That temporary paper license plate taped to the back of your new car may not seem like a big deal – but in California, improper use of temporary tags can lead to fines and complications. When do you need a temporary registration in California? How long are they valid for? Let’s break down everything you need to know about temporary license plates in the Golden State.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick overview: California has strict rules on temporary tags, which are meant as short-term use when buying a new or used vehicle. Standard temp tags are good for 90 days max. You must properly display and dispose of them after replacing with permanent plates.

Qualifying Situations for Temporary Plates

New Car Purchases

When you purchase a brand new car in California, you may be eligible for a temporary license plate. This allows you to legally drive the car while waiting for the permanent plates to arrive. Temporary plates are typically issued by the dealership and are valid for a certain period of time, usually 90 days.

During this time, it’s important to make sure you have the necessary documentation in your possession, such as the bill of sale, proof of insurance, and a valid driver’s license.

Private Party Used Car Sales

If you are buying a used car from a private party in California, you may also be able to obtain a temporary license plate. This can be especially useful if you need to drive the car immediately after the purchase.

However, it’s important to note that temporary plates for private party used car sales are not as common as those for new car purchases. It’s best to check with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or speak with a local law enforcement agency for guidance on how to proceed in this situation.

Out-of-State Vehicle Registrations

If you are moving to California from another state and have a valid out-of-state vehicle registration, you will need to register your vehicle in California within a certain timeframe. During this transition period, you may be eligible for a temporary license plate to ensure that you can legally drive your car in the state.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the specific requirements and time limits set by the California DMV to avoid any potential issues.

For more information on temporary license plates in California, you can visit the official website of the California DMV at Here, you’ll find detailed information on the rules, regulations, and requirements for obtaining temporary plates in various situations.

Obtaining a California Temporary License Plate

When it comes to obtaining a temporary license plate in California, there are a few different options available. Whether you’re purchasing a vehicle from a dealership or need a temporary plate for another reason, you can obtain one either through dealerships and DMV offices or through online third-party services.

Dealerships and DMV offices

If you’re purchasing a vehicle from a dealership, they will typically provide you with a temporary license plate. This plate allows you to legally drive the vehicle while you wait for your permanent plates to arrive.

The dealership will handle the necessary paperwork and registration process with the DMV, ensuring that you are compliant with all regulations.

Alternatively, if you’re not purchasing a vehicle from a dealership but still need a temporary plate, you can visit a local DMV office. They will be able to provide you with the necessary paperwork and issue a temporary license plate.

However, it’s important to note that wait times at DMV offices can be lengthy, so be prepared for potential delays.

Online third-party services

Another option for obtaining a temporary license plate in California is through online third-party services. These services allow you to apply for a temporary plate from the comfort of your own home. You will need to provide certain information, such as your vehicle’s identification number (VIN), proof of insurance, and payment for the temporary plate fee.

Once your application is approved, the online service will provide you with a printable temporary license plate that you can affix to your vehicle. This plate is typically valid for a specified period of time, such as 90 days.

It’s important to adhere to this timeframe and ensure that you obtain your permanent plates before the temporary one expires.

It’s worth noting that while online third-party services can be convenient, it’s important to choose a reputable and reliable provider. Take the time to research different options and read reviews to ensure that you’re working with a trustworthy service.

Proper Display and Use of Temporary Tags

Placement on the vehicle

When it comes to displaying temporary license plates in California, proper placement is key. These tags should be prominently displayed on the front and rear of the vehicle, ensuring they are easily visible to law enforcement officers and other drivers on the road.

It is important to securely attach the temporary tags to the vehicle to prevent them from falling off or becoming damaged. Failure to properly display the temporary tags can result in fines or penalties, so it is crucial to follow the guidelines set by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Keeping paperwork available

In addition to properly displaying the temporary tags on your vehicle, it is important to keep all relevant paperwork readily available. This includes the temporary registration card and any other documentation provided by the DMV.

Having these documents easily accessible can help avoid any potential issues during traffic stops or if the vehicle needs to be inspected. It is advisable to keep these documents in a safe and easily accessible location within the vehicle, such as the glove compartment or center console.

