Some interesting facts and twists about custom license plates in California

Here are some interesting facts and twists about custom license plates in California:

  1. You can license a vehicle with a license plate from another state, even if you do not live there.
  2. If you license a vehicle in California and then decide to license it in another State, you must remove the license plates issued by California before applying for license plates issued by the other State or you will be required to pay California’s Vehicle License Fee (VLF) when your car is registered in that State. 
  3. Since the 1950s custom license plates have been outlawed in California: “Assembly Bill 541 was passed and took effect Jan 1, 1955 prohibiting new vanity and custom license plates. Existing plates were grandfathered.” 
  4. “Assembly Bill 541 is still in effect today.” 
  5. If license plates are required in California, they must be issued by the DMV.
  6. “Motorcycle license plates are not mandatory in California.” Indeed, license plates are not required for motorcycles in any state. However, if you license your motorcycle with a license plate from another state with no VLF fee attached, then license it again in California without removing your out-of-state license plate, you will have to pay the VLF on your second registration.
  7. When buying a used vehicle that already has license plates or when licensing an unregistered vehicle that has never had license plates before, you will most likely have to provide proof of ownership via an acceptable vehicle verification form issued by the California DMV, such as a pink slip or certificate of ownership.
  8. “Vehicle license fees (VLF) are determined by: 
  • Type and weight of the vehicle; 
  • The county where it will be registered; and 
  • Whether Personalized Plates will be used.” 
  1. The counties in which license plates must be renewed annually are Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn Inyo Kern Kings Lassen Los Angeles Madera Marin Mariposa Mendocino Merced Mono Monterey Napa Nevada Placer Plumas Riverside Sacramento San Benito San Bernardino San Diego San Francisco San Joaquin Santa Barbara Santa Clara Santa Cruz Shasta Sierra Siskiyou Solano Sonoma Stanislaus Sutter Tehama Trinity Tulare Tuolumne Ventura Yolo Yuba.
  2. “There are no restrictions on the number of license plates an individual may request nor is a deposit or fee required to order license plates.
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  3. DMV license plate fees vary from $18 for standard license plates to $198 for personalized license plates with one-letter/two-number combinations and from $50 for standard motorcycle license plates to $178 for personalized motorcycle license plates with one-letter/three-number combinations. The total amount payable includes your license plate application, county use tax, and VLF and license plate fees. 
  4. DMV license plates can be transferred to another vehicle owner upon payment of the license plate transfer fee and surrender of the license plates with a letter signed by the registered owner releasing his or her interest in the license plates. License plates may be transferred to a new registered owner up to three months before and three months after the expiration of registration without penalty.
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  5. It is illegal for any person, other than the registrant, to use license plates issued to a vehicle on an automobile which is owned or controlled by him/her as shown in California Vehicle Code (CVC) 
  6. A vehicle license fee (VLF) exemption exists for University members who are 50 percent time or more by the University. 
  7. A license plate can be transferred to another owner if the license plate is expired, but only before the vehicle’s registration has been renewed for a period of time equal to one full calendar year from the date of expiration. If it has been more than a year since the license plates’ expiration, then you will need to pay California’s Vehicle License Fee (VLF) in addition to any other license plate fees and taxes owed. 
  8. “You cannot transfer license plates from a trailer.” 
  9. It is illegal to own or use custom license plates that do not meet DMV standards unless they are MR MRRSTUVWXYZ or 1A 1B 2 2B 3A 3B 4 4B 5A 5R 5S and license plates with code number combinations MR MRRSTUVWXYZ or 1A 1B 2 2B 3A 3B 4 4B 5A 5R 5S 
  10. “When license plate numbers are issued, they will be issued in the order that license plate applications are received.” 
  11. “The license plate owner is responsible for all fees or penalties.” 
  12. You may receive a license plate renewal form from the DMV up to 45 days before your license plates expiration date; however, there is no penalty if you do not receive it and you fail to renew on time. 


License plate fees vary from $18 to $198. License plates may be transferred to another owner before license plate expiration, but only after one full calendar year has passed since license plate expiration. 

If license plates are expired more than a year they need to pay California’s Vehicle License Fee (VLF) in addition to any other license plate fees or taxes owed. 

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