Custom Built Car Registration in California
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California law describes a custom-built car as one that's "built for private use, not for resale, and is not constructed by a licensed manufacturer or remanufacturer." Basically, a custom-built car is one you built yourself. These types of cars are usually built from kits, or parts taken from salvage vehicles and other cars.
Restored cars, even if you manufactured parts, aren't custom-built. Modification to body, engine, vehicle systems, or the vehicle's interior also don't qualify. You could add a miniature version of the Caesar's Palace water fountains to the rear deck and your car will still qualify as a regular car, registration-wise.
Because custom-built cars are not your typical vehicles, the registration process is a little more involved than with a regular car.
When you register, you'll need documentation to prove you're the owner. Hang on to your invoices, manufacturers' certificates of origin, receipts, bills of sale, and junk receipts for the major components such as the frame, engine, body, and transmission.
- A completed Application for Title or Registration.
- A filled-out Statement of Construction.
- Proof-of-ownership documents, like receipts and bills of sale. A motor vehicle bond will be required if proof of ownership cannot be obtained for parts valued at $5,000 or more.
- A vehicle verification done by the California Highway Patrol. Make your DMV registration appointment before scheduling the CHP vehicle verification.
- Official brake and light adjustment certificate, unless your custom vehicle is an off-highway vehicle or a trailer weighing less than 3,000 pounds gross vehicle weight.
- A smog check certificate completed by a Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) Referee Station. Since custom-built cars do not have a year-of-origin designated by a manufacturer, they must be inspected by a BAR Referee Station instead of a regular smog check facility (call (800) 622-7733 for an appointment).
- Any and all titling, sales tax, and registration fees due.
Motor vehicle registrations in California are based on your location and the age of the vehicle. If your custom car can be "dated"―that is, if there is a model year for the body and motor―you can use the DMV's handy registration fee calculator to estimate your fees based on how much you spent on the parts.
Other Topics in This Section
- Register Car
- Registration Renewal
- Registration & Insurance
- Replacing a Lost Registration
- RV & Motorhome Registration
- Custom Built Car Registration
- Boat Registration and Licenses
- Title Transfers
- Replacing a Lost Title
- Salvaged Vehicles
- Special Vehicles
- Drivers with Disabilities
- License Plates & Placards
- Smog & Emission Checks
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