Your California license plate number consists of a unique set of characters that associate your vehicle with:
- Your current registration status and details.
- Your name and address.
- Information about the vehicle itself.
Like the VIN number, the license plate number is another unique identifier of your vehicle.
Whether you’re getting the standard sequential plates or custom license plates, the process is basically the same.
And then after you’ve got your new plates you’ll need to make sure to keep them up to date and renew your car tags each year.
We’ve compiled all the information you’ll need to make it easy to get license plates for your vehicle in California.
Plus, we’ve got plenty of resources for buying and selling vehicles, get started here:
- Selling a Vehicle in California.
- Buying a Vehicle in California.
- Car Buyer’s Guides.
- Car Seller’s Guides.
How to Get a License Plate in California
When you buy a new or used vehicle in California, you’ll first need to transfer ownership into your name.
If you’ve bought a car from a dealership, they’ll typically take care of this process for you.
But, if you’ve purchased a car from a private seller, you’ll be responsible for completing the process through the DMV.
Once the title is transferred into your name, you’ll be ready to register the vehicle and get your new license plates. In most cases, you’ll be able to take care of these steps all at once.
You’ll have 10 days to apply for your new CA tags.
Visit your local DMV office in person to get your new plates.
To get new license plates in California, you’ll typically need to:
- Provide proof of ownership for the vehicle you need plates for.
- Complete an application for a new California registration.
- Complete a VIN inspection, depending on the type of vehicle and if you bought it out of state.
- Complete any necessary vehicle safety and emissions inspections.
- Provide proof of car insurance and/or have an active policy for the vehicle that meets California’s minimum insurance requirements.
- Have paid all necessary state, local, sales and use taxes.
- Pay your initial registration and license plate fees.
In some cases, you may receive your new license plates on the spot. In other cases, your new plates will be mailed to you within about 2 to 3 weeks.
After you’ve received your new California tags, you’ll need to install them. Learn how to remove and install license plates with this simple guide.
Be sure to mount them properly and affix the necessary car tags to the plate.
How much will my car tag cost in California?
The exact cost of your car tags will depend on the type of vehicle you have, the type of license plates, and where you live.
Base fees for your car tags typically start at $62.
The total cost of your car tags will vary depending on:
- The weight of your vehicle.
- The value/age of your vehicle.
- The type of vehicle you have (gasoline, hybrid, electric).
- Sale price, if applicable.
- Local fees and taxes.
- Specialty and personalized license plate fees, if applicable.
For the most up-to-date car tag costs for your vehicle, please visit the official DMV website or refer to your renewal notice.
Does California require a front license plate?
Yes, you will need to display a front license plate in California.
Learn more about front license plate requirements here.
Where do you place the car tag in California?
Your California car tag goes on the rear license plate.
Failing to keep your plates and car tags valid, up-to-date, and properly mounted can result in a ticket. (What are car tags?)
California License Plate Renewal
In order to continue driving legally, you’ll need to make sure that your car insurance policy is current and your car tags are renewed.
Renewing your license plates in California is a simple process. You’ll typically have the option of renewing your plates:
- In person.
- By phone.
- By mail.
For any license plate renewal eligibility questions, you should refer to your renewal notice or contact the California DMV.
To make sure you’re able to renew your California license plates, you should have the following information and items ready:
- Your current registration card and/or license plate renewal notice.
- Your California registration number/license plate number.
- Your vehicle’s VIN. (Where to find the VIN?)
- Your current address.
- Your driver’s license number.
- Your current car insurance policy details.
- Payment for your license plate renewal fees.
Replace a Lost, Stolen, or Damaged License Plate in California
Remember, in order to drive legally, you’ll need to display your valid, up-to-date license plates on your vehicle.
If your plates have been lost, stolen, or damaged, you’ll want to be sure to replace them as soon as possible.
In the case of a stolen license plate, be sure to contact your local law enforcement office to file a police report first. Learn more about what to do if your license plate is stolen here.
In California, you’ll typically be able to replace your license plates:
- In person.
- By mail.
In order to get replacement license plates or stickers, you’ll typically need to provide:
- Your full name, driver’s license number, and address to prove your identity.
- Your license plate number and registration details.
- Payment for the replacement fee.
Types of License Plates in California
There are a variety of different types of license plates to choose from in California.
Personalized and specialized interest plates are available for an additional issuance and renewal fee on top of your standard registration fees.
Available designs include:
- California Agriculture (CalAg)
- Arts Council
- California 1960s Legacy
- Whale Tail (California Coastal Commission)
- Lake Tahoe Conservancy
- Yosemite Conservancy
- Have A Heart, Be A Star, Help Our KIDS
- Veterans’ Organizations
- Pet Lovers
- California Museums (Snoopy)
- Breast Cancer Awareness
Personalized plates range from $50 to $103 for issuance plus about $40 to $80 per renewal.
Sequential special plates range from $15 to $50 for issuance, plus additional fees per renewal period.
You can browse and order special and personalized plates here: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/vehicle-registration/license-plates-decals-and-placards/california-license-plates/order-special-interest-and-personalized-license-plates/
For more information about California license plates as well as official forms, fees, and details, check out the state’s website at the following link: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/