How to Get Custom License Plate in California

How to Get Custom License Plate in California

In this post, we’re going to discuss something that many people who buy a new vehicle consider – a custom California plate. We are basically going to talk about how to get custom license plate in California. You will find out everything about customizing your plates, including how to obtain them, the costs, and some important questions you may have. There are 3 ways to get custom plates, including online, by mail, and by phone. Due to the nature of this topic, we will focus on the online process.

So you have that clever idea, and you are ready to order your custom CA plates. My favorite method is online due to its convenience. It’s easier to check if the plate is available, and you can also see how it will look, which is important because you want to make sure it looks good on your car since it will be there for a while. As for the mail method, you print the forms, fill them out, and send them to the DMV. Unfortunately, this takes more time and may be slower. The third method is over the phone – it’s direct – you just call the DMV and follow the steps. However, we’re focusing on the online method because it’s the most popular and easily the best way to get a personlized license plate in CA.

How to Get Custom License Plate in California

How to Get Custom License Plate in California

1. Visit the CA DMV Website

Just open your browser and visit this CA DMV website. On this site, you’ll notice many options for special interests and personalized plates. Now, the DMV online services don’t take American Express, so take note. But if you scroll down a bit on the website, you’ll find the different ways you can pay and also see the choices between sequential plates and personalized plates. As for the sequential plates, it means that you will be given a number at random. So you won’t be able to pick your own number or letters, though the look of the plate could still be unique. On the other hand, you can choose a fully personalized plate.

First off, you need to know that license plates in California are given to a vehicle that you actually own. The special number ‘69’ is specifically for vehicles from the ’69 model year.

2. Select a Valid License Plate Message

The CA DMV does reject some personalized license plate applications. Now, there are a few reasons your license plate request might not go through. For instance, if you apply for a special license plate, the DMV will ask you what your plate’s message means. If it turns out to have any ‘sensual’ meanings or anything that’s considered offensive, they’ll not approve it. So, choose something that’s without any offensive content. Once you understand and agree to all of this, you just scroll to the bottom of the website and tick the box that says, ‘By checking this box, I agree to the terms stated above.’

3. Select Your Plate Type

So, for the vehicle type, you choose ‘Auto’ for a regular car. There are also options for a motorcycle, a trailer, and a commercial. Note that your vehicle must be currently registered to get this special interest plate in California. You will need to enter your VIN (vehicle identification number) and the previous license plate number you are replacing.

If your vehicle is leased or owned in a company name, you can’t order a new plate online. This means that you may only get this personalized plate at the DMV, where they can complete the ownership verifications. You won’t also be eligible to get the CA custom license plate if your current registration expires in 60 days.

4. Choose a License Plate

So, we are in the fourth step you will take to get custom license plate in California. After you have ticked that box and clicked ‘Continue’, this new page is where you do all the customizations.

You can just choose exactly what you prefer. There are different options, such as a basic white plate, a California pink one (for breast cancer awareness), or even one from the California Museum. There are a lot of license plate designs, including different colors. There are also memorial plates. If you are a fan of trends, then I recommend you select the 1960 Legacy plate because it has been popular recently. It also has a vintage vibe if you have an old-school car.

You’ll also find a list of how much each plate costs. For a basic plate, it’s $53 to buy it initially and then $43 every year after that. The list shows the prices for all the different plates. Now, the legacy plates are a bit cheaper than the others. But some plates, such as Breast Cancer Awareness, are more expensive and cost $103 to get and $83 to renew each year.

5. Personalize Your California License Plate

You can choose your license plate and preview it, and you can also include spaces. You’ll notice there are little check boxes under the letters, and you are allowed one space. This space can be added at the beginning, end, or in the middle of your plate.

Once you pick your plate and put all your details on it, you can click ‘Next’. At this stage, you need to explain what your plate means. The DMV wants to make sure it’s nothing inappropriate for your car. If the plate message you prefer is already taken, then try another one. If unavailable, you will typically receive a pop-up saying, “Sorry, the plate you have requested is not available.” You can put spaces, but if the letters are the same, it won’t be accepted. Just remember, you can pick from letters and numbers when customizing your plates.

6. Pick Up Your Plates at the MDV

So, when your plates are ready at the DMV, that’s the time to take off your old plates. Make sure that these plates have the current year’s sticker and tag before you hand them in. Then, you’ll get new plates with new stickers and tags. At this point, you have to decide which vehicle you want to put these new plates on. Unlike standard plates, personalized plates belong to you. You can put them on different vehicles as long as you keep renewing them every year. They remain yours, so if you buy a new car, you can move them from your old car to the new one by just going to the DMV and asking to change the vehicle they’re assigned to. I learned this from talking to the CA DMV employee.

Also, you can’t transfer your personalized plates to someone else. What you do is give them back to the DMV. Then, they make them available for others to pick. You can’t buy a plate and sell it like an investment, like it happens in Dubai. That doesn’t work in California.


We have been able to explain how to get custom license plate in California in 6 steps. Just follow these steps, and you are good to go. That pretty much covers everything about the CA legacy plates or customized plates in general. I have also raised other important points, including the cost of CA custom plates in this post.

Read AlsoWhat to Do with Old License Plates California

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