DEALER ALERT: Temporary license plates

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Starting January 1, 2019, vehicles sold at retail that do not already display permanent license plates must display a temporary license plate. In addition, dealers will no longer use a pre-printed Report of Sale form and display it in retailed vehicles. Instead, they must complete an electronic Report of Sale and display the temporary identification section of the ROS form created through that system in the sold vehicle.

While the law up to this point allowed vehicles sold at retail to be operated without a license plate for up to 90 days, the legislature found that the lack of license plates presented public safety issues and leads to lost toll income. As a result, the legislature passed Assembly Bill 516 (2016) requiring the DMV to implement a temporary license plate system. DMV worked with an independent contractor and current Business Partner Automation (BPA) program participants to create the new electronic reporting and temporary license plate system.

Dealers that participate in the BPA program (all franchised dealers and many independent dealers) will have the option to use one of the following participating providers to make electronic reports and provide temporary license plates:

  • American Driving Records, Inc. (ADR)
  • Automated Vehicle Registration Service, Inc. (AVRS)
  • Dealertrack Registration and Titling Solutions
  • Motor Vehicle Software Corporation (MVSC/VITU)

Dealers who do not participate in the BPA program may also work with Fairfax Imagine, Inc. to create temporary license plates and make electronic reports of sale.

Each dealer will be responsible for ensuring that temporary license plates are securely attached to the vehicle on the front and back of the vehicle. In addition, the identification portion of the ROS form must still be placed in the window of the vehicle at the time of sale in the same manner as is currently required by law. If a temporary license plate is damaged, lost or stolen, customers must return to the selling dealership to request a reprint of the temporary license plate.

Frequently asked questions

What information will be displayed on the temporary license plate?

All of the following will be displayed on the temporary license plate:

  • The unique temporary license plate number
  • Report of Sale number
  • Vehicle identification number
  • Vehicle make
  • Vehicle model year
  • Expiration date
  • Quick response (QR) code

Will the temporary license plate number match the permanent license plate?

No. The temporary license plate number will contain a unique alpha-numeric number that will not match the permanent license plate number.

How long are temporary license plates valid?

Temporary license plates will be valid for 90 days after the sale of the vehicle, or until the customer receives the permanent license plate, which event occurs first.

Is there any charge to the customer for the temporary license plate?


Is there a penalty for displaying an expired temporary license plate?

Yes. Drivers will receive a “fix-it” ticket for displaying an expired or no permanent license plate. Drivers will also face a penalty that varies by county for each violation. Fines range from $25 with proof of correction to $197 without proof of correction.

If a customer does not receive a permanent license plate within 90 days, what should that customer do?

The DMV is encouraging customers who do not receive a permanent license plate within 90 days to return to the dealership to resolve the issue. If the dealership is unable to resolve the issue, the DMV is recommending that customers register a complaint with the DMV.

Must the temporary license plates be displayed on the front and back of the vehicle?

Yes. Just as California law requires that permanent license plates be displayed on the back and front of the vehicle, the temporary license plates are subject to the same requirement. California law requires that front and rear plates be placed no more than 60 inches from the ground, be securely attached to the vehicle, and be mounted in an upright fashion.

How should dealers attach temporary license plates to vehicles that do not have a front license plate holder?

Dealers should ensure that the temporary license plate is displayed in a manner that is compliant with California law, i.e. that it is displayed no more than 60 inches above the ground, securely attached to the vehicle, and mounted in an upright fashion. Dealers take some risk if they do not install front license plate holders and place the temporary license plate in that holder. Many dealers currently use a front license plate acknowledgment form with customers to inform them of the legal requirement to display a front license plate and that a bracket or other means of securing the front plate is available. However, front license plate acknowledgment forms will not relieve dealers of their duty under California law to ensure that the front temporary license plate is correctly displayed. However, it will alleviate issues related to customers who refuse to have a front bracket installed and later receive a citation.

What compliance options are dealers considering?

While most vehicles arrive in California with pre-installed front license plate brackets, some vehicles, especially high-end vehicles, do not. Dealers across California are therefore weighing their options for complying with the new temporary license plate requirement. Among the options being considered by those that sell vehicles that do not arrive with a factory-installed front license plate bracket are: a) installing the bracket and attaching a temporary license plate; b) asking customers who refuse installation of a front license plate bracket to sign an acknowledgment, but nevertheless attaching the temporary license plate using semi-permanent hardware (e.g., double-sided tape or zip ties); or c) asking such customers to sign an acknowledgment that also purports to release the dealer from the obligation to attach the front temporary license plate. While option (c) appears straightforward, it is not recommended because the statute’s wording and statements from DMV strongly suggest that the dealer’s duty to attach front (and rear) temporary license plates is “un-waivable.” An experienced automotive attorney can help you weigh the risks and benefits of each approach and to determine a method to document the dealerships attempts to comply with the law.