What Does A Red License Plate Mean In Colorado?

Have you noticed some vehicles driving around Colorado with red license plates and wondered why they have them? Red plates in Colorado have a special meaning that regular passenger vehicles don’t. If you’ve seen these eye-catching plates and want to know more, read on.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: Red license plates in Colorado indicate that the vehicle is owned by a Native American tribal member. They allow vehicles owned by Native Americans who live on reservations to be registered in the state.

This comprehensive guide will explain everything you need to know about Colorado’s red license plates. We’ll cover what types of vehicles can get red plates, who is eligible, the registration process, fees, restrictions, history, and more. Whether you recently spotted a red Colorado plate or are just curious about them, you’ll learn all about this unique program by the end.

Background and History

Colorado, like many other states, uses special license plates to indicate certain vehicle characteristics or designations. One such special license plate in Colorado is the red license plate. The red license plate serves as an indicator for vehicles that are part of the state’s dealer inventory or fleet vehicles.

This designation allows law enforcement officers and other motorists to easily identify these vehicles on the road. It is important to note that the red license plate is not available for individual vehicle owners. It is specifically reserved for dealerships and fleet operators.

The use of red license plates in Colorado dates back several decades. It was introduced as a way to differentiate between regular vehicles and those that are part of a dealership’s inventory or fleet. This distinction helps to streamline processes such as vehicle registration and taxation.

When a vehicle is part of a dealer’s inventory, it is not subject to certain registration fees and taxes that individual vehicle owners must pay. The red license plate serves as a visual cue to indicate that the vehicle is exempt from these fees, as it is intended for business use rather than personal use.

Colorado’s red license plate system has evolved over time to include additional designations. For example, there are now red license plates specifically designated for government vehicles, such as those used by law enforcement agencies or other government entities.

What Vehicles Qualify for Red Plates?

In Colorado, red license plates are reserved for specific types of vehicles. These plates are easily recognizable and often raise curiosity among motorists. Let’s take a closer look at the vehicles that qualify for red plates.

Emergency Vehicles

One category of vehicles that can have red license plates are emergency vehicles. This includes ambulances, fire trucks, and police vehicles. Red plates on these vehicles help to easily identify them on the road and signal to other drivers that they may need to yield or make way for them in emergency situations.

These vehicles play a vital role in ensuring public safety and the red plates serve as a visual cue to remind everyone to be cautious when encountering them on the road.

Dealer Vehicles

Another type of vehicle that may have red plates are dealer vehicles. These are the cars that you often see at car dealerships. Red plates are used to distinguish them from personal vehicles and indicate that they are being used for business purposes.

This allows dealerships to easily track and manage their inventory. So, the next time you see a car with a red license plate, it’s likely a dealer vehicle waiting to be sold to its new owner.

Government Vehicles

Government vehicles are also eligible for red license plates. These plates are typically seen on vehicles belonging to government agencies, such as state or local authorities. By having red plates, these vehicles can be easily recognized as official government vehicles, which can be helpful in situations where they need to perform their duties or access certain areas.

It’s not uncommon to see red plates on vehicles used by law enforcement, park rangers, or other government agencies.

Temporary Tags

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that temporary tags issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in Colorado can also be red. These temporary tags are used when someone has purchased a vehicle but hasn’t received their permanent license plates yet.

It’s a temporary solution to ensure that the vehicle is legally registered and can be driven on the road until the permanent plates arrive. So, if you come across a vehicle with a red license plate, it might just be a temporary tag.

Eligibility Requirements

Standard License Plate Eligibility

Before diving into the red license plate, it’s important to understand the eligibility requirements for a standard license plate in Colorado. In order to obtain a standard license plate, individuals must meet several criteria:

  • Be a resident of Colorado
  • Provide proof of identity
  • Provide proof of vehicle ownership
  • Pass a vehicle emissions test (if applicable)
  • Pay the required fees

Specialty License Plate Eligibility

The red license plate in Colorado is considered a specialty license plate and has its own set of eligibility requirements. These requirements may vary depending on the specific type of red plate you are interested in obtaining. Some common eligibility criteria for specialty plates include:

  • Supporting a particular cause or organization
  • Being a veteran or active-duty military member
  • Being a member of a specific profession or group

Specific Red License Plate Eligibility

It’s important to note that not all red license plates have the same eligibility requirements. Each type of red plate is associated with a different cause or organization, and the eligibility criteria may vary accordingly.

