UPDATE: New law will require temporary license plates in California starting in 2019.
When you buy a brand new car, a used car, or re-register your old car in Arizona, you can go online and print a 30-day temporary tag while your official license plate is being made. On a recent visit to California, I noticed a lot of brand-new vehicles driving around without license plates. These cars had a plastic plate and frame with the name of the dealership, but nothing else.
This got me wondering: does California not require temporary tags on motor vehicles?
To find out, I spent some time searching on the Internet. As it turns out, California DOES have temporary tags for new vehicles. They are very small and mounted in the front corner of the windshield, rather than on the back of the car like in Arizona.
Another difference is that Arizona temporary tags expire in 30 days, but California temporary tags are good for 90 days (or until the license plates are received by the purchaser). According to what I read online, it is not unusual for California drivers to wait several weeks for their new license plates to come in the mail. This can result in the situation that I observed repeatedly on my trip: brand new cars driving around with nothing but dealership plates on.
This post is not to be taken as legal advice, but if you want to read more about Temporary Vehicle Tags in California, check out the California DMV website below:
(c) A vehicle displaying a copy of the report of sale may be operated without license plates or registration card until either of the following, whichever occurs first:
(1) The license plates and registration card are received by the purchaser.
(2) A 90-day period, commencing with the date of sale of the vehicle, has expired.
(d) This section shall become operative on July 1, 2012.