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Why Do Pickup Trucks Have Different License Plates? (Find Out)

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Pickup trucks are clearly not the same type of vehicle as cars, SUVs, or minivans. However, you would think they would have the same license plates as they share some of the same uses.

If you have ever owned a pickup truck, you know that is not necessarily the case.

Pickup trucks may have different license plates because drivers use them for reasons other than routine transportation. The plates can also vary depending on the size of the pickup truck. Depending on the laws in your state, there are different license plates for pickup trucks that drivers can choose from.

It can be confusing to understand why some pickup trucks have different license plates than most cars or other motor vehicles. The key to understanding this is to learn about the different license plates pickup trucks can have and why.

side view young woman sitting on trunk of pickup truck

Why Do Pickup Trucks Have Different License Plates?

Pickup trucks may have different license plates than regular vehicles, like cars, SUVs, and minivans, because people drive them for different purposes. Some of these purposes require more or less tax money and registration fees for the license plates.

Drivers have to select the license plates that match the size and purpose of their pickup truck. It can vary by state, but there are usually separate plates for small-sized, mid-sized, and large-sized pickup trucks.

There will also be different plate options for farm and commercial trucks, especially those hauling large cargo. Depending on the state, pickup trucks that drivers use for towing trailers and hauling equipment may require a weighted tag.

What Are the Different Types of License Plates for Pickup Trucks?

Each state offers a variety of different license plates for pickup trucks. Here are several possible options that your state may offer, although not all states have the same options.

Passenger License Plate

smiling dog on back of black pickup truck

A pickup truck passenger (or private) license plate is a standard option in many states. However, there are different levels depending on the weight and size of the truck.

Different states will have different weight options, but if you only use the truck for commuting and pleasure, it will likely fall into this category.

Heavy Truck License Plate

Commercial Building Construction Worker Staying on His Pickup Truck Cargo Bed

Many states categorized trucks weighing over a specific amount as “heavy trucks,” and they require a different license plate. These are typically pickup trucks that are at least over 5,000 pounds.

Commercial License Plate

young couple carrying christmas tree to pickup bed

A commercial license plate is another option for many pickup truck drivers, depending on the state. A commercial license plate is specifically for drivers who use their trucks as a part of a business and for performing work of some kind.

Combined Commercial and Private License Plate

Technician changing plate number

There are some states that automatically require pickup truck drivers to purchase combination plates that are for both commercial and private use. The states that require this assume that most drivers use their trucks for both commercial and private use.

Special Weighted Declaration or Plate


Several states require pickup drivers to either purchase weighted license plates or declare the amount of weight they intend to haul.

The weight of the truck determines the exact license plate that drivers need; however, those that intend to haul any additional weight will usually need to buy a tag that reflects that extra weight.

This is for more than just a mid-size pickup truck hauling a small utility trailer. These tags or declarations are for trucks hauling substantial amounts of weight. This would include hauling tractors, heavy equipment, or other heavy cargo.

The more a pickup truck weighs or will be hauling, the more the plate or declaration will cost.

Recreational License Plate

set of friends standing back of pickup truck

Your state may offer an option for a recreational license plate for your pickup truck.

This is usually for pickup trucks that are only used for recreational purposes and for fun, not for commuting to work or hauling cargo or equipment.

Farm License Plate

old farm truck sunset

To obtain a farm license plate for a pickup truck, typically, the state will require that drivers only use the truck solely for farm purposes. Drivers with a farm license plate should not use the truck for daily commutes to work or for non-farm-related reasons.

Dual Purpose Farm License Plates

old couple harvesting apples standing back of pickup truck

Some states offer a dual-purpose farm license plate for drivers who want to use a pickup truck for farm purposes and commuting. Typically, these are smaller-sized pickup trucks, and there may be a truck weight limit.

Do the Different Pickup Truck License Plates Look Different?

It can vary from state to state, but the license plates for pickup trucks can look noticeably different from regular passenger cars and vans. They may start with specific letters or numbers, depending on the state.

These plates will sometimes include the distinction for the type of plate it is, such as farm truck, pleasure, or commercial. Again, this all depends on the state and the specifications for licensing there.

man holding american car license plate

How Do I Know What Kind of License Plate My Pickup Truck Needs?

The best way to find out exactly what kind of license plate your pickup truck needs is to either contact or visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). They will be able to tell you the correct pickup truck license plate you need to register for.

Another option is to visit your state’s DMV website. There should be a section that discusses the different types of license plate options in that state.

How Much Do the Different Types of Pickup Truck License Plates Cost?

The different types of pickup truck license plates can vary greatly depending on the purpose. Typically, the cost of the plate increases with the size of the pickup truck and its purpose.

Smaller pickup trucks and those used on farms are cheaper than commercial pickup trucks or those requiring weighted declarations. 

man changing license plate

What Should I Do if I Realize I Am Using the Wrong License Plates on My Pickup Truck?

You should call or visit your local DMV as soon as possible to correct the issue. Do not simply wait until the registration expires on your current license plate if you know it is the wrong one for your pickup truck. 

Avoid driving the truck until you obtain the appropriate license plate for it. Often, it is just a case of owing additional money, and you might not even need to get an entirely new license plate.

male police officers check vehicle clipboard

What Happens if I Use the Wrong License Plate on a Pickup Truck?

Purchasing the wrong license plate for your pickup truck can cause some significant problems for you down the road. If a police officer discovers that you are using the wrong tag, you could be in store for some hefty fines.

Farm license plates are usually the cheaper tag option. However, that does not mean it is a good idea to try to get one for your private or commercial-use truck.

Officers that catch drivers using a farm tag on a truck that is being used for non-farm work purposes can issue fines or tickets.

Having the appropriate license plate for hauling heavy, weighted cargo is very important. Many officers regularly check pickup trucks carrying heavy loads to make sure they have the correct license plates on their pickup trucks.

The fines for not following the license plate protocols for pickup trucks, especially when it comes to weight, can be substantial. It is definitely not worth the risk.  

young woman short hair with hat sitting back of pickup truck

Concluding Thoughts

Pickup trucks have different license plates because drivers often use them for reasons other than just pleasure or commuting. Every state has its own rules when it comes to license plates and pickup trucks. It is extremely important to choose the right license plate for your pickup truck to avoid fines and other issues.


Researching the reasons why pickup trucks have different license plates was an interesting adventure. These are the sources I used to write this article.