much less obvious mark may be on the sticker which has the expiration date. On passenger vehicles registered to an individual, the sticker may be white in color. However, on a rental vehicle registered to a company, this sticker could be orange.

Normally, marks like this are overlooked by other drivers, and oftentimes vandals, but are easily recognized by highway patrol and parking lot attendants. 

Another option, though much less common overall and only really done in certain states such as Idaho and Washington, are small shapes or symbols on the license plate itself.

These can be stamped or printed on, but might be something simple like a solid colored circle or square, or even a heart shape. 

These unique shapes can also be found on certain custom plates, such as those that benefit charities for children, medical research, and animal care.

Out of State License Plates

Many rental cars, and even rental trucks such as Ryder and U-Haul, may have license plates from other states.

You have probably noticed this as well when you visit a car rental company to view their selection and see license plates from Florida, California, Montana, or other states nowhere near your current location.

There are a couple reasons why this happens, so let’s take a closer look at the two most likely explanations.

One Way Rentals

In some cases, an individual may rent a car in order to travel to an airport or when moving from one state to another. In this situation, you would rent the vehicle in your home state and drop it off at your destination which could be halfway across the country.

One Way Rentals
One way rental vehicles will have licenses originally registered in their home state, but when they are dropped off at another location that license plate is now an out of state license plate. 

In this case, they are usually driven back to their home location once or twice a year to keep vehicles in stock at all locations for that particular rental company.

Cheaper Registration Fees

The other most common reason some rental vehicles have out of state plates is due to registration prices. Some states will charge less to register single vehicles and fleets of vehicles than other states.

Cheaper Registration Fees

For rental companies, it might be financially sound to take these vehicles to a neighboring state in order to get them all registered and licensed.

It is still well within the law, and helps the company meet all legal road safety requirements, but it also helps save hundreds or even thousands of dollars for the rental company depending on the number of vehicles they have to register.

Are Rental Car License Plates Bad?

While it is required by law that rental cars have valid license plates registered to that vehicle, in some areas, a very obvious rental car plate can be considered dangerous, such as large cities where vehicle break-ins are common.

Thieves and vandals will seek out these vehicles by looking at the license plate, knowing there could be valuables inside left by travelers new to the city. While this does not happen in every city that rental cars are commonly found, it can be something to keep in mind in high-crime areas.

Key Takeaways for License Plates on Rental Cars

Most rental cars do have license plates, although their design will change somewhat from a normal car. This could include symbols being on the plate, a different color plate altogether, or specific color tags as well.

Zach Reed

Hi, I'm the founder of! Having owned a wide variety of vehicles in my life, I was astounded at how hard it can be to find answers to common automotive questions. Rather than sit idly, I decided to create this website to help others!