California Vanity License Plates: Everything You Need to Know

California Vanity License Plates Getting California vanity license plates is fairly simple. You can complete much of the process online for most designs and have your plates quickly after approval by the state DMV. There is a decent amount of selection available for vanity plate backgrounds, and you’re allowed to choose customized text as long as it doesn’t violate state requirements.

In California, vanity license plates are called Special Interest License Plates. Applying for a plate, no matter what type of plate you’re looking for, is processed through the same system. If you are getting a new plate, you’ll be filing an original application.

This article will take a look at application process for California vanity plates and will help you begin the application process.

Types of California Vanity License Plates

California offers a variety of charity and personalized specialty license plate choices. Charity and park plates represent public interest causes in California and part of your fees are donated for these options to selected nonprofits and funds. Personalized plates with custom phrases are also available. Special kids-themed plates are available with a select number of special character choices, too.

There are special interest plates and special plates—special plates generally have a functional purpose or recognize membership in a specific group, such as special plates for Purple Heart recipients.


Your fees will vary depending on the license plate type you’re seeking and the customization you need. These fees range from $0 to $103 for an original application. Renewal costs up to $83 per year. For some plates, fees are low-cost or free, such as the Disabled Person Parking Placard plate.

Fees are paid upfront when you apply and are nonrefundable, unless your design isn’t approved.

Where Does My Money Go?

If you’re applying for a charity plate, you can expect much of the fee to go the charity represented by the plate design. Non-charity plate fees usually go to the state.

Application Process

Here’s how to apply for California vanity license plates.

Most designs are available through the online application. There are also two different types of paper applications you can use, and these can be brought in directly to the DMV:

  1. the Special Interest License Plate Application
  2. the Special License Plate Application

The first application is useful for most vanity plates. The Special License Plate Application applies when you need a plate with one of these designs:

  • Amateur Radio
  • Antique Motorcycle
  • Congressional Medal of Honor
  • Historical Vehicle
  • Honorary Consul
  • Horseless Carriage
  • Legion of Valor
  • Pearl Harbor Survivor
  • Purple Heart Recipient
  • Press Photographer
  • Year of Manufacture Plate

Character Requirements

You can choose any combination of letters and numbers with a limit of six digits or seven digits, depending on the character length you need. Keep in mind, though, that California doesn’t allow you to use numbers to substitute for letters or use letters instead of numbers if it may be confused with another plate already in use. So, if “NICE” is taken, you can’t choose “N1CE” either.

Rejected Plates

California reserves the right to reject California vanity plates and also has a reporting system for people who see an already-approved plate that looks inappropriate. The state is concerned about plates that are in “bad taste” or offensive in some way, so the DMV tries to prevent approval of these designs. If your plate is rejected, your fees will be refunded to you.

Of course, the prospect of having your design rejected hasn’t stopped Californians from turning in all kinds of funny applications. The DMV actually has a panel of people who review plate applications and reject offensive plates—these folks then offer an explanation to the applicant for why the plates are rejected.

Just for fun, here’s a few entertaining examples:

  • “IH8 DMV.” The applicant’s explanation: none. The DMV: “I hate DMV—I think funny :) but “IH8DMV” is on record as unacceptable.”
  • “UPURAZZ.” The applicant’s explanation: “Upper Arizona.” The DMV: “Up your ass.”
  • “FKYOU 2.” The applicant’s explanation: “Find the kid in you two. Recently had a baby and I feel my wife and I found the kids in ourselves again.” The DMV: “Fck you, too.”

Ready to Apply?

If you’re ready to apply for a California vanity license plate, visit the DMV site and read up on the requirements (and check out the great designs available to you!). Even if you’re still in drivers ed , now’s the time to start thinking about it.

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