Ask A Trooper

Sgt. Jesse Grabow

Question: When it comes to the registration stickers on your license plate, are they called tabs or tags?

  Answer: Good question. The Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) refers to them as tabs and/or stickers. I personally call them tabs. Although it does make me think of the ‘90s Aaron Tippin country song that says, “I got stopped by a cop late last night, out-of-date tags and no taillights.” Having traveled around our great county I have heard them called both. I think it depends on the region or state you are from.

License plates have been around for more than 100 years. In the beginning, just as vehicles were much different than they are today, so were license plates. They originally needed to be purchased and replaced each year because the date was stamped on. In the 1940s some states started issuing tabs. Most often the tab was a small piece of metal attached to the license plate so the plate itself could be used for more than just a year. This helped save metal for World War II.

  In the mid-1950s the federal government and the Automobile Manufacturers Association agreed to a standard license plate size, standardized mounting holes and a maximum six-digit registration number format. By the mid-1970s metal tabs/tags were a thing of the past and most states were issuing registration stickers.

License plates have changed significantly in recent years, from reflectivity to graphics. But how you place and display your registration has remained the same for quite some time.

License plates cannot be displayed in the front windshield or the rear window; they must be displayed on the front and rear of the vehicle. All plates must be securely fastened to prevent them from swinging. They must be displayed horizontally with numbers and letters facing outward from the vehicle and mounted in the upright position. The person driving the motor vehicle must keep the plate legible, unobstructed and free from grease, dust or other blurring material (dirt, mud, snow, etc.) so the lettering is plainly visible at all times. It is unlawful to cover any letters, numbers or the name of the state with any material, including any clear or colorless material that affects the plate’s visibility or reflectivity. This also includes license plate brackets that block the state of issuance and tabs.

  License plates must display the month of expiration in the lower left corner of each plate and the year of expiration in the lower right corner of each plate.

Tabs or tags? Call them what you want. Just make sure they are up to date.