Commercial Vehicle Registration

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Commercial vehicles that are designed, used, or maintained primarily to transport property or people for hire, compensation, or profit must be registered.

Commercial motor vehicles with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) or combined gross vehicle weight (CGW) of 10,001 lbs. or more, along with most trailers, need to be registered as commercial vehicles. Depending on the use, commercial motor vehicles can include:

  • Buses: When used to transport people for hire, compensation, or profit.
  • Motor trucks: A motor vehicle designed, used, or maintained primarily for the transportation of property.
  • Pickups: A commercially used motor truck with a manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of less than 11,500 lbs., an unladen weight of less than 8,001 lbs., and equipped with an open box-type bed less than nine ft. in length.
  • Tow trucks: A motor vehicle designed to transport vehicles by means of a crane, hoist, tow bars, tow line, or dolly, and primarily used for that purpose.
  • Truck tractor: A motor vehicle designed and used primarily for drawing other vehicles and not constructed to carry a load other than a part of the vehicle weight and load.
  • Water-well drilling rigs: Agricultural and oversize water-well drilling rigs are exempt, but all other types need to be registered as commercial vehicles.
  • Yard trucks: Vehicles specifically designed to move trailers within or about freight operation yards in preparation for storage or loading.
  • Multipurpose vehicles, passenger vehicles, pickup trucks, and station wagons can be registered as passenger or commercial vehicles, depending on their use.

Learn more about the types of vehicles that need to be registered as commercial vehicles.

For registration purposes, these vehicles aren’t considered commercial vehicles:

  • Vanpool vehicles: A motor vehicle, other than a motor truck or truck tractor, designed to carry more than 10 but not more than 15 people (including the driver), which is maintained and used primarily for nonprofit work-related transportation of adults for the purpose of ridesharing.
  • Passenger vehicles: Not used to transport people for hire, compensation, or profit.
  • Housecars or motorhomes.
  • Trailer coaches: Trailer coaches may transport property, but are designed primarily for human habitation or occupancy.
  • Military equipment: Operated by non-civilian personnel, which is owned or operated by the U.S. Department of Defense, including the National Guard.
  • Implements of husbandry: Operated by someone not required to have a driver’s license.

To register a commercial vehicle, complete and submit:

All trailers are registered under the permanent trailer identification (PTI) program, except park trailers and trailer coaches which are excluded from PTI and registered annually. Fifth-wheel trailers and camp trailers are registered as a trailer coach (not PTI) or camp trailer (PTI) based on the length, width, and size.

Tow/auxiliary dollies are not required to be registered in California. However, you may opt to register as PTI. If you do not register as PTI, remove and surrender any existing license plate.

While registration as PTI is optional for tow/auxiliary dollies in California, you may want to register it as PTI if you will tow it out of state, because other states’ registration requirements vary.

To register a permanent trailer, complete and submit:

Trailer Fees

A PTI service fee is charged for the original registration and every five years for renewal. A PTI card is issued with original registration.

PTI Renewal

About 60 days prior to the registration expiration date, you will receive a PTI service fee notice. Upon payment, you will receive a notice of acknowledgment for the payment. However, no new sticker will be issued.

PTI License Plates

Upon original PTI registration, owners choose to retain their existing California trailer license plate and be issued a PTI sticker, or be issued a PTI license plate (no sticker).

Personalized and special interest license plates may be retained or requested for PTI trailers. Renewal fees will include any special plate fees due.

Effective January 1, 2020, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will begin verifying with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) that your diesel vehicle(s) is compliant with, or exempt from, its Truck and Bus Regulation, related to emission standards.

  • What vehicles must comply with the CARB Truck and Bus Regulation?
    Diesel vehicles with a manufacturer gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) greater than 14,000 pounds must comply with the CARB Truck and Bus Regulation.

Phased verification approach based on model year
The two schedules below show when your vehicle will be impacted by this change. There are two schedules, one for vehicles with a GVWR of 14,001 to 26,000 pounds and one for vehicles with a GVWR greater than 26,000 pounds. Each schedule is based on model year.

1. Diesel-fueled vehicles with a GVWR of 14,001 to 26,000 pounds:

January 1, 20202004 and Older
January 1, 20212007 and Older
January 1, 20232010 and Older

2. Diesel-fueled vehicles with a GVWR greater than 26,000 pounds:

January 1, 20202000 and Older
January 1, 20212005 and Older
January 1, 20222007 and Older
January 1, 20232010 and Older

  • What if my vehicle does not comply with the CARB Truck and Bus Regulation by the date required?
    If CARB reports to DMV that your vehicle does not comply with the CARB Truck and Bus Regulation, you will be unable to register your vehicle or transfer its ownership to another party.
  • How can I comply?  How will DMV know that my vehicle now complies?
    CARB offers compliance guidance on its website: The Truck Stop. Once CARB has updated your vehicle’s record with the DMV to show compliance, you may register your vehicle at DMV.
  • Are there exemptions to complying with the CARB Truck and Bus Regulations?
    Please check the CARB’s website, The Truck Stop, for information on compliance exemptions.
  • What caused this change?
    Senate Bill 1 (Beall, Chapter 5, Statutes of 2017) requires DMV to deny registration, or transfer of ownership, of specified diesel vehicles that do not comply with CARB Truck and Bus Regulations.

