How to Get a Temporary License Plate in California

Temporary license plates are known as Temporary Operating Permits in California and can be issued for up to 90 days while you wait for permanent plates to arrive.
Written by Jason Tushinski
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
Updated on Mar 23, 2023
In California, you will be issued a Temporary Operating Permit (TOP) in certain cases when all registration fees have been paid but your permanent plates and stickers have not yet been issued.
You can face
citations or tickets
, fines, and penalties for driving in California without license plates, even if you are waiting for your plates to arrive for a new car. That’s why you can get a temporary plate, or temporary operating permit, to cover you for up to 90 days until your proper plates and stickers are issued.
Take a look below to learn all you need to know about temporary operating permits in California.
Compare auto insurance policies
No spam or unwanted phone calls · No long forms · No fees, ever

Does California issue temporary plates?

Yes. You can get a temporary operating permit (TOP) from a licensed car dealer upon
buying a new car
, if your plate and stickers aren’t ready, so long as
vehicle registration
fees are paid—this permit lasts for 90 days. 
There are other circumstances where you’ll need a temporary operating permit in California, including if your car fails its Biennial Smog Certification. The circumstances where you’ll need a 30 TOP, 60 TOP, 90 TOP, a One Day Moving Permit, and a One Trip Permit, will be explained below. You can get these types of permits from the DMV.

How to get a temporary operating permit in California

If you need a temporary operating permit after buying a new car, your dealer can issue you one that will last for 90 days before your permanent plate and stickers are manufactured and issued. The same applies if you’re waiting for a personalized plate.
There are other circumstances where you might need a different kind of temporary operating permit, which you can get from the DMV. Here’s a quick breakdown.

Biennial Smog Certification TOP

If your vehicle fails the biennial
smog certification
test, you’ll need to get a temporary permit. This permit will be valid for 60 days from the date of registration expiration or the date the vehicle is removed from non-operating status. To get one, do the following:
  • Make sure all registration fees are paid
  • Submit your failed inspection report
  • Provide proof of insurance
  • Pay the $50 fee

One Time 30 Day TOP

You can apply for a 30-day TOP for the following:
  • A non-resident vehicle
  • An impounded vehicle(so long as all fees are paid)
  • A vehicle referred by the California Highway Patrol for VIN inspection or assignment
  • A vehicle having trouble passing original or transfer smog inspection
  • A vehicle requiring Federal Heavy Vehicle Use Tax with an expiration date other than July 31
Compare auto insurance policies
No spam or unwanted phone calls · No long forms · No fees, ever

One Time 60 Day TOP

You can apply for a 60-day TOP under the following circumstances:
  • For an incomplete registration application in regards to a vehicle failing a smog inspection test, after all fees are paid
  • A salvage retention vehicle that is being rehabilitated, so long as the customer has paid all registration fees and submitted brake and light certificates

One Time 90 Day TOP

You can get a 90-day TOP under the following circumstances:
  • You’ll receive a 90-day temporary operating plate if you are waiting for your permanent
    California license plate
    to be manufactured after buying a new car
  • You have applied for personalized plates and are waiting for them to be manufactured

One Day Moving Permit

You can get a One Day Moving Permit from California’s DMV for no fee under the following conditions:
  • With a Planned Non Operation Filing (PNO) on file to move from one place of storage to another—this is a car that is not intended to be driven
  • To move a vehicle from one garage or repair shop to another for
    car repairs
    , alteration, dismantling, or wrecking
  • Moving the vehicle from one place to another for inspection by the DMV or CHP, VIN verification or assignment, smog control inspection, weighing a vehicle, or getting brake or light certification
  • A vehicle is incomplete or in the process of being altered

One Trip Permit

A unique permit is available for the following circumstances:
  • For a vehicle to participate in a parade or float from one place to another and for no more than 100 miles roundtrip,which must be completed within 60 days
  • An unladen vehicle for one continuous trip from one place in California to another in or out-of-state, and vice-versa (must be the most direct route)

How to find affordable car insurance in California

Determining whether you need a temporary operating permit in California can be tricky, but protecting your vehicle is the opposite—in fact, protecting your car with a robust car insurance policy by using
has never been easier!
Sign-up takes just under a minute, and then Jerry's
trustworthy super app
compares rates from more than 55 top providers to ensure you get the policy you need at a price you can afford! Best of all, Jerry does all the work for you so you won’t need to deal with any forms, phone calls, or hassles!
To top it off, Jerry users save an average of more than $800 per year on car insurance!
“I signed up for a new policy with
’s help. I ended up saving $236 a month after my switch. Thank you Jerry!” —Adelaide C.
Thousands of customers saved on average $887/year on their car insurance with Jerry
This app is great, but the customer service is even better! Not to mention convenient! My husband and I got the lowest rate (much lower than the rates I was finding online through my own searches), quickly, and pretty much all through text message! Thank you so much for a hassle free experience👍
Gabriella R.
Find insurance savings (100% Free)
rating primary
4.7/5 Rating on App Store
Compare Car Insurance Quotes For Free
Jerry automatically shops for your insurance before every renewal. Members save $872/year.
rating primary
Rating on App Store
Start saving money!
12,000+ Reviews
Trusted by 3.5M car owners like you

You might also be interested

Easiest way to compare and buy car insurance

No long forms
No spam or unwanted phone calls
Quotes from top insurance companies
Find insurance savings — it's 100% free