These trendy custom California license plates are illegal

These trendy custom California license plates are illegal

If you live in California, there's a decent chance you've spotted a car wearing a unique, differently colored license plate. And no, I'm not talking about the popular retro black plate nor any of the other special interest plates issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles. I'm talking about plates like the one pictured up there (I changed the numbers, BTW), which are customized to match a car's color schemes or owner's specific style whims. Anecdotally, they seem particularly prevalent on Teslas, and I must admit that they look pretty good. Being able to customize your license plate to match your car is a terrific idea, especially when your state has such a lousy standard license plate.

The trouble is, they are illegal.

That was my suspicion, because how could just making your own license plates possibly be legal, right? I nevertheless reached out to the California DMV, who passed along the specific sections of the California Vehicle Code (CVC) that they violate.

According to Section 4464, “A person shall not display upon a vehicle a license plate that is altered from its original markings.” This would cover license plate vinyl wrap kits, such as these, which use your DMV-issued license plate.

Indeed, the California Highway Patrol told us that the number of violations for altered license plates has indeed been increasing. In 2020 and 2021, the CHP issued approximately 220 citations for displaying a license plate that is altered from its original markings (as in wrapping it). In 2022 alone, that number jumped to more than 990 citations. The CHP did note that these did not include digital license plates or the vinyl front license plate wraps that are part of a legal DMV pilot program. It did note whether the CHP officers who wrote the citations checked to see if the offending plate was indeed wrapped or a from-scratch creation.