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I am moving from Michigan to California. I am shipping my car, it is in transit. The car is registered in Michigan and Michigan does not require the car to have a front license plate, so my car does not have one.

When the car gets here, there will be an unavoidable amount of time in which my car will be still registered in Michigan but will be driven and parked in California, so I will not have a front license plate.

I plan to register my car in California as soon as I get the chance then install a front plate. I need to find a permanent place and get my California driver's license.

So my question ultimately is: with my car being registered in Michigan, if it is being driven/parked in California can I still get a ticket? Because there is an unavoidable amount of time where I will not be able to get a front license plate installed.

Edit According to the law it states

When only one license plate is issued for use upon a vehicle, it shall be attached to the rear thereof, unless the license plate is issued for use upon a truck tractor, in which case the license plate shall be displayed in accordance with Section 4850.5.

Only one license plate was issued for my vehicle when it was registered in Michigan, so would this mean that I don't need the front plate as long as the registration is Michigan?

  • I (used to) live on the border of Upper Michigan and Wisconsin. Wisconsin requires 2 plates, and police would not pull over people with one plate unless they got behind them and noticed it was a Wisconsin one. It's doubtful they'd pull you over for Michigan plates, people travel all the time from all over, they would probably first assume you are doing that, as long as you aren't doing anything otherwise illegal. – Ron Beyer Jan 15 at 13:36
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Can you get a ticket? Absolutely. You're relying on the knowledge of the person issuing you the ticket. How knowledgeable are they? In my experiences around the world, people enforcing laws on a day to day basis know surprisingly little about the law (although they often think they know everything).

I think this part of the code you mentioned might be relevant:

5200.(a) When two license plates are issued by the department for use upon a vehicle, they shall be attached to the vehicle for which they were issued, one in the front and the other in the rear.

But "the department" likely refers to the Department of Motor Vehicles in the State of California, which never issued you anything. But that may not stop eager law enforcement personnel from issuing you a ticket.

If you do receive a ticket, I think you'll successfully be able to fight it and win. It will be obvious to a judge that there is nothing you could have done to reasonably avoid the issue. Just make sure you have documents showing that you only moved very recently.

According to the the State of California's official Department of Motor Vehicles website, you have only 20 days to get your registration (and likely the state's mandatory insurance) switched to your new state. See https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/pubs/brochures/howto/htvr09#reg

I have no idea how vigorously they enforce the law there. It's likely up to the whims of the people in charge of enforcing it.

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