Thursday, January 6, 2011

California Year of Manufacture (YOM) plates for the '56 VW Bug

It was the question that seemed to not have an answer when I moved to California 5 years ago - hanging out there in the auto-collecting stratosphere - can you put original plates on an old car in California? I knew you could in Michigan, where I grew up. For those of you not in California right now, when you sell a car, the plates stay with the car. So it's entirely possible to see an old car going down the road with original yellow, black or blue plates still on the car. This is different than in Michigan. In Michigan, if you sell a car, the seller takes off and keeps the plates (never to be used again except as a birdhouse roof).

When I bought the '63 bug, it had black plates which is when the black plate started. Here's what a black plate looks like. One would assume these went on the car between 1963 and 1969 and stayed with the car since.

Big Blue has "blue plates". In theory, being a '68, it should have "black plates", but since Monty, the previous owner, got vanity plates made in the early 70s, those are the plates it wears now.

It was pointed out to me by knucklehead vintage Triumph-owning friends that I had somehow scammed the system by keeping the black plates on the '63 when I bought it. There was talk of getting pulled over - apparently the reason why old plates weren't encouraged on cars was that they don't reflect in a police car's lights so cops can't read your plate numbers. I suppose this is needed in any high speed chases that may involve VWs from the 60s...

At any rate, it was always a question until a few years ago - when The Governator made some changes, allowing old car owners to apply for Year of Manufacture (YOM) plates. Meaning if you bought, say, a 1956 VW bug, and you could find a set of '56 plates you could then register the vehicle under those plates. This was awesome for car collectors as they could now have their cars look as authentic as possible.

But, as most government programs, this YOM plate thing does not go off without a hitch. Stories are told about people waiting months for their plates to clear the system. Our friend Alex has been trying to get YOM plates on his '63 bus for almost 8 months now. People share DMV horror stories where the DMV person doesn't understand the law and gets the car owner into even more of a paperwork nightmare. Ah, California!

At any rate, I knew I had to do a title transfer and register the '56 bug when I bought it. I knew it would be expensive, but I wanted to get YOM plates on the bug the first time so I had time to figure it out and have my plates clear the system. And here's where the only hangup exists. Say someone, years later, gets a plate that is a modern plate but has the same number as your set of '56 plates. Or say, when the DMV looks it up in the system, they are still attached to a different registration. Then the DMV folks will kick your plates back and you start over.

It's not cheap. To get the car re-registered and register it using vintage plates, the DMV charged me $164. That's bad. But worse, and frankly I am scared to admit it here, is what I paid for a pair of 1956 plates. But, in the interest of full disclosure... I paid $250 for a pair of plate. I know, insane. We'll get to the reasons shortly.

Anyway, I made my way with my new plates and paperwork in hand to the DMV in Napa. They knew what they were doing and took care of the whole thing. It was actually very painless. They did a quick check and the plates cleared their system. I was handed a temporary registration (which expired in December). Now, I am just waiting for approval from some master license plate approving place in Sacramento and then I can put the plates on the '56.

It was expensive for sure. Let me address why I paid $250 for plates. You can find them cheaper, but when I bought them, I was guaranteed that I could return them if they don't clear the DMV. I figured that's better than paying $150 and not having it work out at all.

Was it worth it? Right now I'd say no. I have a very rough '56 bug with wonderful nice license plates. I don't have wheels, so what good do plates do? But ask me again when I have the car running down the road looking like it just stepped out of 1956 and I think I may have a different opinion...



I am currently going through the process of YOM plate change for my '66 bug. Instead of risking it and just walking in to the DMV, and being this is not an urgent matter, I set an appointment on-line. 2 weeks later, I had my appointment. I brought my plates to the DMV and paid my $45 registration fee for the change of plates. She warned me it may take a couple months and to check in on the status if I haven't heard anything after 2 months. I registered them on November 8, 2010. It is now January 8, 2010. I called the DMV 2 days ago, they gave me a phone number to call at the department that handles this. When I called, I was told the gentleman that handles YOM plate changes, is now only dealing with the plates that were changed on September 15th. (Keep in mind I did mine on November 8th and it's two months later). So I figure it will be several months till it is complete. Although the paperwork they gave me said my current plates are "cancelled", she assured me they are still valid until the change is complete.

Also, if you are not in a major hurry, my recommendation to save a little money on plates is this: I discovered too that to find a nice pair of black and yellow plates would run an average of $150, I went on Ebay and just watched daily till I found some I was interested in. Before I placed a bid, I checked with the DMV to insure the numbers on those plates were cleared. Part of the stipulation of changing to YOM plates, is that the plates have to be cleared for 10 years, meaning that they cannot have been registered and used for a minimum of 10 years. Once I verified these numbers were cleared with DMV records, I placed a bid on them. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. The last thing you want to do is buy a pair of plates and find out they were used 5, 7 or 9 years ago and not cleared yet. So be sure they are clear with DMV before buying.

I went into this fully expecting it would take a long time and I am in no hurry. So if you have patience, a decent pair of plates, go for it!

Big Blue's Driver

bibbleeye - thanks for filling in the gaps in my info. I didn't know about the 10 year thing and that's a good thing to know. I like your ebay strategy. I have time on my side as well - the bug doesn't even have a transmission in - but am curious to see how this plays out. Please comment again when you have some sort of update. Good luck!

Ludwig's Drivers

Wow, I feel for you guys. Both of our cars have YOM plates and there were no extra fees, the plates were relatively easy to find and inexpensive, and the whole process (less the time spent finding and waiting for the plates) couldn't've taken more than an hour, all told, between both cars!

Ahhh, California. There but for the grace of god go I.



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