For more information about the Truck and Bus Regulation, visit CARB’s website at The Truck Stop or call the Diesel Hotline at 1-866-634-3735.

Vehicles That Weigh 6,001 lbs. or More

The fees for registering commercial motor vehicles that weigh 6,001 lbs. or more are based either on the unladen weight, the declared GVW, or the CGW.

  • Declared GVW: The total unladen weight of the vehicle plus the weight of the heaviest load that will be transported on the vehicle. For vehicles that haul a load but do not pull another vehicle.
  • Declared CGW: The total unladen weight of the combination of vehicles (motor vehicle and trailer), plus the heaviest load that will be transported by that combination. For vehicles that pull another vehicle.

Find weight fees

Learn more about exemptions, exclusions, and penalties in the Vehicle Industry Registration Procedures Handbook.

Vehicles That Weigh 10,001 lbs. or More

Vehicles that weigh 10,001 lbs. or more are assessed Commercial Vehicle Registration Act of 2001 (CVRA) fees instead of weight fees. These vehicles are still subject to the registration fee, vehicle license fee, and any city/county fees.

Find CVRA fees

Learn more about the Commercial Vehicle Registration Act of 2001 in the Vehicle Industry Registration Procedures Handbook.

CVRA-registered vehicles are issued CVRA weight decals/year stickers that must be displayed on both the right and left sides of the vehicle. CVRA year stickers correspond in color with the license plate registration sticker.

CVRA weight decals indicate the highest GVW/CGW at which the vehicle may be operated. For example, if your vehicle’s operating weight is 42,000 lbs. GVW, the weight decals/ and registration card will show “45” (for 45,000 lbs.). When you receive new decals/registration card, make sure they have the correct weight range. However, “54” decals are valid for a vehicle operating up to 54,999 lbs. GVW/CGW.

CVRA weight decals are issued once with the CVRA year stickers. On subsequent renewals, only the CVRA year stickers are issued, unless the operating weight changes or replacement CVRA weight decals are requested.

The owner of a fleet consisting of commercial vehicles and/or passenger vehicles may apply to DMV for PFR.

  • Instead of yearly registration stickers, PFR vehicles are issued a California permanent fleet sticker for the license plate and a permanent registration card for each vehicle.
  • PFR applicants must complete an Application for Permanent Fleet Registration (REG 3500) and agree to adhere to all program and vehicle registration requirements to have a valid PFR account number assigned to their fleet.
  • Under the PFR program, a renewal listing is sent monthly for all of the vehicles in a fleet that expire within that month.
  • CVRA vehicles in a fleet are issued CVRA weight decals and CVRA year stickers that are gold with PFR printed boldly in black. New CVRA stickers are only issued when a weight change is reported or when the original is damaged.

Learn more about PFR

If you don’t plan on using a commercial vehicle throughout a calendar year, you can apply for partial year registration (PYR).

Apply for PYR

If you use your commercial vehicle in two or more jurisdictions (states), you can save money on registration fees with the IRP.

The IRP is an option for registering commercial vehicles that allows for multi-jurisdiction (interstate) operation under a single registration plate and registration certificate (cab card) issued by your “base” jurisdiction. When you register a commercial vehicle in the IRP, you pay pro-rated (apportioned) fees based on the the percentage of highway mileage traveled in each jurisdiction.

Learn more about the IRP

What is declared GVW and GCW?

Declared GVW is the weight that equals the total unladen weight of the vehicle plus the heaviest load that will be transported on the vehicle.

Declared CGW is the total unladen weight of the combination of vehicles (motor vehicle and trailer) plus the heaviest load that will be transported by that combination.

If you tow a trailer or other vehicle, such as a truck loaded with produce pulling a trailer loaded with bricks, you must declare the total CGW of the combination of vehicles.

Commercial motor vehicle owners/lessees must declare the GVW/CGW when the vehicle:

  • Is first registered in California (original).
  • Is purchased (new or used).
  • Operating weight changes.

If the declared GVW/CGW increased after it was reported to DMV, an additional CVRA fee is due on the higher weight range for the remainder of the registration year, or partial year registration (PYR) period. Appropriate CVRA fees must be paid prior to vehicle operation at the higher weight.

If the declared GVW/CGW decreased after it was reported to DMV, the lower weight is added to the vehicle record and a new registration card issued. No refunds will be issued.

The operating weight for vehicles registered as PYR does not have to be declared each renewal, unless the operating weight changes.

What do I need to do if I make body changes or alterations to a registered commercial vehicle?

Alterations and/or additions to a registered used commercial vehicle, which place the vehicle into a different weight classification, must be reported to DMV. Additional weight fees are due on the date of first operation after the alteration/addition if the altered vehicle falls into a higher weight class. A refund of weight fees paid cannot be given when an altered vehicle falls into a lower weight class.

Learn more about reporting commercial vehicle changes

I made a change to my vehicle that requires it to be registered as a commercial vehicle. How do I convert from auto to commercial license plates?

The following vehicles may be registered with auto or commercial license plates:

  • Pickup trucks with a camper permanently attached body type code (BTC) PM.
  • Station wagons, refer to the Station Wagons and Multipurpose Vehicles sections in this chapter.
  • Passenger-type vehicles transporting persons for hire.

If you make a change to the body or use of the vehicle that requires it to be registered as a commercial vehicle, you need to get commercial license plates.

Learn how to convert from auto to commercial license plates

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