Vehicle registration plates of California

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Current California license plate

The U.S. state of California first required its residents to register their motor vehicles in 1905. Registrants had to provide their own license plates for display until 1914, when the state began to supply plates.[1]

In 1956, the U.S. states and Canadian provinces came to an agreement with the Automobile Manufacturers Association that standardized 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.

License plates are currently issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Passenger baseplates[edit]

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

Base plate colors 1913 to 1962[edit]

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

Image First issued Design Serial format Serials issued Validation tabs (if multi-year)
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg 1913 dark blue on white 123456 unknown single year
1914 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1914 white on brick 123456 unknown single year
1915 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1915 black on yellow 123456 unknown single year
1916 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1916 blue on white 123456 unknown 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 123-456 unknown single year
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg 1921 black on yellow 123-456 unknown single year
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg 1922 blue on white 123456 unknown single year
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg 1923 white on black 123-456 unknown single year
1924 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1924 white on green 123-456 unknown single year
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg 1925 black on yellow 123 456 unknown single year
1926 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1926 white on blue 123 456 unknown single year
1927 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1927 white on maroon 1-234-567 unknown single year
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg 1928 yellow on blue 1-234-567 unknown single year
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg 1929 orange on black 1A-23-45 unknown single year
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg 1930 black on orange 1A-23-45 unknown single year
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg 1931 orange on black 1A 23 45 unknown single year
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg 1932 black on orange 1A 23 45 unknown single year
1933 Calif passenger plate.png 1933 orange on black 1A 23 45 unknown single year
1934 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1934 black on orange 1A 23 45 unknown single year
1935 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1935 orange on black 1A 23 45 unknown single year
1936 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1936 black on orange 1A 23 45 unknown single year
California37licenseplate.jpg 1937 orange on black 1A 23 45 unknown single year
1938 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1938 black on yellow 1A 23 45 unknown single year
California39licenseplate.jpg 1939 yellow on blue 1A 23 45 unknown single year
1940 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1940 black on orange 1A 23 45
12 A 345
unknown single year
1941 Calif passenger plate.jpg
1942 Calif passenger plate.jpg
1941 yellow on black 1A 23 45
12 A 345
unknown 1942 - 1942 Cal License Tab.jpg

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

1945 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1945 white on black 1A 23 45
12 A 345
unknown single plate - no pairs issued, 1946 - 1946 Cal License Tab.jpg
1947 Calif passenger plate.jpg 1947 black on yellow 1A 23 456
12A 3 456
unknown 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 1A 23 456
12 A 3 456
unknown 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 AAA 123 AAA 123 to ? 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
California 1SAM123.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 in 1980. 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.
1ABC123 1AAA000 to 1SZZ999
CaliforniaGoldenState2GAT123.png 1982
blue on white with graphic state name, gold circle and lines, "The Golden State" in gold text, reflective
Introduced as an optional plate in 1982.
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. Variations for this plates appeared various times: "Sesquicentennial - 150 Years" in 1998; reverting to normal in 2000; and "dmv.ca.gov" website address at bottom was added in 2011.
California 4SAM123.jpg 4AAA000 to 4NOZ999 (for "Sesquicentennial - 150 Years" in 1998)
4NPA000 to 6TPV999 (for reverting to normal in 2000)
2011CALicense.jpg 6TPW000 to 7TIH000 (as of June 8, 2016) (for "dmv.ca.gov" website address at bottom was added in 2011)

Non-passenger types[edit]

Image Type First issued Serial format Serials issued Notes

California apportioned license plate 2016.jpg

Apportioned 2015 CP90000 See International Registration Plan. Similar to style of blue on white passenger plates released in 1987 except says CAL APPORTIONED across top
CADisabled2.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
CADisabled.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

2016 disabled person california registration plate-shorter.jpg

Disabled Person 2011 D/P123AB D/P001AA to present

California disabled veteran plate.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-Local 1963-1968 E123456 E100000-E999999 Black plate with yellow numbering consisting of letter E in octagon and 6-digit number for city- and county-owned vehicles
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Exempt-State 1963-1968 E12345 E00000-E99999 Black plate with yellow numbering consisting of letter E in diamond and 5-digit number for state-owned vehicles
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Exempt-Local 1969-1986 E123456 E100000-E999999 Blue plate with yellow numbering consisting of letter E in octagon and 6-digit number for city- and county-owned vehicles
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Exempt-State 1969-1986 E12345 E00000-E99999 Blue plate with yellow numbering consisting of letter E in diamond and 5-digit number for state-owned vehicles

California registration plate Exempt local 1990s.jpg

Exempt-Local 1987-1997 E123456 E000000-E999999 White plate with blue numbering consisting of letter E in octagon and 6-digit number for city- and county-owned vehicles
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Exempt-State 1987-1997 E12345 E00000-E99999 White plate with blue numbering consisting of letter E in diamond and 5-digit number for state-owned vehicles

California exempt license plate 2016.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 2016.jpg

Motorcycle 12A1234

California permanent trailer 2016.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

Special equipment california license plate.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.

