Temporary Operating Permits

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A Temporary Operating Permit (TOP) may be issued in certain circumstances when all registration fees have been paid, but license plates and/or registration stickers haven’t been issued. 

In certain cases, DMV may issue a TOP, which allows a motorist to operate a vehicle when all registration fees have been paid, but license plates and/or registration stickers haven’t been issued. Payment of use tax is not usually required to obtain a TOP, if all other fees have been paid.

Below are the different types of TOPs.

Owners of vehicles that fail the biennial smog certification inspection can get a TOP for a $50 fee.

To get a biennial smog certification TOP, you’ll need:

The TOP is valid for 60 days from either the:

  • Registration expiration date.
  • Date the vehicle is removed from planned non-operation (PNO).

Only one biennial smog certification TOP can be issued to the same vehicle within a two-year period. After the 60–day period, your vehicle may be eligible for a one-day vehicle moving permit.

*The $50 fee can be waived for customers who present a Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) Letter of Eligibility authorizing participation in the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP). For CAP program information, contact BAR at www.autorepair.ca.gov or 1-866-272-9642.

You can get a one-time 30-day TOP on an incomplete registration application for:

  • A nonresident vehicle (a vehicle currently registered in another state).
  • An impounded vehicle (if all fees are paid).
    • If fees are due for a biennial smog certification test and it has been longer than 60 days since the vehicle’s registration expired or the planned non-operation was removed, you cannot get a one-time 30-day TOP. In this case, you can get a one-day vehicle moving permit.
  • A vehicle referred to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) for vehicle identification number (VIN) inspection or assignment.
  • A vehicle having difficulty passing an original or transfer smog inspection (not the biennial smog certification test), if the owner presents either:
    • A BAR appointment card for a BAR referee inspection.
    • Documented proof of the needed smog parts on order for the owner (except in cases of required biennial smog certification testing).
  • A vehicle requiring federal heavy vehicle use tax (FHVUT) with an expiration other than July 31.
  • A vehicle when the office manager or designee determines it is appropriate.

A TOP cannot be issued to a vehicle requiring a brake or light certificate. In this case, you can get a one-day vehicle moving permit.

You can get a one-time 60-day TOP for:

  • An incomplete registration application for a:
    • Vehicle failing an original or transfer smog inspection when a customer has paid all the fees and shows the vehicle inspection record as proof of failing the smog inspection.
      • You can get a 60-day TOP from the date of failed smog inspection (this does not apply to vehicles requiring a biennial smog certification test).
    • Commercial vehicle when the owner is having difficulty filing the FHVUT, if the registration expiration date is July 31.
    • Salvage retention vehicle being revived when a customer has paid all the registration fees (current and due within 60 days) and submitted the brake and light certificates.
  • A complete registration application processed in the mail for sequential license plates and stickers to be issued by DMV headquarters. Examples: Arts, Disabled Person, Disabled Veteran, Kids, Memorial, Lake Tahoe, Whale Tail, Yosemite License Plates, etc.

You can get a one-time 90-day TOP on a registration application that was sent to DMV headquarters:

  • While you wait for your license plates and stickers to be issued.
  • While you wait for your assigned personalized license plates to be issued.

You can get a no-fee one-day vehicle moving permit to move vehicles:

  • With a PNO on file from the current place of storage to another place of storage.
  • To or from a garage or repair shop for the purpose of repairs or alteration.
  • For the purpose of dismantling or wrecking.
  • From one place to another for the purpose of:
    • Inspection by DMV or the CHP.
    • Assignment or verification of a VIN.
    • Inspection of pollution (smog) control devices.
    • Weighing the vehicle.
    • Obtaining brake/light certificates.
  • That are incomplete or under construction.
  • By a dealer, distributor, or manufacturer from their place of business to a place where the vehicle will be altered or supplied.
  • By a dealer, distributor, manufacturer, remanufacturer, or transporter from a vessel, railroad depot, or warehouse to a warehouse or salesroom.
  • From an impound yard.

The moving date you choose must be within 60 days of the issue date and it must be entered on the permit by you or an authorized DMV, CHP, Auto Club, or Business Partner (BP) agent, and endorsed by the agent.

In lieu of California registration, you can get a one trip permit (for a fee) to move a vehicle: California Vehicle Code (CVC) §4003

  • When unladen, for one continuous trip from a place within California to a place in or outside California or from outside California to a place in California (by the most direct route).
  • For participation as a vehicular float or display in a lawful parade or exhibition for one round trip from one place to another. The total round trip cannot exceed 100 miles and must be completed within 60 days.

A one trip permit is also valid for a nonresident:

  • To move a newly purchased trailer coach into California.
  • Member of the armed forces to move an unregistered trailer coach they own into, out of, or within California.

A one trip permit cannot be used to move a crane or trailer coach owned by a California resident.

Blank one trip permits may be purchased in volume from any DMV office.

Issuing a one trip permit doesn’t affect California tax requirements. For sales and use tax information, contact the Board of Equalization (BOE) at www.boe.ca.gov or 1-800-400-7115.

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