For example, the red license plate with the fire department emblem may require individuals to be active or retired firefighters.

If you’re interested in obtaining a red license plate, it’s best to visit the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles website for specific eligibility requirements. www.colorado.gov/dmv provides up-to-date information on the different types of red plates available, as well as the eligibility criteria for each one.

Remember, eligibility requirements can change over time, so it’s always a good idea to double-check the information on the official Colorado DMV website before applying for a red license plate.

How to Apply and Register

Applying for and registering a red license plate in Colorado is a straightforward process. Here are the steps you need to follow:

Step 1: Gather Required Documents

Before applying, make sure you have all the necessary documents. These typically include:

  • Proof of identity (such as a driver’s license or passport)
  • Proof of residency (such as a utility bill or lease agreement)
  • Proof of vehicle ownership (such as the vehicle title or registration)

It is always a good idea to double-check the specific requirements on the Colorado Department of Revenue website www.colorado.gov/revenue.

Step 2: Complete the Application

Once you have gathered all the necessary documents, you can proceed to complete the application. The application form can be obtained from your local DMV office or downloaded from the Colorado Department of Revenue website. Fill out the form accurately and provide all the required information.

Step 3: Pay the Fee

When submitting your application, you will be required to pay a fee for the red license plate. The fee amount can vary, so it is best to check the current fee schedule on the Colorado Department of Revenue website or contact your local DMV office for the exact amount.

Step 4: Receive your Red License Plate

After submitting your application and paying the fee, you will receive your red license plate. The processing time can vary, but you will typically receive your plate within a few weeks. Once you have received it, make sure to properly attach it to your vehicle following the instructions provided.

Remember, it is important to follow the application and registration process accurately to ensure a smooth and hassle-free experience. If you have any questions or need assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local DMV office or visit the Colorado Department of Revenue website for more information.

Fees, Renewals, and Replacement Plates

When it comes to red license plates in Colorado, understanding the fees, renewal process, and how to replace them is essential. Let’s dive into the details:


Obtaining a red license plate in Colorado typically involves paying certain fees. The exact costs may vary depending on the type of vehicle and any additional services or features you opt for. It’s always a good idea to check the Colorado Department of Revenue’s website for the most up-to-date fee information.

For example: as of 2021, the fee for a standard passenger vehicle license plate is $3.00. However, fees may differ for motorcycles, trailers, or specialty plates.


Like any other license plate, red license plates in Colorado require periodic renewals. The renewal process ensures that your vehicle remains registered and roadworthy. In most cases, you will receive a renewal notice in the mail, prompting you to renew your license plate before it expires.

Did you know? In Colorado, vehicle registration renewals can be done online, by mail, or in person at a local Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. Online renewals are often the easiest and most convenient option, allowing you to complete the process from the comfort of your own home.

Replacement Plates

If your red license plate becomes damaged, lost, or stolen, it’s important to take prompt action. Driving with a damaged or missing license plate can lead to fines or other legal consequences. In Colorado, you can request a replacement license plate through the DMV.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Replacement plates can be ordered online, by mail, or in person at a local DMV office.
  • You may need to provide certain documents, such as your vehicle registration, identification, and proof of insurance.
  • There may be a fee associated with obtaining a replacement license plate.

Remember, it’s important to report a lost or stolen license plate to the authorities to protect yourself from potential misuse.

For more information on fees, renewals, and replacement plates, visit the Colorado Department of Revenue’s website: https://dmv.colorado.gov/vehicle-registration


Colorado’s eye-catching red license plates serve an important purpose for Native American tribal members. Now that you understand what vehicles qualify, who is eligible, and how to obtain them, you’ll know the significance when you spot one on the road. With their unique look, red plates give Native Americans driving privileges while proudly displaying their tribal identity.

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