Vehicle registration is important because it keeps track of every vehicle in California, a policy that’s meant to keep both drivers and the public as a whole safe. Conveniently for the government, registration is not free and must be paid by vehicle owners every year, so it’s also a way the state of California maintains and funds highway infrastructure.
We’ve laid out a guide to what happens when driving with expired tags in California and several ways to defend yourself against an expired registration charge or at least reduce the penalties.
Can I Drive With An Expired Registration?
Short answer: No. The long answer is that, while you can leave your car in your driveway (or anywhere on private property) with an expired registration, the moment you drive it into public roads and spaces, you’re doing something illegal. California Vehicle Code § 5204(a) states that every vehicle on public streets must have current tags for registration on the rear number license plate.
Car owners in California prove they’ve paid to renew their registration by placing new stickers, known as tags, on their rear license plates each year. These tags are now usually delivered to your address by mail and are what is used by traffic officials to determine whether or not your registration is expired. Suppose you forgot to put them on your back license plate, misplaced them, or simply didn’t renew your registration. In that case, you can end up with something as simple as a warning or as severe as your car getting impounded, with even jail time being possible.
The Penalties For Driving With An Expired Registration
Usually, being less than six months behind on renewing your registration is not a major issue, but being more than six months late on your renewal means you’re in more trouble.
Warnings and Tickets
If your registration is less than six months expired, the officer will likely pull you over and issue either a warning or citation. If it’s more than six months, then the ticket will be more severe and the fines as well.
Your Car Is Towed Or Impounded
Your vehicle might be towed or impounded if it’s been more than six months since your registration expired or if you’ve been cited multiple times for not having your new tags placed on your license plate.
Get Fined For Expired Registration
The price for driving with an expired registration is fines that are between $100 and $200. The starting fine is actually just $25, but there are many surcharges, like a tax multiplier that takes the price of the ticket into the $200 range. You can add other court surcharges to that. It will only get more expensive the longer your vehicle’s registration is expired or if you keep getting cited for expired tags.
Time In Jail
In the most extreme cases, drivers with expired registrations can spend up to 15 days in jail if there have been multiple violations and the care has been unregistered for a long period of time.
A day in court is a possibility if your citation requires it, even if you go ahead and fix the problem with your tags or registration. You don’t have much of a choice whether or not to attend. On the plus side, you can maybe have your ticket dismissed if you renewed your registration and just pay a dismissal fee.
How to Defend Against Driving On Expired Registration Charge
If you get pulled over for not having up-to-date tags on your license plates, there are many ways to avoid some or worst penalties.
Prove Your Registration Is Not Expired
A common problem is that you are up to date on your car’s registration, but the tags haven’t arrived yet, or you simply forgot to place them. In cases like that, there are two options to avoid paying a fine:
- Show your registration to the officer online via your phone. Log into your DMV account and prove you’ve paid your registration but just forgot the tags. They’ll let you off with warming most times.
- Show it later at court if you can’t provide proof to the officer at the moment they pull you over. You must submit a Proof of Correction form.
Renew Your Registration Immediately
The easiest way to avoid hefty fines is to fix the issue right away. If your tags are genuinely expired, then you renew your registration within 30 days, notify the court and appear in it to lower the fines in your citation. If you prove that you renewed, all you must do is pay a dismissal fee and show the proof of correction in order to for the court to dismiss the charge. In Los Angels and Orange counties, you can do this without seeing a judge by simply going to the court clerk’s traffic window.
Don’t fail to appear in court. Your case and ticket will be referred to Collections and a failure to appear charge will be placed on your driver’s license, increasing the risk of you being later caught driving with a suspended license on top of your expired registration charge. Your case will get many times more serious if this happens.
If things get too serious or complicated, don’t go to court alone and unprepared. You might have legitimate reasons why couldn’t pay your registration renewal on time.
Please contact us at Ticket Snipers if you have any questions about driving with an expired registration and how to defend yourself against expired tag citations. We are available 24/7 if you’d like to chat with one of our trained consultants about expired registration ticket defense.