License plates verify that your vehicle is registered, identify the type of registration you have, and help connect vehicles to their owners. California has required license plates since 1905. Here’s what you need to know about our requirements and types of plates.
Ensuring Your Plates are Valid
You need to renew your vehicle registration every year in California. After you renew your registration, we’ll send you new registration stickers (tabs) for the year. Affix the stickers (tabs) to your license plates to ensure they’re valid.
Generally, license plates remain with the vehicle they were issued to. Certain types of plates (personalized environmental, special recognition, or special interest) can be reassigned to another vehicle upon request by the owner and payment of appropriate fees.
License Plate Sizes
- Automobile, commercial, and trailer license plates are 12″ x 6″.
- Motorcycle license plates 7″ x 4″ (plates issued prior to July 1, 1970, are 8″ x 5″).
- Identification plates issued to vehicles not bearing automobile, commercial, trailer, or motorcycle plates are 7″ x 4″ (plates issued prior to January 1, 1981 are 8″ x 5″).
Types of License Plates
California offers a variety of license plates to support causes (environment, arts, education, breast cancer awareness, etc.), provide special recognition, and identify special status, among other things. Here are the different types of license plates:
- Standard license plates.
- Special interest license plates (arts, kids, environment, etc.).
- Special license plates (recognition, historical, occupational, legislative, etc.).
- Decals and placards (bicycles, disabled person parking, etc.).
The History of California License Plates (1963-present)
- 1963 – earliest license plate that is still valid (the plates had a black background and chrome yellow characters).
- 1970 – standard plate changed to a blue background with yellow characters. Last year any black/yellow plates were issued.
- 1976 – year-round registration started, which requires a month expiration sticker affixed to the upper left hand corner of the plate.
- 1982 – standard plate changed to a white background with blue characters with a sun graphic and “California” in red block letters. Last year any blue/yellow plates were issued.
- 1987 – reflectorized plates with “California” in red block letters were issued. Sun graphic discontinued.
- 1991 – only reflectorized standard plates were issued.
- 1993 – the word “California” changed to red script.
- 1997 – stickers were made with background colors that change every year. Characters printed in black.
- 1998 through 2000 – standard plates contain the words SESQUICENTENNIAL – 150 YEARS in red block letters at the bottom of the plates.
- 2001 – standard plate is white with blue characters and “California” in red script. No writing at the bottom of the plate.
- 2011 – the DMV web address, “dmv.ca.gov”, is added to the bottom of the standard “California” red script license plate.
Need something else?
Special Interest License Plates
Learn more about supporting your favorite cause with special interest license plates.
Renew Your Vehicle Registration
You need to renew your vehicle registration every 1-5 years in California, depending on the vehicle. Make sure your registration is up-to-date.
Replacement plates and stickers
Were your license plates or registration stickers lost, stolen, or damaged?