California, with all of its faults (not talking seismic), does offer a surprisingly great service through the DMV – the Year of Manufacture program, or YOM to those in the know. Basically, it allows you to legally register your classic car with vintage license plates. A few other states offer similar programs so consult your DMV to see what’s what (or check this out: http://www.thebolthole.com/misc/yom.html).
For CA, specifically, about forty years after license plate series have been retired, they are eligible for the YOM program. The older black-on-yellow tags went from 1956-62 (left - referred to as ‘56 base plate) and were eligible for YOM sometime in the early 00’s and the highly-recognized yellow-on-black plates from 1963-69 (right - referred to as ’63 base plate) have just matured enough to warrant YOM status last July (2009).
But wait, there’s more! Since we’re dealing with the DMV here, not everyone can benefit from this new-found generosity and there are some strings attached:
- Your car’s year of manufacture (hence, the name) needs to fall within the years of the plate you wish to use. A 1961 TR3 would require the ’56 series and a 1967 TR4A would go for the ’63 series. Got it? There are some exceptions, of course. Sometimes dealers made mistakes and titled cars as later models - a 1962 model sold new as a ’63 (more common than you’d think). Or people who bought used, out-of-state cars and registered them in California - my neighbor’s ’61 Sprite had ’63-series plates because he bought it in '65 from a man in AZ and registered it in CA (remember they were new-issue plates back then, not YOM). He happened to have pictures from that era, which he needed as proof to re-register for the black YOM tags after a few years off the road. Bottom line: it ain’t a perfect system.
- The license plates need to be ‘DMV Clear’, meaning that no record can exist in the DMV’s extensive database. A 35-minute call will take care of this (30 minutes of waiting for 5 minutes of business). You also need to have both plates in a matching pair.
- You will need a validation sticker that matches the year of your vehicle. A 1964 Amphicar needs a white 1964 sticker, a 1967 TR4A would need a blue one from 1967, and a 1965 Camaro wouldn’t need one at all because they weren’t made until ’67. You get the picture.
eBay has been a great source for YOM license plates and stickers – just be wary of counterfeit stickers. I was lucky enough to find a set of cleared license plates in very decent condition with the original ’67 sticker still intact. It took some looking, but they’re out there. To be as period-correct as can be, I did some research, some contemplating, and maybe a little bit of LARPing to figure out what to look for. You see, theoretically, license plate number AAA-000 was the first in 1963 and number ZZZ-999 was the last in 1969. So, I was looking for plates that began with T, U, or V for my ride. Thanking the British Heritage Trust for the info, my particular TR4A was dispatched in April of 1967. After a short spell of time on the road in Portsmouth, England (that’s a whole different story), I figured the car made its way to the great state of California in the good ole US of A about mid-year in ’67, so my search for YOM license plates targeted those starting with a “U”. A couple of weeks of searching, a few phone calls to the DMV, some lost eBay auctions, one last-second bid/win, and viola!, my new old tags.
I’ll leave it up to you to create your own adventure, but here are a couple of lessons-learned and tips for you to ponder:
- Always get your plates in pairs. Since the ’63 YOM is still relatively new, people are going ape sh!# over these old plates, selling for $300+. You could get a great bargain on single plates, but you will need both license plates to register as YOM. There are some shops out there that will make a copy of an existing plate for $50, but proceed with caution for two reasons: the dupe may not pass DMV inspection AND there’s another plate out there with your numbers – keeping in mind that these are hot right now, it’s quite possible that someone else had the same idea as you did one day earlier. In either case, you lose.
- Call the DMV. Don’t trust the seller that the plates are ‘DMV Clear’ without calling the CA DMV yourself to find out. I joked about the wait time earlier, but it’s worth your investment, I think.
- It’s no guarantee. Even though you’ve contacted DMV and they’ve told you that your plates are cleared, something can always go awry. The nitwit on the phone made a typo, someone else took legal claim to your tag numbers before you, the YOM officials in Sacramento didn’t like the cut of your jib – whatever; your application can be denied for a number of reasons, which leads to…
- Be prepared. Bring everything you think you might need and prepare yourself for a three-month wait on your application's approval. Many agents at your local DMV office are not experts on YOM – do your own research and bring guidelines with you. As outlined below, the process is just a process and regardless of how you think it should be, it is the process that will be followed, flawed or not. Keep in mind that from the day your application is submitted to the day you hear it was approved could take three months. Take the initiative to ensure everything is in order before venturing out to the DMV.
- Ugly is legal. If your YOM candidates are not the prettiest pig in the parlor, don’t worry too much about it as long as they are legible with no signs of alteration. Restored plates can be legal, if approved paint colors are used, but don’t waste the money restoring them until your application is approved. Once you have legal claim, then you can clean ‘em up.
The process, as determined by the CA DMV, appended by me:
1. Just like when you call tech support and verify that yes, indeed, your computer IS plugged in, I am going to start with the most obvious first: Make sure your car’s year, or more importantly, the title, is within the range of YOM plates you wish to use. As stated earlier, mistakes can be made and although your VIN tells you it’s a ’62, the title, registration, or other ‘official’ documentation may tell a different story. When in doubt, the DMV will refer to documentation. If you have an oddball situation, call the DMV to get their take – as with most things, if you can tell a compelling story, you’ll find someone who’ll listen.
2. Verify the cleared status of the prospective plates by calling the DMV HQ in Sacramento, CA (1-800-777-0133). The trick is that if the plate you’re calling about is in the system, there is a record, and that plate is not clear. You just need them to verify that the plate is not in their system – aka it is available for registration.
3. Get your plates and appropriate validation sticker for the year of your car.
4. Get your application here: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/forms/reg/reg352.pdf and fill it out. Double check all info is correct, print it, and sign it.
5. Print off these guidelines here: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/about/lad/pdfs/yom/new_text.pdf and bring them with you to the DMV. In the likely event your DMV Window Rep is not up-to-speed on these new-fangled regulations, it will be invaluable to have the DMV’s own gospel to refer to.
6. Pack a lunch and prepare for your day at the DMV. Bring the following with you to DMV:
- YOM plates (two of them)
- One correct year validation sticker (I don’t think it needs to be affixed to the plate)
- Currently-registered plates (two of them)
- Current registration
- Vehicle title (just in case you need it)
- Proof of insurance (just in case you need it)
- YOM Application
- DMV YOM guidelines for reference
What to expect from your visit: You will be able to keep the YOM plates, but the DMV will most likely want to retain the ‘old’ plates. Additionally, they will keep your registration and provide you with a temporary registration card, valid for two months so you can still drive your classic while in wait.
What to expect in the mail: When your application is approved, the DMV will send you a new registration card, a month sticker, a new year sticker, and two ‘ears’ that you’re supposed to put the new stickers on, like this from a ’56-series:
Good luck and happy motoring.