Vehicle registration plates of California

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The U.S. state of California began issuing license plates in 1913. In 1956, the U.S. states and Canadian provinces came to an agreement with the Automobile Manufacturers Association that fixed the size for license plates for vehicles, except those for motorcycles, at six inches in height by twelve inches in width, with standardized mounting holes. The 1955 (dated 1956) issue was the first California license plate that complied with these standards.

Passenger baseplates[edit]

California alternated issuing single-year and multi-year plates.

Base plate colors 1914 to 1962[edit]

Some plates were revalidated for multiple years. For example, the 1947-dated plate was revalidated with metal tabs until 1950.

Image Year of Expiry Characters on background Validation Tabs (if multi-year)
1914 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1914 white on brick single year
1915 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1915 black on yellow single year
1916 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1916 blue on white 1917 1917 Cal License Tab.jpg 1918 1918 Cal License Tab.jpg 19191919 Cal License TabA.jpg
1920 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1920 white on black single year
1921 black on yellow single year
1922 blue on white single year
1923 white on black single year
1924 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1924 white on green single year
1925 black on yellow single year
1926 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1926 white on blue single year
1927 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1927 white on maroon single year
1928 yellow on blue single year
1929 orange on black single year
1930 black on orange single year
1931 orange on black single year
1932 black on orange single year
1933 Calif passenger plate.png 1933 orange on black single year
1934 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1934 black on orange single year
1935 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1935 orange on black single year
1936 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1936 black on orange single year
California37licenseplate.jpg 1937 orange on black single year
1938 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1938 black on yellow single year
California39licenseplate.jpg 1939 yellow on blue single year
1940 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1940 black on orange single year
1941 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1941 yellow on black 1942 - 1942 Cal License Tab.jpg

1943 - 1943 Cal License Tab.jpg 1944 - 1944 Cal License Tab.jpg

1942 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1942 yellow on black 1943 - 1943 Cal License Tab.jpg 1944 - 1944 Cal License Tab.jpg
1945 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1945 white on black

single plate - no pairs issued

1946 - 1946 Cal License Tab.jpg
1947 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1947 black on yellow 1948 - 1948 Cal License Tab.jpg 1949 - 1949 Cal License Tab.jpg

1950 - 1950 Cal License Tab.jpg

1951 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1951 yellow on black 1952 - 1952 Cal License Tab.jpg 1953 - 1953 Cal License Tab.jpg

1954 - 1954 Cal License Tab.jpg 1955 - 1955 Cal License Tab.jpg

California BBF-146.jpg 1956 black on yellow 1957 - 1957 Cal License Tab.jpg 1958 - 1958 Cal License Tab.jpg 1959 - 1959 Cal License Tab.jpg

1960 - 1960 Cal License Tab.jpg 1961 - 1961 Cal License Tab.jpg 1962 - 1962 Cal License Tab.jpg

Baseplates 1963 to present[edit]

All base plates from 1963 to present are still valid for use, assuming the plate never left the vehicle and the vehicle maintained concurrent registration.

Modern standard issue automobile plates use a 7-digit format with a leading digit that remains constant plus a 6-digit serial starting with AAA000 and ending at ZZZ999. At that point the leading digit increases by one and the series starts over at AAA000. 6ZZZ999 was followed by 7AAA000, and should count up until the 1ABC123 series is exhausted at 9ZZZ999. At that point if the California DMV follows the precedent of reversing serial numbers at exhaustion as it has done since 1963, the next series should be in the 123ABC1 format.

Exclusions: The letters I, O, and Q are not used in the first or third alpha positions of the 7-digit alpha-numeric series.

Image First issued Design Serial format Serials issued Notes
California SAM-123.jpg 1963 gold on black, non-reflective, embossed state name ABC 123 AAA 000 to ZZZ 999 In addition to all plates in the section above these bases can be used for the year of manufacture program with appropriate year sticker. They can also be seen as regular registration with modern month/year stickers if the plates were originally registered to the vehicle.
California 002-ZZZ.jpg 1969 gold on blue, non-reflective, embossed state name 123 ABC 000 AAA to 999 ZZZ Stamping dies were narrowed around the 123 Wxx series to prepare for the production of 7-digit passenger plates.
California 1SAM123.jpg 1980 gold on blue, non-reflective, embossed state name 1ABC123 1AAA000 to 1SZZ999 1Uxx123 and 1Vxx123 series have been issued on special plates such as Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and "whale tail" plates. 1ZZx123 series are issued on "LIVERY" plates used for vehicles such as for-hire limousines.
CaliforniaGoldenState2GAT123.png 1982
blue on white with graphic state name, reflective
Introduced as an optional plate in 1982, became standard issue in 1987.
1ABC123 2AAA000 to 2GPZ999 Awarded "Plate of the Year" for best new license plate by the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association in 1983, the first and, to date, the only time that California has been so honored and the first time that an optional-issue plate was so recognized.
California 2SAM123 E.jpg 1987 blue on white with embossed red state name, reflective 1ABC123 2GQA000 to 3FZZ999
California license plate.jpg 1994 blue on white with graphic red state name, reflective 1ABC123 3GAA000 to 3XZZ999 The state name was modified twice to increase its size. (The third and largest version is shown.) 3YAA-3ZYZ series not issued. 3ZZx123 series are issued on "LIVERY" plates used for vehicles such as for-hire limousines.
California 4SAM123.jpg 1998 blue on white with graphic red state name and "Sesquicentennial - 150 Years", reflective 1ABC123 4AAA000 to 4NOZ999
California license plate.jpg 2000 blue on white with graphic red state name, reflective 1ABC123 4NPA000 to 6TPV999 Identical in design to later plates on the 1994 base.
2011CALicense.jpg 2011 blue on white with graphic red state name and "dmv.ca.gov" website address at bottom, reflective 1ABC123 6TPW000 to present (currently in the 7 series)

