License Plates in California

Mar 7, 19 by Jorian Goes

License Plates in California

Temporary License Plates

California lawmakers have recently been moving towards stricter laws regarding vehicle license plates. This move is recognized by the recent signing of House Bill 516 by Governor Gary Brown in 2016 which now requires temporary license plates to be placed on new cars by the dealer, rather than an advertisement for the dealership.

Lawmakers want all vehicles, both new and used, to be well documented and easily recognizable by law enforcement officers. Further, individuals who use temporary tags which are assigned to a different vehicle or manufacture counterfeit tags can face felony charges if caught.

Permanent License Plates

California also has a unique system of permanent license plates which are vehicle specific and transfer to all new owners. A majority of states issue new license plates each time a vehicle is sold and purchased by a new owner.

Opposed to having a large license plate turnover, California has elected to assign a single license plate to each vehicle that stays with it throughout the vehicle’s life

These license plates are the generic California design that we all see on vehicles around us. This does not include any type of customized or individualized license plate that an owner may have had.

Customized License Plates

Vehicle owners in California can choose to select customized license plates for their vehicles. These license plates vary in design and often benefit a cause which is important to the vehicle owner. Examples of these personalized license plates include Breast Cancer Awareness, Museums, Pet Lovers, Agriculture, Memorial, Coastal, Tahoe, Arts, Veterans, & Kids.

These plates typically cost anywhere from $50 to $110 to initially obtain the license plate, followed by an annual renewal fee. The license plates which benefit a specific cause, such as the Breast Cancer Awareness plate have a renewal fee of $83, some of which is donated to the selected cause. License plates with these special backgrounds receive a random license plate number.

A personalized license plate that contains a customized lice plate number must meet certain requirements and once ordered no refunds will be issued. These personalized plates require an annual renewal fee, even if the plate is not on a registered vehicle to retain the license plate. Also, it is important to remember that the DMV will send you three postcards to notify you to pick up your personalized plate, but if it is not picked up within 30 days of the final notice the plate will be destroyed, and the selection will be made available to others.

A personalized license plate contains 7 letters, numbers, and spaces. Your plate can’t contain two half spaces in row. If you choose the Kids plate type your personalized license plate can contain an image of a heart, hand, star, or cross. The image will count as one of your seven letters, numbers, and spaces. The number 69 can only be placed on license plates that will be placed on vehicles of 1969 year models.

The DMV has final approval for all personalized license plates and will refuse any that have any connotations which are offensive to good taste and decency. Some criteria that is looked to includes:

1. If it contains any sexual connotation

2. The configuration contains a vulgar term or any insulting or degrading term

3. Any swear word or term that would be considered repulsive

4. The configuration contains a negative connotation to a specific group

5. It misrepresents law enforcement

6. The configuration has been deleted from regular license plates

7. It contains foreign or slang words/terms or is a phonetic spelling of a term falling into any of the previously described categories.

Another restriction is when your desired configuration is unavailable, you can’t substitute a letter or a number and vice versa, to make a configuration similar in appearance. An example that is given by the DMV is if the configuration NICE is unavailable you can’t replace the “I” with the number 1 to obtain N1CE.

Special License Plates

In addition to the personalized license plates, there are also Special License Plates which are available to those who qualify. These license plate options include Amateur Radio Stations, Antique Motorcycle or Historic Vehicle, California Firefighter and Families of Surviving Firefighters, Prisoners of War, Gold Star Family, Legion of Valor, Pearl Harbor Survivor, and Purple Heart. These license plates require an application to be completed by the vehicle owner and it also requires special documentation. Because these license plates represent that an individual has a special status, they have to supply documentation of their status. For example, an Ex-Prisoner of War must submit one of three specific documents that specifically identifies them as a POW.

All restrictions and guidelines regarding special interest license plates can be found in the California Code of Regulations Article 3.1 §160.00-180.00.