License Plates & Placards in California
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- General Plate Information
- CA Vanity Plates
- How to Order California Vanity Plates
- Releasing Interest in a Vanity Plate in Order to Switch Back to a Standard Plate
- Disability License Plates or Placards
- Disabled Veteran License Plates
- Antique Vehicle Plates
- CA Legacy License Plates
- Note to All California Vehicle Owners
- Lost or Damaged Plates
- Surrendering California License Plates
- You must display your plates on the front and back of your car (motorcycles receive only one plate)
- If you sell your vehicle the plates remain with the vehicle. However, if you own specialty plates and want to retain them for a different vehicle you must notify the DMV by completing either a Special Interest License Plate Application or a Special License Plate Application.
- You do not have to return your plates if you move out of California.
- If new to the state you have 20 days to reregister your vehicle and obtain California plates.
From the moment the California Department of Motor Vehicles launched vanity plates in 1970, they've been a hit. Before that, all California license plates were blue with yellow lettering―not exactly enough to satisfy everyone's tastes.
Now, not only can you order personalized license plates (vanity plates), you can even order them with specialized art or images related to your interests. Personalized and specialized license plates have an initial ordering cost, plus an added renewal cost on top of your normal vehicle registration fees.
Specialized License Plates
Special interest license plates have a background image and help fund a specific cause. Any of these may be personalized if you wish, or you can get a random sequence:
- Environmental: environmental programs (only available personalized)
- Memorial: scholarships for children of 9/11 victims
- Arts Council: art programs
- Whale Tail: California Coastal Commission
- Collegiate: need-based scholarships and grants
- Lake Tahoe Conservancy: lake conservation programs
- Yosemite Foundation: park wildlife and habitat fund
- Firefighters: firefighter memorial programs
- Help Our Kids: child health and safety programs
- Olympics: training center in San Diego
- Veterans Organization: county veteran's services
There are at least 13 more plates available, including Pearl Harbor Survivor, Horseless Carriage, Antique Motorcycle, and others. For these, fill out a Special License Plate Application.
These license plates are also available for motorcycles.
Order Using Downloadable Form
Complete a request form and then submit by mail or in person along with a check or money order. The fees are listed on the form.
Delivery takes between eight and 12 weeks.
Fees for the various specialized license plates depend on whether they are personalized or sequential (random number and letters). When you view the selections for personalized and sequential plates, the price is shown next to the plate graphics.
Complete a Special Interest License Plate Application.
If you're permanently disabled, you may apply for Disabled Person license plates or placards that allow you special parking privileges. Plates don't expire, but they must show a current registration tag. There is no charge for these plates other than the normal annual registration fee for your vehicle. You may apply for a temporary placard if your disability is temporary.
Here are the basic disabling conditions that qualify for Disabled Person license plates:
- Impaired mobility (permanent or temporary)
- Heart, lung, or circulatory disease
- Significant limitation of the use of the lower extremities
- Low vision, partial sightedness, blindness, and other qualifying vision impairments
- Loss of, or the loss of use of, one or both hands or one or both lower extremities
You'll need a certification from your doctor on your application form. If you have lost a lower extremity or both hands, you will not need a doctor's certification if you appear in person at your local DMV office.
Temporary placards are also available for a fee of $6, if you have a condition that will improve. These can be renewed a limited number of times; for more information, visit your DMV office.
Replacing a Lost or Stolen Disability Plate or Placard
Submit the following:
- The placard if it's mutilated.
- A $6 fee for a temporary placard (permanent and travel placards are free).
- DMV Placard
- P.O. Box 942869
- Sacramento, California 94269-0001
U.S. Armed Forces veterans who became disabled due to an injury or illness occurring during active duty, you may request free license plates that identify you as such. The qualifying conditions for Disabled Veteran plates are:
- A disability rated at 100% by either the branch of military from which you were discharged or from U.S. Veterans Affairs. The disability must be due to a diagnosed disease or disorder that substantially limits or impairs mobility.
- A disability so severe that you can't ambulate or move without the help of an assistive device (wheelchair, scooter, lift, etc.).
- Loss of, or the loss of the use of, one or more limbs.
To apply for these plates, you'll need to apply for certification. Disabled Veteran license plate holders are granted disabled parking privileges.
For more information about medical certification and qualifying disabilities for both veterans and nonveterans, see the California DMV's brochure for disabled drivers.
There are two categories of antique vehicles, or Vehicles of Historic Value as they're officially tagged.
Anything with 16 or more cylinders manufactured before 1965, or anything manufactured before or in 1922, is considered a horseless carriage. You can apply for Horseless Carriage plates.
Vehicles manufactured after 1922 that are at least 25 years old are considered historic vehicles and are eligible for Historical Vehicle plates. These vehicles must be of historic interest, meaning that they are collectible and are used for exhibitions and car club meetings.
Antique Motorcycle plates are also available for motorcycles manufactured in or before 1942.
The plates don't expire and remain with the vehicle if it changes ownership.
In conjunction with the Department of Boating and Waterways, the DMV also offers Vessel of Historic Value plaques for any wooden "power-driven pleasure craft" made prior to 1943. The fee for such a plaque is determined on a case-by-case basis.
The DMV now offers three specialized legacy license plates.
- Yellow background with black lettering
- Black background with yellow lettering
- Blue background with yellow lettering
Whether you get a regularly issued license plate or you opt to order a vanity or other special plate, the State of California requires that all motor vehicles and light trucks have a license plate displayed on both the front and back of the vehicle. (5200. (a))
If your plates are lost, damaged to the point of illegibility, or stolen, you must replace them.
Once at the the DMV you will need to show some proof of identification. A valid California driver license or identification will suffice.
If you are from out-of-state, you may present your out-of-state ID along with a valid passport, military ID, other United States government agency ID, college or university ID, or identification issued by a California employer.
Be sure to present your old damaged plates if they are still in your possession. If the plates were stolen and are no longer in your possession, you will have to submit a police report.
Keep in mind that if you applied for other replacement plates in the last 90 days, the California Highway Patrol must run vehicle verification.
Don't forget to submit the appropriate application form and the corresponding fees.
The state does not require California residents to return their license plates after relocating to another state. Learn more on our CA License Plate Surrender page.
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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