Understanding the continued expenses, deductibles and donations that define a custom license plate in California is not as simple as it may seem. The custom license plate program was initially created to raise funds for specific organizations and causes, but now the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has expanded the custom plate program to include a much wider scope of popular requests.
Created in 1993 by a law allowing the DMV to sell custom plates for a fee, at least one-third of the revenue from DMV custom plates go back to the state’s General Fund. But the rest is allocated toward specific causes.
These causes are then divided into two categories: university groups and non-university groups.
- University or college-based plates pay an annual fee that ranges from $40 per year for University of California plates to $98 per year for Stanford University plates. The custom plate fee also goes toward different causes within each of these groups, such as scholarships or alumni associations.
- Non-university custom license plates only contribute to the cause that they represent and do not pay an annual fee for customizability. However, they must be sponsored by a person, business or organization and prove significant community involvement in order to be approved by the DMV Board.
The sponsoring group must provide $1,500 when submitting their custom plate request and prove that this money was used toward promoting the custom plate’s name and purpose. They also need to show evidence of 500 prepaid orders before the custom license plate can be made available to California drivers through the DMV. The 500 prepaid custom plates become the property of the sponsoring organization and cannot be used as personal custom license plates.
When it comes to customizing a custom plate, allocating funds for expenses that eventually come out of the custom license plates revenue is crucial. Every custom license plate has an initial $50 fee associated with its creation and production costs. By law, this $50 fee must go toward offsetting administrative costs involved in producing the custom plate, which includes materials and labor costs.
However, depending on their cause, university-sponsored custom license plates pay promotional fees ($15 per year) instead of an initial $50 fee because they are already expected to generate significant revenue for their organizations. The same goes for other university-related custom license plates.
For custom license plates representing a non-university cause, the initial custom plate fee is covered by their sponsoring organization. However, these custom license plates must pay an annual contribution toward offsetting administrative costs involved in producing custom license plates for all drivers – not just those who have ordered it as their own custom plate.
In simple terms this means that unless you are willing to pay the inflated price to order a custom license tag from your local DMV office, you will have trouble finding anything other than “vanity tags” available for purchase online. Don’t expect a quiet life with a personalized tag either… your neighbors will soon begins complaining about seeing your tag everywhere they go!
Custom License Plate Costs and Figures
- Custom license plates for non-university causes can range from $28.00 for a custom plate number to a staggering $49.00 per year for personalized custom license plates (with one custom letter/number).
- Fees for customizing university custom license plates are much less, ranging from $15.00 to $38.00 annually depending on the specific cause it represents.
- The average cost of customizing an individual California state-issued custom license plate is about $32.60 per year plus initial fees associated with making it available at local DMV offices and online through the “my DMV” program – which brings the total price tag up to about $50+ depending on your choice of customizations and whether you choose to have it custom made or personalized. So, in most cases customizing your own custom license plate in California will cost you more per year than simply buying your state-issued custom tag with no customizations at all!
- If you are looking to buy a custom license tag for temporary use, whether it be for a special occasion or just because you want to do something different when driving around town, then you are also out of luck. California has banned the sale of temporary custom tags so if you want one… expect to spend big ($50+ is not uncommon)!
Given the small number of custom license tags that are custom-designed every year, California drivers might be better off just buying their personalized custom plates or trying to create their own vanity tags instead. It would certainly save you a substantial amount of money!