I'm seeing a change in the license plate situation in Calif

Up to now 5-15% of the cars on the roads here in the San Jose Calif area displayed no identifying license plates, front or rear. But I’m now seeing a weird looking rear paper license plate on some cars on the road. It has actual numbers like a normal license plate; but I was thinking it is still a fake paper-plate scam. Apparently not, these new plates are printed & installed by the dealership upon sale of the car, and the numbers on these new paper plates tell the police – via a DMV database – who owns the vehicle. I expect there’s still plenty of other ways to avoid displaying owner identifying license plates, but this seems to be a step in the right direction at least. Good for Calif politico’s for finally addressing an long-standing and obvious problem.


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I think it is Car & Driver that has an article on the smart plates that you can buy. Something like $500 and $100 a year. Allows you to display messages on the like stolen and have it sent to your phone. 1000 so far. Always something. I thought I canceled but maybe not.

Oops, Car and Driver, not MT. The one that reviews SUVs and Trucks and lists about 25 different comparison specs but not the towing capacity. I spend about 30 minutes reading it and then into the recycling bin. I hope I didn’t pay more than $10 for the subscription.

I’ve seen a few cars displaying electronic plates here in San Jose in the past year or so. Not a common thing on the road, but there’s a few. Seems like a bad idea safety-wise to me, another driver distraction isn’t what’s needed.

I just bought an 8 month old car, it had the plates but the dealer finance guy was telling me that now they have to issue these paper plates so the police would know who you are.

The problem was that people would keep driving with no plates/dealer ad in the place for ever, one of them being my neighbor. I offered to put her plates on a few years ago but she said “why”. But now she has her plates on.

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Darn near all the rest of the states have a paper temporary plate good for 30 days until the title (or lien title) arrives and you can get your metal plates. Ohio has done this since well before I bought my first car.

The rest of the country already has the solution your state just NOW figured out. :roll_eyes:


Paper plates are temp plates. Usually given by the dealer after you buy a new vehicle. Her in NH and MA the vanity plate capital of the world…when people buy a new car they need to get a new vanity plate. It takes a few weeks to get one made, so they get temp plates and leave them on until the vanity plate comes in.

I’m a tad confused- is the issue that you are talking about the fact that folks do not display plates at all? If so, I fail to see how a different type of plate will help this.

or something else?

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MD used to have temporary paper plates for dealer cars, but new car dealers seem to have a supply of permanent plates on hand now.

Who knew there were so many different practices. In MN, dealers do not issue plates. Only DMV and their private vendors do. When you buy a new car, the dealer issues a 21 day window sticker, collects the money for plates, and submits it to DMV and the plates are then delivered to the dealer within the 21 days. Dealers have “dealer” plates that are used for demonstrator cars not titled yet. Usually on magnets for temporary use. On a used car, the plate just stays with the car and the title is registered with the DMV. Seems to work pretty well. Front and back plates and bar coded.

End of Feb I went down and got new stickers for 2020 for $341. Put them on and later that day ran through the car wash. That night I noticed the front tag was only half there so down to DMV the next day. They had to cancel the bar code on the old stickers and issue a new set with a new bar code to replace both front and back. Cost me $10 more for a new set. Said not to use that particular car wash. Too bad, I’m not listening. They used to use 3M adhesive which was a better quality than the low bid stuff now. Call it OCD but I always strip the old stickers off first instead of piling them on year after year and make sure they are straight.

Yup. Cars driving around with no plates is normal appearances because Cali didn’t issue a temporary paper tag.

If the car is unregistered forever, there is no way to know unless the car is stopped by a policeman for some violation. If you follow the law and don’t get stopped, you can drive forever without ever paying for registration.

The paper tag means that EVERY car has some kind of registration, temporary or permanent that identifies the owner of the car and that it is, indeed, registered.

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thanks @Mustangman. I understand better now. :slight_smile:

AZ issues paper tags until the real plates come in.

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The DMV still issues them, it’s just more efficient to issue the plates to the dealer and let them deal with the paperwork. The dealer gets a group of consecutively numbered plates, then gets more when they run low.

In NH, you can go to your town clerk and get plates immediately. Dealers still issue temp tags but there’s no waiting to get plates unless you’re wanting to order something special. I also register my cars online, they get processed by the town clerk and I get my new stickers by the next day but sometimes the same day in the mail!

It is sort of strange that it took Calif politicians so long to figure this one out. There have been many reports in the newspaper over the years of people seeing serious crimes being committed, and when the perp gets in their car and drives away, they have no license plate at all on their vehicle to identify them. I presume the reason it took so long is b/c there are interests that didn’t want the expense or bother of dealing w/cars that don’t display identifying license plates, dealerships, police, etc. Maybe the exposure here was part of the reason the politico’s finally took some action, who knows?

While I am proud to hold the record of taking the longest time ever to rebuild a carburetor, the record for taking the longest time to take some common sense action on license plates goes to Calif politicians, that’s for sure.


I think it became known that the State was losing millions in unpaid tolls and parking tickets. And the police have become more and more reliant on license plate readers to track down people.

Really? All of those have license plates here. The dealerships use magnets to hold them on the rear license plate spot, or attach straps that are held by the trunk lid.

The term we always used was “dealer plates” They tied the plate back to the dealer but not the specific car. The same is true of “manufacturer’s plates” In Michigan, they have an “M” on them. In Ohio, they were labeled “manufacturer”

It gives the police at least a place to investigate if not an actual person.

Yes, the dealer plates are clearly identified as such so the police won’t stop them and ask why the plates aren’t permanently mounted.

Yes, California is kinda behind despite what the rest of the union might think.

We just have a better taxation system :wink:

I think California itself is primarily the group thinking it is ahead…