Home Automotive AdviceMotoring Laws and Legal Advice Do You Need A Front License Plate In California – A Must Have?

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California – A Must Have?

by Jordan Harris

Front license plates have been a part of vehicles since the beginning of time. Although these plates cause no harm, many car enthusiasts try to avoid attaching them to their vehicles. The laws on the requirements for front license plates vary from one US state to another. So, what are these laws like in the third-largest state in America? Do you need a front license plate in California?

Many gearheads don’t like front license plates because they ruin the aesthetics of their vehicles. Let’s be real, who wants to cover the beautiful front facia of their supercar with an ugly piece of plastic?

But, driving your vehicle without a front license plate can land you in trouble in some states, while others won’t consider it as a major issue. Are you curious about how this law applies to the state of California? In this article, we’ll tell you everything there is to know about this issue.

California License Plate

In order to answer the question “Do you need a front license plate in California?”, it is important for us to look at the California license plate disbursement laws. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will issue two license plates for each registered vehicle, excluding motorcycles. Additionally, it requires one license plate to be registered for all other vehicles like trailers and semi-trailers.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California

The law dictates that one license plate should be displayed at the front, while the other is displayed at the rear. These are required to be illuminated and should be visible to passersby from at least 50 feet away.

You can easily identify a California license plate through its color scheme. Traditionally, California license plates are either blue on white, yellow on black, or yellow on blue. Furthermore, you can get a special license plate in California, given that you fall under certain criteria. Historic vehicles, street rods, and vehicles of current and retired public employees are all eligible for this benefit.

The sizes of California license plates vary depending on the type of vehicle as well.

  • Automobile, trailer, and commercial license plates are sized 12″ x 6″
  • Motorcycle license plates have the dimensions of 7″ x 4″
  • License plates that don’t belong to either of these categories are also 7″ x 4″

Front License Plate

Before asking “Do you need a front license plate in California?”, you should understand that the need for a license plate at the front varies from one state to another. Out of the 50 states in America, 31 require owners to display their license plates at the front and the rear.

In contrast, only 19 states allow the exclusion of the front license plate. Nicknamed the “Rugged Nineteen”, the list of states that allow you to drive around without a front license plate are,

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • West Virginia

As you can clearly see, the state of California is not a part of the “Rugged Nineteen”, so you’ll have to contemplate attaching a front license plate to your vehicle. Luckily, there are some ways you can improve the appearance of your car even with a front license plate. Stay with us until the end to find out these tricks.

There are both pros and cons to having a front license plate on your vehicle. Next up, we’ll take a closer look at these pros and cons.

1. Advantages

The main advantage of having front license plates on vehicles is related to public safety. You see, having two license plates on a vehicle, one at the front and another at the rear increases the visibility of the vehicle. Most current license plates have reflective surfaces, which makes spotting cars easier during low visibility conditions.

Front license plates also make the job of law enforcement officers much easier. With two license plates being on a vehicle rather than just one, the chances of witnesses, red light cameras, and license plate readers identifying vehicles that commit crimes like speeding and reckless driving are increased by a significant margin.

Another advantage of front license plates, albeit a corporate one, is revenue generation. As we discussed earlier, front license plates help in identifying and fining motorists who break the law. We know that most of our readers wouldn’t agree with this being taken as an advantage. However, you have to agree when we say that these fines contribute to making society a better place.

2. Disadvantages

Laws demanding the use of a front license plate were passed at a time when technology in cars was not as advanced as they are nowadays. Modern cars come with a whole host of sensors, cameras, and other safety equipment at the front. This equipment is what enables advanced safety features like lane departure warnings, adaptive cruise control, and autonomous driving.

Due to the location of the front license plates, they can obstruct and interfere with the functionality of these systems. Most modern vehicles don’t come with front license plate brackets due to this exact reason.

Origin Of The License Plate

Knowing a bit about the history of license plates is also important when it comes to discussing whether or not you need a license plate in California. Can you guess the first country in the world to issue a front license plate? If your answer was France, you deserve a pat on the back. The French Republic first issued a license plate in 1893, and it was issued through the Paris Ordinance. Germany hopped on the license plate bandwagon three years later in 1896.

Similarly, the Netherlands became the first country to introduce a national license plate. The Dutch called this a “driving permit“, and they all started with the number 1. However, this system was changed in 1906.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California

The United States began issuing license plates in 1901. But, as every state of the nation had its own legislation, the process was a bit complicated when compared with European countries. New York was the first US state to impose the use of license plates for identification.

Originally, US license plates were manufactured by the car owners themselves. They used pieces of metal or leather to make the license plates, and they indicated their ownership by their initials. At first, these plates only had to be only attached to the rear of the vehicles.

