California DMV Information - Updated: 1/2/13
Many people have problems registering their teardrop trailers in the State of California because most DMV officials don't know how to handle them. It's actually quite simple and you just have to be persistent to get them to do it right. This also applies to other camping trailers up to 16 feet in total length.
Almost all teardrop trailers fall into a classification of "Camp Trailer" (see below). The advantage of registering your trailer as a camp trailer is that it qualifies for Permanent Trailer Identification (PTI) registration which only has to be renewed every 5 years for $10.
You can either get new plates that say "California Perm Trailer" in script across the top or you can get a "PTI" sticker for your old plate as shown on the examples on this page. Tell them to look at chapter 14 of the "Vehicle Industry Registration Procedures". Click here to see that section of the manual. Page 14-3 gives the definition of camp trailers.
You can also use special-interest or personalized plates on trailers with a PTI sticker. Even if the DMV clerk tells you that you can't, insist that it is valid. Chapter 21 of the "Vehicle Industry Registration Procedures" has the information on personalized plates. Click here to see that section of the manual. There isn't a particular section that covers it but 21.360 (page 21-48) talks about reasigning these plates to trailers an issuing a PTI sticker.
In addition, those people with vintage trailers can also register year of manufacture (YOM) license plates to your trailer and also use the PTI stickers on them. Currently this only applies to trailers registered as 1969 and older. You need to find a trailer plate that would have been appropriate for the year of your trailer. Of course the number on the plate has to be available. It can be tricky to get the PTI stickers on these plates but they are treated as special-interest plates. Chapter 21 of the "Vehicle Industry Registration Procedures" has the information on YOM plates. Click here to see that section of the manual, see section 21.340 (page 21-43).
If you have anything to add to this information, please let me know.
Click here for more information on California's new Legacy License Plate program.
Below are quotes from the California Vehicle Code as of 8/27/10. You can take these with you to the DMV to make sure they register your trailer properly.
Camp Trailer - DMV Link
242. A "camp trailer" is a vehicle designed to be used on a highway, capable of human habitation for camping or recreational purposes, that does not exceed 16 feet in overall length from the foremost point of the trailer hitch to the rear extremity of the trailer body and does not exceed 96 inches in width and includes any tent trailer. Where a trailer telescopes for travel, the size shall apply to the trailer as fully extended. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a camp trailer shall not be deemed to be a trailer coach.
Added Ch. 1536, Stats. 1971. Operative May 3, 1972.
Permanent Trailer Identification Plate Program - DMV Link
468. The department shall commence the "permanent trailer identification plate program," on or after December 31, 2001, and may designate the method, consistent with this code, to be used by trailers, as defined in Section 5014.1, to receive an assigned permanent trailer identification plate for all trailers, except for trailer coaches and park trailers as described in subdivision (b) of Section 18010 of the Health and Safety Code, for identification purposes. An auxiliary dolly or tow dolly may be assigned a permanent trailer identification plate. The plate shall be in a size and design as determined by the department.
Added Sec. 15, Ch. 861, Stats. 2000. Effective September 29, 2000. Operative December 31, 2001.
Permanent Trailer Identification Plates and Identification Certificates - DMV Link
5014.1. (a) Upon the implementation of the permanent trailer identification plate program, the following applies:
(1) All trailers, except in cases where the registrant has elected to apply for trailer identification plates pursuant to Section 5014 or the trailer is exempt from registration pursuant to Section 36100 or 36109, shall receive an identification certificate upon conversion to the permanent trailer identification program. The following trailers, except as provided in Section 5101, may be assigned a trailer identification plate by the department in accordance with this section or an election may be made to keep the current plate on the expiration date of registration:
(A) Logging dolly.
(B) Pole or pipe dolly.
(E) Trailer bus.
(2) An auxiliary dolly or tow dolly may be assigned a permanent trailer identification plate.
(3) Trailer coaches and park trailers, as described in subdivision (b) of Section 18010 of the Health and Safety Code, are exempted from the permanent trailer identification plate program.
(b) The permanent trailer identification plate shall be in a size and design as determined by the department.
(c) The permanent trailer identification plate and the permanent trailer identification certificate shall not expire as long as the appropriate fees have been paid.
(d) Upon sale or transfer of the trailer or semitrailer, the assigned permanent trailer identification plate shall remain with the trailer or semitrailer for the life of the vehicle except as provided in Section 5101. Upon transfer of ownership, a new identification certificate shall be issued and the transferee shall pay a fee of seven dollars ($7).
(e) A service fee, sufficient to pay at least the entire actual costs to the department, not to exceed twenty dollars ($20) shall be assessed by the department upon converting to the permanent trailer identification program.
(f) A fee of seven dollars ($7) for substitute permanent trailer identification plates or certificates shall be charged.
(g) All valid trailer and semitrailer license plates and registration indicia that were issued under this code prior to December 31, 2001, upon which is affixed a permanent trailer identification sticker issued by the department, may be displayed in lieu of a permanent trailer identification plate as described in Sections 5011 and 5014.
(h) Every trailer that is submitted for original registration in this state shall be issued a permanent trailer identification plate and identification certificate.
(i) A service fee of ten dollars ($10) shall be charged for each vehicle renewing identification plates pursuant to this section. These plates shall be renewed on the anniversary date of either the trailer plate expiration date or the date of issuance of the original permanent trailer identification plate, every five calendar years commencing December 31, 2006.