Avoiding misuse and penalties

It is crucial to use temporary license plates responsibly and in accordance with the regulations set by the DMV. Misusing or abusing temporary tags can result in penalties or even criminal charges. It is important to remember that temporary tags are meant for vehicles that are in the process of being registered or awaiting permanent license plates.

Using these tags on a vehicle that is not eligible or beyond the allowed time frame can lead to legal consequences.

It is worth noting that the California DMV has implemented measures to crack down on the misuse of temporary tags. They have increased enforcement efforts and are actively targeting vehicles with expired or improperly displayed temporary tags.

This is to ensure the safety of all road users and maintain the integrity of the temporary tag system.

For more information on the proper display and use of temporary license plates in California, you can visit the official California DMV website:

Duration and Replacement with Permanent Plates

When it comes to temporary license plates in California, it’s important to understand the duration of their validity and the process for replacing them with permanent plates. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

General 90-day validity period

Temporary license plates in California are typically valid for a period of 90 days. This allows vehicle owners to operate their vehicles legally while waiting for their permanent plates to be issued. It’s important to note that this 90-day period starts from the date of purchase or acquisition of the vehicle, rather than the date the temporary plates are issued.

During this 90-day period, it is crucial to ensure that all necessary paperwork and fees are submitted to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to obtain permanent plates. Failure to do so within the specified timeframe may result in penalties or fines.

Extensions and exceptions

In certain circumstances, it is possible to request an extension for the temporary license plate. The DMV may grant an extension if there are delays in obtaining the necessary paperwork or if there are other valid reasons for the delay.

However, it is important to note that extensions are granted on a case-by-case basis and are not guaranteed.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need an extension, it is recommended to contact the DMV directly and provide them with the necessary information and documentation to support your request. They will be able to guide you through the process and provide you with the appropriate solution.

Returning plates after registration

Once you have obtained your permanent license plates, it is important to return the temporary plates to the DMV. This ensures that the temporary plates are properly accounted for and prevents any misuse or fraudulent activities associated with them.

You can return the temporary plates by either mailing them to the DMV or visiting a local DMV office in person. It is advisable to check the DMV website or contact them directly to determine the specific instructions and requirements for returning the plates.

Remember, it is your responsibility as a vehicle owner to comply with the rules and regulations regarding temporary license plates in California. By understanding the duration of their validity and the process for replacing them with permanent plates, you can navigate this aspect of vehicle registration with ease.

Special Cases and Scenarios

Out-of-state transfers

When it comes to transferring temporary license plates from out-of-state, California has specific requirements. If you have recently moved to California and want to transfer the temporary plates from your previous state, you will need to visit the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office.

They will guide you through the process of transferring your out-of-state temporary plates to California plates.

It’s important to note that each state has different rules and regulations regarding temporary license plates, so it’s crucial to check with the DMV to ensure compliance with California’s requirements.

Lost or damaged plates

Accidents happen, and temporary license plates can get lost or damaged. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t panic. The first step is to report the lost or damaged plates to the local law enforcement agency. They will provide you with a report that you will need to present to the DMV.

When you visit the DMV, bring the police report, identification, and any other required documents. The DMV will assist you in obtaining a replacement for your lost or damaged temporary plates. Keep in mind that there may be a fee associated with this process, so be prepared to pay if necessary.

Selling a vehicle with temp tags

If you are selling a vehicle that still has temporary license plates, there are a few things you need to know. First, it’s important to inform the buyer that the plates are temporary and will need to be replaced with permanent plates.

This is the buyer’s responsibility, and they will need to visit the DMV to complete the necessary paperwork.

As the seller, it’s crucial to remove the temporary plates from the vehicle before handing it over to the buyer. You should also ensure that you have all the necessary documentation ready for the buyer, such as the bill of sale and any transfer forms required by the DMV.

Remember, selling a vehicle with temporary plates is a temporary solution, and it’s essential for both parties to follow up with the DMV to ensure the transfer of ownership is completed correctly.


While they seem like an afterthought, temporary license plates in California must be used properly to avoid problems. Following the regulations for obtaining, displaying, and replacing temps is crucial. With preparation and diligence, California drivers can navigate the temporary registration process smoothly.

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