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How Long Can You Drive With Expired Tags In California?

How Long Can You Drive With Expired Tags In California?

If you live in California, you must have wondered why you need registration tags to drive your car or the consequences of not complying with the same.

Right? In California, as per California Vehicle Code § 5204(a), every vehicle plying on streets must have registration tags or stickers on the rear number plate.

If you fail to do it, you will invite severe fines and other legal troubles. But how long can I drive my car with expired registration tags in California?

How can I renew the expired tag? What will it cost me? If you are looking for answers to these questions, here’s everything you’d know in this regard.

Driving with expired tags in California

Driving with expired tags in California is something the authorities don’t lose with and can levy penalties on finding someone defaulter.

However, the authorities would directly not impose the penalties on anyone, and the inspection officer may choose any one of the following options.

  • Instruct you to renew the registration within one month’s period.
  • Resist writing a ticket if it’s the first time and issue a warning instead.
  • Penalize you and seize your car if the registration has expired and it’s over six months now.

Note that the number of penalties will increase if you keep offending the California Vehicle Code 5204.

Now, let’s discuss the penalty. The base fine of $25 is standard in all cases with other add-ons depending upon the situation.

For example, the California State imposes a tax multiplier around 4-9 times the base fine, and it takes the acceptable amount to $100-$225.

Plus, this may or may not include the processing fee. Also, the penalty amount tends to elevate with the passing of every month.

That is, what amount you paid one month ago will keep increasing exponentially. Plus, if it’s over six months for the registration to expire, the officer will issue you a citation and seize the car.

You’ll have to appear in court with your new registration tag on the date mentioned in your citation in such a scenario. Again, failing to appear before the court can further mess up your already messed-up crises.


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Is there any penalty? If yes, how much?

Yes, there is a penalty for being found driving with expired tags in California for over six months.

The fine includes a base amount of $25 plus a tax multiplier imposed by the state that is 4-9 times the base fine of $25.

Hence, your total penalty will add to $100-$225, which may or may not include the processing fee.

Note that post the grace period of 6 months; the penalty amount will increase every month or time if found guilty.

Plus, you may even get pronounced before the court if your vehicle gets seized by the authorities. In this case, you’ll have to visit the court with your new registration tag on the date mentioned in your citation.

How do you renew your registration?

If you want to avoid the above high penalties, it’s better to renew your vehicle registration, which is very easy and straightforward.

In California, one has to renew his/her car registration every two years. Before two months of the expiry, you’ll receive a renewal notice from the authorities.

That notice will contain every piece of information you will require to complete the registration process.

Other information the notice may/may not include the following.

  • The exact expiry date of your tag.
  • Basic car details like make, brand, model, etc.
  • Tag renewal fees.
  • Penalty fees if renewed late.
  • Any pending fees.
  • The essential emission certificate.

Now, you will need to register yourself for the process and make sure to carry the tag renewal notice, car registration details, renewal fees, and your valid license with you.

If you have any pending fines or traffic tickets against you, remember to clear them before visiting the DMV (department of motor vehicles).

Besides the DMV, you can register yourself directly from other websites and places for more simplicity.


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What’s the cost of renewing your tag?

The renewal process is pretty straightforward, yet one needs to act carefully and as a responsible owner.

Now comes the total cost of renewing the tag. Here, several factors will come into play. For example, your final renewal cost will include the following.

  • Different other charges for special programs
  • Additional charges if you want any special license plate.
  • Your vehicle’s license fee that’s around 0.65% of your vehicle’s price.
  • Any pending ticket(s), if any.
  • Any fines for late renewal.

Based on the above factors, the registration renewal prices are never the same in California and vary regularly.

Still, the common factors governing the same include the kind of car, its mileage, and age. The older the car, the greater the cost and vice-versa.

You may find the below table helpful in this regard.

Fees type Fee amount
Commercial vehicle charge Approximately $10-$15
Substitute license plate Approximately $25-$28
Original registration charge Approximately $220-$225
Any late renewal fees Around $25+$100-$225

You should always commence the registration renewal process about 50-60 days before its expiry to avoid paying any penalty for the same.


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To summarize, as per California’s motor vehicle act, you can drive your car for a maximum of 6 months past its expiry.

If you keep driving the car for over six months, you can invite serious charges for violating California Vehicle Code 5204(a).

For the amount, you can refer to the above breakdown and corresponding amounts.

Plus, as the charges keep increasing after a fixed time, it’s always better to commence the registration renewal process about 50-60 days before its expiry to avoid paying any penalty for the same.