All cars that are driven on California roads must be properly registered and have appropriate license plates. Most vehicles are issued with two license plates to be displayed at the front and rear end of the vehicle. Exceptions to this rule are motorcycles and trailers, which only require one rear license plate. License plates are used for identification purposes and provide law enforcement a means to locate the vehicle owner through DMV records.
Getting your new plates
Standard motor vehicle license plates are issued when you buy a new vehicle, replace lost, stolen, or mutilated plates, or turn in special interest license plates. License plates identify the type of registration you have (commercial, passenger, trailer, etc.). The license plate fee is included in your registration fee and you are not required to pay any additional monies unless you wish to obtain specialized custom plates.
When you sell your car
California license plates are issued to vehicles and not individuals and they are usually transferred to the new owner if the vehicle is sold. In some cases, the owner may wish to retain his license plates. He or she will be required to visit one of the DMV offices and submit a written application for this to occur.
Replacing your license plates
If your license plates have been stolen, mutilated, damaged, or lost; it is your responsibility to obtain a replacement. You’ll need to submit an Application for Replacement Plates Form (REG156) either by mail or in person at one of the DMV offices.
You must also pay a $16 replacement fee and a $1 reflectorized license plate fee (other fees may apply) when submitting your application. If you have damaged license plates or if only one license plate has been stolen, you must surrender them to DMV officials.
The DMV may also request documentation that proves ownership of the car, a police report if your license plates have been stolen, and vehicle verification completed by the California Highway Patrol if replacement plates were previously issued.
Find out more about replacing CA plates and stickers on the DMV website.
Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details directly with the CA DMV. You can visit the CA DMV website or call 1-800-777-0133 for general drivers license and registration information.