Is Your 4WD or Caravan Number Plate Legal?

Even if it’s factory fitted, the answer may not be as simple as you’d think

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Club 4X4 Insurance
Nov 23 2023
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Most road-going vehicles will need a number plate or registration plate of some description. For 4WDs, the front one is pretty easy with no requirement for a number plate light in Australia as most standard and aftermarket bumpers mount the number plate proudly with good visibility. When it comes to rear number plates though, adding off-road protection or mounts for things like spare tyres, jerry cans and bikes can make it difficult to find clear space where a number plate will be acceptably visible with room for adequate number plate lighting.

As with modifying any part of a 4WD, caravan or camper trailer, diving into the varying vehicle registration requirements around Australia can give you more headaches than clear answers. After chatting with our mate Steven McNaught at Tough Toys about the number plate relocation kits he’s recently released with careful consideration of Australian Design Rules (ADRs), we thought it worthwhile to take a deep dive on how to legally display a number plate on a 4WD, caravan or camper trailer.

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“The 2018+ JL Jeep Wranglers mount the number plate in the rear bumper as there’s a spare tyre carrier on the tailgate,” said Steven. “There was no option out there for a number plate mount with aftermarket rear bumpers and I’ve seen plenty zip tied on spare rims, which is definitely not legal without a light. I took it upon myself to develop an ADR-approved relocation bracket that retains the rear camera, but I knew this wasn’t just a Jeep problem, so I also developed a Universal 4WD & Caravan Rear Number Plate Relocation Bracket. It suits all of the usual 4X4 5-stud and 6-stud patterns for Ford, Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi Suzuki and Jeep, but caravans were a bit of a surprise market after people started asking if they’d fit. I was shocked at how many standard number plate mounts and lights I came across on caravans that didn’t meet ADRs!”

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What Do I Need to Know?

There’s a lot of detail in this article and plenty more reading to be done if you follow the links, but the simple takeaway is that if you follow the 2 most specific number plate mounting and lighting requirements below, then your 4WD, caravan or camper trailer’s number plates will likely meet registration requirements Australia wide. 

  1. Mount your number plates in an upright position that’s parallel with the axles, between 1300 mm and 300 mm above the ground, and visible within an arc of 45 degrees from 20 m away
  2. Fully illuminate the rear number plate with a colourless number plate light to maintain the visibility requirements above at night but without projecting light rearward

Be sure to keep your number plates clean and if you’re using number plate covers, ensure they’re clear, un-tinted and flat with no reflective or other characteristics that affect visibility.

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Federal Legislation

At the federal level, the ‘Third Edition Australian Design Rules (ADRs)’ are the latest legislation, applying from 1989 onwards to vehicles manufactured in Australia or imported to the Australian market, including 4WDs and trailers like caravans or camper trailers. 

‘Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 61/03 – Vehicle Marking) 2020’ covers mounting requirements for all vehicle types under clause 9, stating that no part of the rear registration plate can be more than 1300 mm above the ground. For motor vehicles requiring a front registration plate, the same 1300 mm maximum height applies. For rear number plates on L-Group vehicles (motorcycles) and TA category trailers (single axle with a GTM not exceeding 0.75 tonne) with an overall width that does not exceed 980 mm, the centre of each registration plate must also not be less than 300 mm from the ground.

‘Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 13/00 – Installation of Lighting and Light Signaling Devices on other than L-Group Vehicles) 2005’then dictates under clause 6.8 that having a rear number plate light is mandatory and that these should be installed in a number, arrangement and position that the site of the registration plate is illuminated. This is supplemented by ‘Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 48/00 – Devices for Illumination of Rear Registration Plates) 2006’ that gets very technical about the “photometric requirements for devices which illuminate the rear registration plate by reflection”. Under the general specifications of clause 5, the entire surface of the number plate must be illuminated within a field of vision displayed in Annex 4, and clause 6 states that light must be sufficiently colourless so as not the change the colour of the registration plate.

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State & Territory Requirements

While it’s not a national Australian Design Rule (ADR) requirement, many states and territories also mandate that front and rear number plates must be visible from 20 m away within an arc of 45 degrees from the surface of the plate, from above or to either side of the vehicle. This includes information published on government websites in Queensland, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales. The Northern Territory are a touch more lenient, applying the same 45 degrees for vehicles over 4.5 tonne GVM but reducing the requirement for visibility from above to 15 degrees for vehicles that are less than 4.5 tonne GVM.

South Australia simply state that front and rear numberplates must be clearly visible from the front and rear of the vehicle so that they can be read up to 20 metres away, day and night, but otherwise do not reference angles of visibility. Tasmania’s‘Vehicle and Traffic (Vehicle Standards) Regulations 2014 No. 70’ is similar in stipulating under ‘Division 6 – Number plate lights’ that number plates must be legible at night when viewed 20 metres from the rear of the vehicle but does not have a daytime visibility requirement above that of the ADRs.

Western Australia’s ‘Road Traffic (Vehicles) Regulations 2014’ is the least specific of the lot, with ‘Part 4 – Number Plates’, ‘Division 1 – Number plates generally’ stating under ‘r.119 Number plate to be fixed on vehicle’ that number plates must simply be rigidly fixed in a conspicuous place in an upright position and so that the characters on the plates are clearly visible and legible, day and night. This is then followed in ‘r.120 Preventing effective identification of number plate’ with a number of ‘ID prevention state’ scenarios that may prevent a number plate from being read, like bending, mounting at a different angle or obscuring with a bike rack.

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Playing It Safe with Mounting & Lighting

What does appear to be fairly standard across Australia is that number plates must be rigidly fixed to the vehicle, displayed parallel to the axle so that letters and numbers are upright and visible. If your number plates are supplied in 2 different sizes, the larger number plate must be displayed at the rear and the smaller number plate at the front where required. When mounting your number plates, if you take the conservative view of meeting the ADRs’ 1300 mm to 300 mm above the ground while also being visible from 20 m away through a 45-degree arc of visibility as stipulated by some states, then you’ll make your life a lot easier wherever you choose to register your vehicle.

It’s also mandatory across Australia that at least one number plate light must be fitted to the rear of most vehicles, including 4WDs, caravans and camper trailers. Number plate lights must use colourless light to illuminate the number plate and must be wired to stay on when the vehicle’s parking lights, headlights or taillights are on. Number plate lights must not project light to the rear of vehicles, only on to the number plate for illumination through reflection. So, as much as overkill can be handy when it comes to lighting, keep in mind that your number plate lights aren’t extra reversing lights and should only shine where they’re needed so as not to distract or confuse other drivers.

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We hope that this has been informative but if you have any questions about legal number plate display for your vehicle or another topic you’d like us to investigate, we’d love to hear from you! We know how challenging it can be to find the information you need to get 4WDs, caravans and camper trailers ready to explore Australia, which is why we take pride in providing insurance that can cover your modifications, right down to the little details like a Tough Toys Universal 4WD & Caravan Rear Number Plate Relocation Bracket.

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