Non-passenger types[edit]

Image Type First issued Serial format Serials issued Notes
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Disabled Person 1995 12345D/P 00001D/P to 99999D/P
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Disabled Person Late 1990s D/P12345 D/P00001 to D/P99999
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Disabled Person Early 2000s D/PA1234 D/PA0001 to D/PZ9999
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Disabled Person 2006 1234AD/P 0001AD/P to 9999ZD/P
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Disabled Person 2011 D/P123AB D/P001AA to present
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Disabled Veteran 12345D/V
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Disabled PersonMotorcycle 1234D/P
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Distributor D/S/T 1234 1/2/A Full-size number is constant for each distributing entity; stacked prefix varies.
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Exempt 1998 1234567 1000001 to present "CA EXEMPT" across top.
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Foreign Organization 123 001 to present. "FOREIGN ORGANIZATION" printed to left of serial.
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Manufacturer M/F/G 1 1/A
M/F/G 1 1/2/A
M/F/G 12 1/A
M/F/G 12 1/2/A
Full-size number is constant for each manufacturing entity; stacked prefix varies.
California Motorcycle License Plate.jpg Motorcycle 12A1234
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Permanent Trailer 4AB1234 "California Perm Trailer" across top.
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Press Photographer P/P 1234
Press Photographer 2000 P/P 1234
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Special Equipment S/E123456 Motorcycle-sized.
Tournament of Roses[1] 1998 TOFR123 TOFR1 to present Used on parade vehicles during the Tournament of Roses parade.
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Trailer 1AB1234 Indistinguishable from passenger plates aside from serial format.
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Truck Mid-1970s 1A12345 1A00001 to 8Z99999 Indistinguishable from passenger plates aside from serial format. Series was exhausted in early 2011. 9A12345 plates are issued to tractor trailers.
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Truck 2011 12345A1 00001A1 to present Indistinguishable from passenger plates aside from serial format.

Optional types (specialty plates)[edit]

Image Type First issued Serial format Serials issued Notes
1984 Olympics 1984 L/A12345
U/S12345
L/A00000 to present No longer issued but still revalidated.
Arts Council 1994 ABC123
123ABC
Using previously unused letter blocks.
Bill of Rights 1990 1234 US
Children's Trust Fund ABC123 Using previously unused letter blocks. An embossed heart, hand, star, or plus sign appears to the left of the serial, or can be incorporated into "vanity" numbers.
Congressional Medal of Honor 84 —Passenger 1984 12 Given to Congressional Medal Of Honor recipients.
Congressional Medal of Honor 93 —Passenger 1993 12 Given to Congressional Medal Of Honor recipients.
Firefighter—Motorcycle 00A12 00A01 to present.
Firefighter—Passenger 1995 ABC123 Using previously unused letter blocks. Only active or retired firefighter can apply for this type of plate. Logo of a firefighter on a blazing background.
Gold Star Family —Passenger 2011 123ABC Using previously unused letter blocks. Given to family of fallen soldiers while in the line of duty.
Lake Tahoe Version 1 1996 1ABC123 No longer issued but still revalidated.
Lake Tahoe Version 2 2011 1ABC123 Using previously unused letter blocks.
Legion of Valor—Passenger 123 A sticker is placed to the right of the license plate number denoting the decoration held by the recipient. Air Force Cross -Air Force Medal of Honor -Army Medal of Honor -

Army Distinguished Service Cross -Navy Cross -Navy Medal of Honor -

Olympic Training Center Version 1 1990 C/A12345
U/S12345
No longer issued but still revalidated.
Olympic Training Center Version 2 1999 C/A12345
U/S12345
No longer issued but still revalidated.
Olympic Training Center Version 3 2000 C/A12345
U/S12345
Pearl Harbor Survivor —Passenger 1234 Pearl Harbor Survivor of World War II
Protect Our Coast & Ocean Version 1 1997 1ABC123 No longer issued but still revalidated.
Protect Our Coast & Ocean Version 2 2011 1ABC123 Using previously unused letter blocks.
Purple HeartMotorcycle PH1234
POW Ex-Prisoner of War —Motorcycle POW1234
POW Ex-Prisoner of War 93 —Passenger 1993 POW1234
POW Ex-Prisoner of War 00 —Passenger 2000 POW1234
Veteran Version 1 1994 ABC123
123ABC
No longer issued but still revalidated.
Veteran Version 2 2012 123ABC Using previously unused letter blocks.
We Will Never Forget 2002 1234MA
University of California, Los Angeles 1994 ABC123 Using previously unused letter blocks.
Yosemite National Park 1996 1ABC123 Using previously unused letter blocks.

Year-of-manufacture plates[edit]

The use of year-of-manufacture (YOM) plates is authorized by Section 5004.1 [2] of the California Motor Vehicle Code. It is a law that allows vintage cars to be registered to use vintage license plates. Any officially manufactured California license plates which were produced prior to 1963 and plates on a currently registered vehicle or trailer of a corresponding model year. If used on the original plate, a sticker or metal tab that corresponds to the year of the vehicle is required.

In July, 2009, California extended its YOM program to include passenger vehicles from 1963-1969, and commercial vehicles (pick-ups, etc.) through 1972. Any black and gold plate from this era may be used on these vehicles, as long as they are "clear" with the DMV (i.e., not used, reported stolen, or no records found, for the last 10 years). A valid sticker must be attached to the plate corresponding to the year of the vehicle that is to be registered.

A California car license plate saying ANRCHST (a vanity plate speak form of anarchist) from 2006

References[edit]

External links[edit]