The first US state to issue official license plates was California. This happened almost 120 years back in 1903. A few decades later, the first personalized license plates hit the scene. We’ll talk more about them later in this article.

California Black License Plate

The state of California used to issue black license plates for vehicles between 1963 and 1969. Luckily for lovers of these eye-catching plates, the state has started to offer these plates again. Car enthusiasts throughout California seemed to be delighted about the relaunch. This was made evident by 7500 customers registering for a black license plate within a few days of the announcement.

These new plates come with letters and numbers colored in a reflective yellow plate. The dimensions of the modern version are identical to the classic one, as they are made from the same mold as the original ones.

Anyone can order one of these black license plates, and they can be fitted to a vehicle of any age or make. Additionally, these black license plates can be personalized according to the taste of the owners as well. However, you’ll have to pay a fee of $50 to order one of these plates for your vehicle.

California Vanity Plate

A vanity plate is a license plate consisting of letters and numbers of the owner’s choosing. These plates are offered in every state of America, including California. However, you’ll have to pay an additional amount for the privilege of having these vanity plates on your vehicle.

Although owners have the freedom to choose what to have on their vanity plates, there are some restrictions imposed on them by the DMV. The main goal behind these restrictions is to discourage the use of offensive and inappropriate phrases on vanity plates. Additionally, there are some regulations that have to be followed in order to increase the readability of the license plate for law enforcement officers as well.

Although vanity plates enable vehicle owners to express themselves, there are some dangers to having them on vehicles as well.

Some drivers go overboard with vanity plates, using them to boast about their wealth. In turn, this can make your vehicle stand out from thieves and burglars.

Some states like Vermont have proposed the possibility to add emojis to the vanity plate on top of the already available words and letters. However, this is yet to be confirmed, and some people have presented doubts about whether this is a good idea or not.

With the interest in vanity plates increasing day by day, there is the chance of two individuals having the same concept for a vanity plate. To avoid this, most states maintain a database of vanity plates in circulation. This database allows owners to check whether their idea has already been issued on a vanity plate for some other individual in their state.

All in all, vanity plates can be a great way to express yourself and also to give some character to your vehicle.

California Special License Plates

Special license plates are another subtype of license plates. However, they shouldn’t be confused with vanity plates. These special license plates are only available to a select few members of society that have unique qualifications.

In California, a special license plate can be ordered in recognition of status, historical significance, service achievements, or occupation. The state offers several types of special license plates for the public to choose from. They are,

  • Antique Motorcycle
  • Citizens Band
  • Foreign Organization
  • Honorary Consul Corps
  • Press Photographer
  • Horseless Carriages
  • Olympic Games, 1984
  • Moped
  • Special Equipment
  • Exempt
  • Amateur Radio Call Letters
  • Bicentennial Bill of Rights
  • Veteran License Plates
  • Historical Vehicles

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California, Special Plates #1 – Antique Motorcycle

Motorcycles that were manufactured in and before 1942 are eligible for the “Antique Motorcycle” special license plate offered by the California DMV. However, it is only issued upon request by the owners. If you are a motorcycle enthusiast that owns a bike that is older than 1942, this license plate will surely be a great addition to your pride and joy.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California, Special Plates #2 – Citizens Band

Holders of FCC citizens band radio licenses had the opportunity to request a special “Citizens Band” license plate until 1983. These license plates start with the letter K, followed by two or three letters, and four numbers. Even at present, the DMV continues to offer replacement license plates for current holders of these special license plates.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California, Special Plates #3 – Foreign Organization

Foreign organization license plates are offered for the vehicles of designated employees of foreign organizations recognized by the United States. However, owners cannot transfer these plates between vehicles, and they are only offered to automobiles.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California, Special Plates #4 – Honorary Consul Corps

Permanent residents of the United States that are appointed by another country to promote and facilitate the interests of that country can request an Honorary Consul Corps license plate from their local DMV.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California, Special Plates #5 – Press Photographer

Television, newsreel newspaper photographers, and camera operators can get one of these special license plates from the state of California. However, “Press Photographer” license plates aren’t available for trailers.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California, Special Plates #6 – Horseless Carriages

Two categories of vehicles are eligible for the “Horseless Carriages” license plate. The first category is vehicles manufactured prior to 1965 that have engines with 16 or more cylinders. The other category of vehicles that can get one of these special license plates upon request is any type of vehicle made in 1922 or earlier.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California, Special Plates #7 – Olympic Games, 1984

Did you know that the Olympic games were held in Los Angeles, California in 1984? In commemoration, this special license plate was issued until December 31st of that year. Although replacement plates are no longer on offer, the DMV will renew them indefinitely.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California, Special Plates #8 – Moped

As the name suggests, Moped license plates are a type of special license plate that is mandatory on motorized bicycles.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California, Special Plates #9 – Special Equipment

