California License Plate Lookup

California is a prosperous state, housing the Silicon Valley and Hollywood within its borders. It is also a state famous for its car sales and auctions. It has one of the biggest markets for automobiles in the country.

Buying a car involves a lot of legal and administrative decisions before actually driving it on the road. This includes the task of registering and acquiring a legal license plate. This is important because we live in a world where it has become straightforward for car thieves and scammers to easily steal your car and replace it with a random license plate.

Before buying a car, you must perform a license plate lookup to ensure that you are not buying an illegally sourced car. The license plate will give you easy access to the vehicle history report, which contains all records for each vehicle. Looking up the car history will save you a lot of trouble and avoid frequent visits to the mechanic, or worse, the police (if the car is stolen).

This article covers everything there is to know about California license plates and how you register and look them up.

What Is a California License Plate?

The California Department of motor vehicles defines a license plate as a plate, decal, or placard that aids with identifying vehicle owners and providing their proof of registration, grant driving, parking permissions, privileges, and so on.

According to state law, legal license plates are required for the following types of vehicles:

  • Passenger vehicles
  • Motorcycles
  • Commercial motor vehicles
  • Permanent trailers
  • RVs and trailer coaches
  • Park trailers

License plates have been a legal requirement since 1905. At the moment, they are issued by the Department of Motor vehicles in California. The DMV requires all vehicles to have their front and rear plates. This excludes motorcycles and RV trailers, and they are required to have rear plates only. Law enforcement agencies and government officials often use license plates to trace a vehicle.

Types of California License Plates

In California, the Motor Vehicle Department (DMV) issues eight types of license plates. They differ based on your needs, requirements, and types of vehicles. Based on the information provided by the California state DMV, the license plates can be classified into:

Standard License

This type of license plate contains information that helps identify and verify driver registration and the type of vehicle being driven. This is issued when an individual buys a new vehicle, has lost/damaged or gotten their license plate stolen, or have returned their special interest license plates to the DMV.

Special License

Special license plates are given on request. They can be ordered to recognize any special services, achievements, status, or occupation that an individual or organization wishes to highlight on their license plate.

Special Interest Motorcycle License

In California, certain special license plates are reserved for motorcycles only. These special interest license plates are used to showcase an organization, institution, cause, or charity on the license plate of a motorcycle. Some examples are Breast Cancer Awareness, Environmental, Firefighters, and so on.

Special Interest License

These license plates are issued to vehicles that are affiliated or belong to a particular organization, institution, or charity. They have a separate license plate.

Special Recognition License

These fall under the category of special license plates. They are given to people who have received significant honors like the Gold Star, Purple Heart, Legion of Valour or any other military/civilian recognition of equal status.

Occupational License

These licenses are issued to dealers and dismantlers.

Legislation License

These licenses are issued for individuals who work in the Senate, Assembly, or other local and federal electoral bodies. As per the information on the California DMV website, these license plates are issued to current and retired members of the California State Assembly, Senate, and House of representatives. Each license plate is distinguished with a designated letter to indicate the position held by the individual.

Apportioned License

These licenses are given to power units and corporations. While prorate plates are no longer in circulation, they were issued for interstate fleet vehicles to show apportioned stickers.

When you request a special license plate, a portion of the DMV fees goes to the charity or cause represented on the plate. Many find this to be a feasible way to support their favorite cause and spread the news about their work to others on the road. Special license plates can also be customized in sequential or personalized styles with numbers and letters.

Legal Requirements in Title and Vehicle Registration in California

All new residents to California are required by law to register their vehicles within 20 of becoming a resident. According to the DMV website for the state of California, there are certain documents you need to keep in handy when you go to register your car at the local DMV office. We have prepared a handy checklist for you-

  • Title of the car
  • Emissions inspection certificate
  • Proof of ID
  • Vehicle registration form or Form Reg 343- filled out and signed by the owner. For commercial vehicles, owners need to fill Form Reg 4008, and trailers need to register under Form Reg 4017.
  • Money to pay the fees in case you are registering a commercial vehicle.

For additional information regarding special vehicles and registrations, check the DMV website for the state of California.

What Can You Find Through California License Plate Search?

You can quickly look up information about any vehicle using the license plate number. This can either be done on the DMV website or via third party websites like VinPit. A vehicle report contains all the necessary information about your car, which can be accessed using your license plate number:

  • The market value of your car- this is useful if you are looking to sell your car.
  • Vehicle specifications- the license plate will provide accurate details of the vehicle. This is important information to check when you are buying a used car.
  • Equipment details- this refers to the various equipment and parts installed in your vehicle.
  • Fuel efficiency – this refers to the fuel efficiency and mileage of the vehicle.
  • Safety rating- This gives you the safety rating of the vehicle.
  • Inspection checklist- this lets you know if all the parts are in proper order. You also get to know if the car went through any significant damage or accident.
  • Status of warranty- This lets you know if the car is still under warranty with the manufacturer.
  • Details of auto insurance- this gives the details of the auto insurance registered for the car.
  • NMVTIS report


Is It Required To Register My License Plate?

Yes! It is an absolute must to register your car license plate with the state DMV before driving your car in California. If you don’t register your vehicle and get caught, you can attract unwanted fines and legal troubles. Furthermore, registering your license plate makes it easy to trace your vehicle if thieves or scammers have stolen it. You can access your vehicle history report using your license plate number.

It is mandatory to register your car within 20 days of becoming a resident of California.

Are There Any Special Instructions To Keep In Mind Because Of COVID-19?

Yes, due to the ongoing pandemic, the process of registration of vehicles for license plates has moved entirely online. The website lists all the documents required for registering your license plate online. Go visit: for more information.

How Do I Know If My Second-Hand Car Has Any History Of Damage?

This is easy! All you need is your vehicle history report to know all the available information about your car. You can access this by entering the license plate number into the DMV website or on third party pages like VinPit, which collates information from various sources to give you a comprehensive report on your car.

Who Can I Talk To If I Facing Trouble With The Registration Process?

In case you are facing issues with the license registration process, you can contact the technical support staff at the DMV via their technical support page or by mail. You can check the internet for third-party resources.


A CA license plate lookup can tell the whole story of a car. Looking up the license information of a car can be the difference between a good deal and a bad scam. However, as we have shown you, there are ways to avoid bad decisions caused by misinformation.

With VinPit, you can do everything required to register and use your license plates in California. With VinPit, you have access to multiple services like VIN check, VIN decoder, and license plate lookup, and vehicle history report. License plate lookup California helps with all vehicle license-related tasks easier to manage.