In general, motorists must obtain new registration plates in California when they purchase a new vehicle. In certain cases, car owners must also apply for a new license plate when they acquire used vehicles. Car registration plates help law enforcement officials to identify vehicles on the road and access the driving records of vehicle owners. Additionally, a CA DMV license plate is responsible for identifying a vehicle’s type of registration.

Furthermore, drivers must get a license plate through the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) immediately after purchasing a vehicle that is not properly titled and registered with the correct car owner information. To learn more about how to obtain, replace or renew a license plate, read the following sections.

Types of License Plates in California

The DMV provides numerous types of car registration tags in California for vehicle owners to choose from. Among the most common DMV car tags offered in the state, consider the following:

  • Standard plates for passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles, motorcycles or trailers
  • Plates for permanent trailer identification
  • Special interest plates for passenger vehicles and motorcycles
  • Special license plates, including plates for historic vehicles
  • Special recognition license plates, such as Purple Heart or Legion of Valor plates
  • Legislative plates
  • Occupational license plates for dealers or dismantlers
  • Apportioned plates
  • Disability placards, motorcycle transportation permits, bicycle license plates, tow dolly decals, off-highway motor vehicle plates or vehicle identification number (VIN) plates
  • Temporary operating permits, for buyers who purchase a vehicle from a licensed dealer

In addition to obtaining new car tags, you must affix the appropriate decal to the license plate before you may operate the motor vehicle on public roadways. Without a valid license plate tab, a license plate is not valid.

How to Apply for a License Plate in California

As a general rule, you must obtain new registration plates within 10 days from the date of purchase of a new or used vehicle. If you are applying for a car tag after purchasing a vehicle from a private party, you must visit a local DMV office and complete the application process in person. Furthermore, when applying for CA car registration tags, you must submit the vehicle title, a bill of sale (if applicable), an odometer mileage disclosure (if the vehicle is younger than 10 years of age), a smog certification (if applicable) and an acceptable payment method for any registration and license plate fees.

On the other hand, if you purchase a vehicle from a car dealership rather than a private seller, the dealer will submit all of the California DMV license plate application materials on your behalf. In most cases, you will receive your new plates within 30 to 45 days of purchasing your vehicle.

How to Renew License Plate Tags in California

Vehicle owners must renew license plate credentials once per year. During the CA license plate renewal process, motorists have to complete the car registration renewal procedure as well. Moreover, applicants must obtain new license plate decals and pay the annual renewal fee. In most cases, drivers may apply for a tag renewal online, by mail, in person or over the phone. When renewing license plate stickers online, drivers must complete the following steps:

  • Refer to the vehicle’s registration renewal notice for specific renewal instructions. If necessary, use the DMV online portal to request an address change.
  • Before renewing car tags online, drivers must file their smog certification with the DMV, if applicable.
  • Drivers may renew car tags online by using the state DMV’s online renewal system. Applicants will be asked to enter the vehicle’s license plate number and the last five digits of the vehicle identification number (VIN) or vessel hull identification number (HIN).

After renewing California license plates online, you will receive the new license plate decals in the mail within five business days.

If drivers cannot complete the online license plate renewal process, they may apply for a renewal by mail, in person or over the phone. To renew by telephone, motorists must refer to their registration renewal notice to locate their vehicle’s renewal ID number (RIN). Then, motorists must contact the DMV’s automated telephone service. Conversely, drivers may renew car registration plates in person at a DMV office or by mailing all renewal paperwork to the proper Department of Motor Vehicles mailing address.

How to Replace License Plates in California

You must replace a license plate as soon as possible if you lose, misplace or damage your car tags or stickers. When replacing a license plate, you will be asked to complete an application form and submit it to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. This can be done either in person at a DMV office or by sending the application form and required paperwork to the department’s appropriate mailing address. Furthermore, in order to replace a car tag or its sticker, you must submit an acceptable payment method along with your application documentation.

How to Transfer License Plates in California

When you get a DMV car tag in California, the plate must remain on the vehicle after you sell it, unless you wish to transfer it to a different vehicle. If you wish to transfer a registration plate from one vehicle to another, you must remove it prior to selling or disposing of a car. Furthermore, you may only transfer car registration tags in California for special interest plates, environmental plates or special recognition license plates. To transfer your license plates, you must fill out the appropriate application form and submit it along with a payment for the applicable transfer fees.

California License Plate Fees

Specific DMV license plate fees vary according to the type of car, as well as its purchase date and price. Moreover, fees for new car tags vary depending on the vehicle owner’s county of residence, gross vehicle weight, unpaid parking violations and type of license plate. In addition, when replacing car tags in California, motorists must pay an additional replacement fee per sticker or plate.

Additional charges apply to specialty and personalized plates.

License Plate Lookups in California

Before purchasing a vehicle and applying for car registration plates in California, you may perform an online license plate lookup to learn more about a vehicle’s history. When you perform a DMV car tag lookup, you can learn details about a car’s previous owner, its manufacturer and important safety and/or recall information.

Last updated on Tuesday, March 10 2020.