To get a “Special Equipment” license plate from the California DMV, you’ll have to own a special mobile, cemetery, or construction equipment. Moreover, implements of husbandry qualify for this license plate as well.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California, Special Plates #10 – Exempt

“Exempt” license plates are issued for vehicles that are owned or leased by cities, counties, special districts, state agencies, or the United States government itself. They contain a series of numbers, up to a maximum of six digits.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California, Special Plates #11 – Amateur Radio Call Letters

These special license plates have an alpha-numeric number series that refer to the call letters assigned by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Only holders of FCC amateur radio station licenses can apply for these plates, and they have a series of call letters without any spaces.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California, Special Plates #12 – Bicentennial Bill of Rights

Issued from the 1st of July 1990 through to December 31st, 1991, this special license plate was issued in commemoration of the Bill of Rights that was originally passed two hundred years prior.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California, Special Plates #13 – Veteran License Plates

Military veterans are respected members of society, and so are disabled people. This special license plate is offered to them upon request. Additionally, these license plates allow special parking privileges to their owners.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California, Special Plates #14 – Historical Vehicles

A vehicle has to complete several criteria in order to qualify for a “Historical Vehicles” license plate. It has to be manufactured after 1922, be at least 25 years old and should be of historic interest.

These are some of the special license plates that are offered in the state of California. If you are interested in one of these plates, visit the DMV office.

California New Car Registration

If you plan on driving your vehicle in the Golden State, it is important that you get it registered. In order to get this done, you’ll have to pay several fees to the state. They include the county fee, vehicle license fee, transportation improvement fee as well as the California Highway Patrol fee.

However, several factors affect the registration fee of vehicles (to find out more, check out our explainer on the vehicle registration fee calculator NC and Oklahoma vehicle registration fees). The vehicle type, its purchase price, the county you live in, the vehicle’s gross weight, and the date your vehicle entered California are some main contributing factors.

There are several documents that you should possess to register a new car in the state of California. Some of these documents are the bill of sale, vehicle title, smog certification as well as the odometer mileage. After successfully registering the vehicle, you have to keep proof of car insurance in your vehicle at all times as well.

California Dealer Plates

Dealer tags or dealer plates are a type of temporary license plates that only licensed vehicle dealers can purchase. According to the law, California dealer plates should only be placed on vehicles that a dealer possesses as inventory. In other words, dealers can’t use these plates on their personal vehicles.

You can find different types of dealer plates, including ones made out of paper as well as metal. The main use of a dealer plate is allowing potential customers to test drive unregistered vehicles before spending their money on them. Additionally, allowing dealers to test their inventory on public roads as well as to transfer vehicles between dealership locations are other uses of dealer plates.

However, there are some limitations on dealer plates you should know about as well. As we mentioned earlier, these plates have a temporary lifespan varying from a couple of days to a couple of months. Dealers can’t use them on rental or leased cars, and they must report about stolen or lost dealer plates to the law authorities as soon as the crime has been committed.

The law also limits the number of dealer plates one individual can possess. However, some states offer the opportunity of purchasing additional plates under certain special conditions.

Conclusion For Do You Need A Front License Plate In California

The simplest answer to “Do You Need A Front License Plate In California” is a firm and resounding “Yes”. Although you may not like it, the benefits it provides to society are too significant to ignore. Not only that but not having a license plate can get you in hot water with the law too.

Do You Need A Front License Plate In California

If you are still not convinced about having a front license plate, a vanity plate might tempt you. Moreover, you can apply for a special license plate if you fulfill certain requirements set by the DMV.

FAQs On Do You Need A Front License Plate In California

How To Put License Plate On Car

Attaching a license plate to a car is an easy task that you can do in the comfort of your home. All you need are the proper screws, a screwdriver, and the license plate. All you have to do is to align the license plate with the predrilled holes on the vehicle and tighten the screws until the plate is properly secured.

What States Require A Front License Plate

31 states, including the District of Columbia, require a front license plate on all vehicles. It is important to note that almost all of these states are located in the northern part of the United States.

How Can I Get A Black California License Plate

You can order a black California license plate through the DMV. However, you’ll have to pay a fee for the privilege of having one of these special license plates on your vehicle. At present, the cost of a black California license plate is set at $50.

How Far Must Your License Plate Be Visible From

The distance your license plate should be visible varies from one state to another. Generally, the minimum visibility requirement lies between 50 – 250 feet. Most license plates have reflective surfaces that increase their visibility at night or in adverse weather conditions.

What Do You Need To Register A Car In California

A number of documents need to be submitted to the DMV in order to register your car in the state of California. Proof of insurance, a valid smog certificate, the vehicle’s out-of-state title as well as a completed application for title or registration, are some of them.

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