California license plate Trailer 1960s.jpg

Trailer 1963 AB1234 Indistinguishable from passenger plates aside from serial format.

License plate California trailer early 1990s.jpg

Trailer 1987 1AB1234 Indistinguishable from passenger plates aside from serial format.

California license plate Trailer 1990s.jpg

Trailer 1994 1AB1234 Indistinguishable from passenger plates aside from serial format.

California commercial plate 1950.jpg

Truck 1947 COM F 11 22 Small COM on left

California early 60s commerical license plate.jpg

Truck 1963 J00 000 Indistinguishable from passenger plates aside from serial format
California commercial license plate late 60s.jpg Truck Mid-1960s 41 000G Indistinguishable from passenger plates aside from serial format
California commercial license plate early 70s.png Truck 1969 46 000L Indistinguishable from passenger plates aside from serial format
California 1980s commercial license plate.jpg Truck Mid-1970s 1A12345 1A00001 to 3Z99999? Indistinguishable from passenger plates aside from serial format
California 1990s commerical license plate.jpg Truck 1987 4M12345 4A00001? to 5T99999? Indistinguishable from passenger plates aside from serial format. Series was exhausted in early 2011. 9A12345 plates are issued to tractor trailers.
California commercial license plate circa 2010.jpg Truck 1994 5X12345 5U00000? 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 00000A2 (as of June 2016) Indistinguishable from passenger plates aside from serial format.

Optional types (specialty plates)[edit]

Image Type First issued Serial format Serials issued Notes
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg 1984 Olympics 1984 L/A12345
U/S12345
L/A00000 to present No longer issued but still revalidated.

California amatuer radio license plate.jpg

Amateur Radio Reflects owners FCC amateur radio call letters assigned by the FCC
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Arts Council 1994 ABC123
123ABC
Using previously unused letter blocks. "Coastline" design by Wayne Thiebaud.[2][3]
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Bill of Rights 1990 1234 US
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg 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.
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Congressional Medal of Honor 84 —Passenger 1984 12 Given to Medal of Honor recipients.
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Congressional Medal of Honor 93 —Passenger 1993 12 Given to Medal of Honor recipients.
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg Firefighter—Motorcycle 00A12 00A01 to present.
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg 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.

California gold star license plate.jpg

Gold Star Family —Passenger 2011 123ABC Using previously unused letter blocks. Given to family of fallen soldiers while in the line of duty.
Blank License Plate Shape v1.png Lake Tahoe Version 1 1996 1ABC123 No longer issued but still revalidated.
Blank License Plate Shape v2.png Lake Tahoe Version 2 2011 1ABC123 Using previously unused letter blocks.

California Legacy license plates.jpg

Legacy Plates 2015 B000A0 Gold on black reflective plates in the style of the 1963 to 1969 plates. The series started at B000A0
Blank License Plate Shape.jpg 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 -

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

Year-of-manufacture plates[edit]

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

The use of year-of-manufacture (YOM) plates is authorized by Section 5004.1 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 any 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.

As of January 2014, in very rare cases, California has extended custom license plates to exceed 7 digits, all the way up to, but not exceeding, 9 characters. However, most plates are limited to 7-and-a-half characters (the half-character is a half-space).

In August 2016, California extended the year-of-manufacture license plate program to include vehicles through the 1980 model year.[4]

California Legacy License Plate program[edit]

The California Legacy License Plate program offers vehicle owners the opportunity to purchase replicas of California license plates similar to those issued in the 1960s. California proposed issuing plates similar to those of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Only the 1960s plate reached the required 7,500 minimum orders before January 1, 2015. The 1950s and 1970s plates did not achieve the required 7,500 minimum orders.[5] The plates were issued from late spring through summer 2015 and are still available for order from the DMV website. Additional time is required for personalized plates.[6]

References[edit]

External links[edit]