Added Sec. 24, Ch. 861, Stats. 2000. Effective September 29, 2000. Operative December 31, 2001.
Amended Sec. 14.5, Ch. 826, Stats. 2001. Effective January 1, 2002.
Model Year Date License Plates - DMV Link
NOTE: These are also known as Year Of Manufacture plates or YOM - Click here for a discussion on the tiny trailer forum of how to get these on a vintage trailer with PTI registration.
5004.1. (a) (1) An owner of a vehicle that is a 1969 or older model-year vehicle or the owner of a commercial vehicle or a pickup truck that is a 1972 or older model-year may, after the requirements for the registration of the vehicle are complied with and with the approval of the department, utilize license plates of this state with the date of year corresponding to the model-year date when the vehicle was manufactured, if the model-year date license plate is legible and serviceable, as determined by the department, in lieu of the license plates otherwise required by this code.(2) The department may consult with an organization of old car hobbyists in determining whether the date of year of the license plate corresponds to the model-year date when the vehicle was manufactured.
(b) A fee of forty-five dollars ($45) shall be charged for the application for the use of the special plates.
(c) In addition to the regular renewal fee for the vehicle for which the plates are authorized, the applicant for a renewal of the plates shall be charged an additional fee of ten dollars ($10). If payment of a regular vehicle renewal fee is not required by this code, the holder of license plates with a date corresponding to the model-year may retain the plates upon payment of an annual fee of twenty dollars($20) that shall be due at the expiration of the registration year of the vehicle to which the plates were last assigned under this section.
(d) If a person who is authorized to utilize the special license plates applies to the department for transfer of the plates to another vehicle, a transfer fee of twelve dollars ($12) shall be charged in addition to all other appropriate fees.
Amended Sec. 1, Ch. 497, Stats. 2007. Effective January 1, 2008. Operative July 1, 2009.
Amended Sec. 216, Ch. 179, Stats. 2008. Effective January 1, 2009.
California's Legacy License Plate Program - DMV Link
On September 28, 2012, the California Governor signed into law a new program that allows the DMV to start a legacy license plate program which if fulfilled, will allow the sale and installation of vintage style license plates in the state. There are some conditions that need to be met before the plates can be produced. They must receive 7500 pre-paid orders for the plates before January 2015. As soon as they meet 7500 orders, they will proceed. If they do not reach the goal by January 2015, the program will be canceled and the payments will be refunded.
It appears that you can put any style plate on any year of vehicle, including trailers. The initial cost is $50 and then $40 annually after that. If you have personalized plates, the $40 fee is in addition to the existing $38 annual personalized plate fee. You should be able to use these on any trailer including those with PTI registration. You can only sign up by downloading a form from the DMV web site and sending your check and the form in via mail. No applications will be accepted at DMV locations or AAA branches.
Below is the text of the new statute.
SECTION 1. Section 5004.3 is added to the Vehicle Code, to read:
5004.3. (a) Subject to subdivision (c), the department shall establish the California Legacy License Plate Program and create and issue a series of specialized license plates known as California Legacy License Plates that replicate the look of California license plates from the state’s past. The design of the plates shall be identical, to the extent the department determines it to be reasonably feasible under current manufacturing processes, to a regular license plate, except as provided in subdivision (b).
(b) The California Legacy License Plates shall consist of one or more of the following designs:
(1) Yellow background with black lettering per the appearance of California license plates issued by the department from 1956 to 1962, inclusive.
(2) Black background with yellow lettering per the appearance of California license plates issued by the department from 1965 to 1968, inclusive.
(3) Blue background with yellow lettering per the appearance of California license plates issued by the department from 1969 to 1986, inclusive.
(c) In addition to the regular fees for an original registration or renewal of registration, the following additional fees shall be paid for the issuance, renewal, or transfer of the specialized license plates:
(1) Fifty dollars ($50) for the original issuance of the plates.
(2) Forty dollars ($40) for a renewal of registration with the plates.
(3) Fifteen dollars ($15) for transfer of the plates to another vehicle.
(4) Thirty-five dollars ($35) for each substitute replacement plate.
(d) The department shall not issue California Legacy License Plates for a vehicle that is exempt from the payment of registration fees pursuant to Section 9101 or 9103.
(e) (1) The department shall not establish the California Legacy License Plate Program until the department has received not less than 7,500 paid applications for plates. The department shall collect and hold applications for the plates. The department shall not issue a specialized license plate until it has received not less than 7,500 paid applications for any one of the particular plates within the time period prescribed in this section.
(2) The department shall have until January 1, 2015, to receive the required number of applications. If, after that date, 7,500 paid applications have not been received for any one of the three plates described in subdivision (b), the department shall immediately refund to all applicants all fees or deposits that have been collected.
(f) (1) Upon a determination by the department that there are sufficient funds for the program, moneys shall be available, upon appropriation by the Legislature, to the department for the necessary administrative costs of establishing the California Legacy License Plate Program.
(2) After deducting its administrative costs under this subdivision, the department shall deposit any additional revenue derived from the issuance, renewal, transfer, and substitution of the specialized license plates into the California Environmental License Plate Fund, for appropriation by the Legislature pursuant to existing law.