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  • Special Vehicles in California

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    California Special Vehicles

    In California, you not only need to register your car, you must also register any off-highway motorized vehicles that you own. This includes:

    • Trail bikes.
    • Mini bikes.
    • Racing motorcycles.
    • Dune buggies.
    • All-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
    • Jeeps.
    • Snowmobiles.

    Although these vehicles do not require the standard on-highway registration, they must display an identification plate issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

    Registering Your Off-Highway Vehicle

    If you have recently purchased an off-highway vehicle from a party that is not a licensed dealer and the vehicle was never registered, you will need to register it with the California DMV.

    This simple process requires you to:

    • Make an appointment at your neighborhood CA DMV office.
    • Submit a completed Application for Title or Registration (Form REG 343).
      • Have the vehicle verification portion of the application completed by a CA DMV representative, law enforcement officer, or a licensed vehicle verifier.
    • Provide a bill of sale, out-of-state title, or the manufacturer's certificate of origin as evidence of ownership.
    • Hand over any on-highway plates registered to the vehicle.
    • Pay the original off-highway application fee of $52.
    • Pay the use tax.

    For more information about fees, visit the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website.

    Change from On-Highway to Off-Highway

    If you only need to change the registration on your vehicle from an on-highway to an off-highway designation, simply make an appointment at your local California DMV office.

    While at the CA DMV, you will need to provide your California certificate of title and pay the off-highway vehicle application fee.

    Registration Renewals and Penalties in CA

    Your off-highway registration stays valid for up to 2 years and expires on June 30 of its 2nd year.

    You will receive a renewal notice in the mail from the CA DMV before your registration expires.

    Keep in mind that you must pay a $23 penalty fee if the renewal is not submitted on time.

    California Registration Exemptions

    You do not have to register your vehicle as an off-highway vehicle if it already has a valid on-highway registration.

    Visit the California State Parks Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation website for additional off-roading information.

    Golf Carts

    Generally, golf carts do not need to be registered. However, if you plan to use it on a public road check with your local California DMV office. Registration rules vary from county to county.

    Registering a California Trailer

    Recreational Vehicles and Motorhomes

    If you have a motorhome or recreational vehicle (RV) in California, the DMV requires it to be registered, much like you would register a standard car. For more information, see our Register Car in California page.

    CA Scooters and Mopeds

    CA classifies vehicles such as mopeds and scooters into several categories, each with its own registration and licensing requirements.

    Read below for general information about each type of vehicle. For more detailed information about mopeds, scooters, and motor-driven cycles, see our page on Scooters, Mopeds, Etc. in California.

    Mopeds (Motorized Bicycles)

    According to CA state law, a moped is a vehicle with or without pedals that has:

    • 2 to 3 wheels.
    • An automatic transmission.
    • Less than 2 brake horsepower (hp).

    Only certain mopeds must be registered and require a motorcycle license to operate:

    • Mopeds with a maximum speed of 30 mph on flat ground require:
    • Mopeds with a motor up to 1000 watts and a maximum speed of 20 mph require:
      • A permanent license plate and ID card.
      • That you be at least 16 years old AND wear a bicycle helmet at all times.

    Motor-Driven Cycles

    A motor-driven cycle has an engine size of no more than 149cc. These vehicles require:

    Motorized Scooter

    A motorized scooter is defined by CA law as a vehicle with 2 wheels and handlebar that is motor-powered and ridden by standing.

    You do NOT need to register a motorized scooter, but you must have a valid CA driver’s license (any class) to ride one.

    Registering Other Vehicles in CA

    Other vehicles will also require some form of registration:

    If you have a clean air vehicle (CAV), you may be eligible for CAV decals which enable you to use the carpool (or HOV) lanes even while driving without a passenger. For more information, visit the CA DMV website.