I wonder who started the trend of off-center license plate frame relocation kits. Was it for the looks? Maybe it was for practical purposes (actually it is practical, it removes a potential wind break from right in front of where a front mount intercooler would reside, but I digress)? Who ever that brave soul was, they created one of the great aesthetics of tuner culture, your car won’t look the business until you get one. Now, I am normally not one to add unnecessary exterior pieces to my cars, I like to choose function over form. But in this case, I really wanted that look so I decided to buy a plate relocation kit from Amazon, since this wasn’t a performance part, I figured I could cut a corner and save some money.
Yeah, don’t do that.
After searching on Amazon for what I thought was a deal, I ordered one. I figured it was basically aluminum, steel plate, and a couple of screws, what could go wrong? The kit consisted of an aluminum bar that screws into the tow hook hole in the nose of the car, a steel plate with multiple attachment points to get the angle of the plate just right, and hardware to attach the plate to the bar. It was a basic install, that anyone with tools should be able to do in a small amount of time. I should have known that maybe this was a bad idea when I went to install the aluminum bar. I got it started into the tow hook hole, but I was having some issue getting the threads to catch, but I was able to get it tightened down and then proceeded to attach the plate, my license plate and the plate frame. I used blue Loctite on all the license plate frame nuts and everything was good for about two weeks.
As you may or may not know, my Mazdaspeed 3 is not a daily driver. I installed this plate relocation kit on the car and maybe drove it three times in that two-week span (gasp! I know, but the weather that stretch was rainy, fight me) so the kit was installed on the car and there were no issues. During that time, I was also working in the garage on my Miata and just so happened to walk in front of the Mazdaspeed 3 when I brushed the license plate frame with my pants and the WHOLE ASSEMBLY FELL OFF THE FRONT OF THE CAR.
Apparently, the reason why I had such an issue during installation is that the thread on the aluminum bar that goes into the tow hook hole sheared off. I tried multiple times to get that bar re-threaded and it did not want to cooperate. I was left feeling frustrated because my license plate kit fell off and mad at myself for cutting corners when I should know better. Right then, I decided to make things right, came inside and ordered the Toe Tag kit from James Barone Racing.
The Toe Tag kit from James Barone Racing consists of a nicely milled aluminum bar, aluminum plate bracket and all hardware needed for installation. While it does come with a heftier price tag than my $20 mistake ($75 vs $20), I have had no issues with any of the other parts I have ordered from JBR and would highly recommend them to anyone.
Comparing the two plate relocation kits side by side the $55 dollar price difference does not readily jump out at you. Other than the stripped threads on the budget kit, both looked quality. So where did the difference begin to assert itself? When I went to install the JBR aluminum bar.
The $20 kit’s aluminum bar had an issue threading up. I could get it started by hand and then after the first couple revolutions, it did not want to thread any farther. I even used some assembly lube on the threads in hopes that it would help me get more threads into the tow hook boss. But I would only get the first couple of threads and it would stop, even with a wrench. The JBR aluminum bar, I again used lube on the threads and got it started by hand and it threaded up far easier and I was able to get a couple twists in before it got tough to turn by hand. That is when I decided to use a wrench. I grabbed a socket and my 1/2″ ratchet, I figured if the bar could not handle this I would just go back to my old plate setup. I was able to tighten the bar all the way to the stop. That bar is IN there. I could apply pressure to the ratchet handle and see that it was visibly moving the car. No chance brushing it with my leg was going to make it fall out!
After the bar was in, I used the JBR supplied hardware to finish the installation. The plate frame can only be installed in one direction, JBR even includes a sticker on the frame indicating which end should be facing up. I also made sure to use blue Loctite on all the nuts and bolts. Post installation I made sure to give everything a good tug, nothing short of a hard impact is going to get move that plate, let alone have it fall out!
I am really pleased with the Toe Tag kit, there were no installation issues and if for some reason you do get stuck, JBR has installation instructions for everything that they sell on their website. While it does cost more than the budget $20 kit, I personally feel like the price was worth it just from the fact it was better engineered and it was a effortless installation. Now my car is back to being legal and I do not have to worry about the front plate falling off!
With the front plate situation handled, I can get back to researching that front mount intercooler setup!
Now go outside and zoom-zoom!