Can I Drive An Out Of State Car In California? (A Guide To Greener Driving)

Yes, you can drive an out of state car in California subject to certain conditions. For example, you must have a current, valid license from the state you live in.

photo of busy freeway in california on a sunny day

You also need to make sure that the license is valid for the type of vehicle you are driving, for example truck, car or motorcycle.

It’s important to be fully aware of all the rules and regulations about driving an out of state car in California before driving there.

This means that if you live in another state, you could face some problems driving your car in California. Let’s find out some more about this. 

What Are The Vehicle Restrictions In California? 

California is the most vehicle polluted state in the US, but they have taken some pretty good steps to prevent this.

In fact, current emissions testing are just part of an overall strategy towards a zero-emission vehicle future, which is likely to take the rest of the U.S. with it.

California has several smog regulations, preventing any smog or pollution caused by vehicle fumes and emissions.

Smog checks and emission inspections are carried out in California. 

All cars in California are subject to a smog check, and this includes vehicles registered in certain areas that are also subject to a bi-annual smog program.

This happens when testing for registration renewal and some vehicles will be made to pay an annual smog fee if their car is not compliant. 

Additionally, if your car is a diesel car newer than 1998 or a car with a GVWR of 14,000 lbs, it is to be tested. Gasoline or petrol vehicles are exempt if older than 1975. 

California is the strictest state in the US in terms of their emission regulations, since they use their unique right to establish their own emissions standards to set ambitious goals.

Can I Drive An Out Of State Car In California? 

So, now you can see California has some strict rules, do they allow cars from out of state?

Somebody can legally drive in California providing the license is valid, from the state they reside in, and the license is valid for the particular car.

You can drive an out-of-state car in California, but you need to register your plate as an out-of-state plate.

You should do this with the California DMV, and this should be done within three weeks of driving the car within the state.

However, if your car has less than 7,500 miles, you will have to go through another process, as it should comply with the state’s emission standards.

It is also possible that the DMV will not register your out-of-state car in California if it is considered to be a new car. 

When driving an out-of-state car in California, you may be expected to pay some extra charges.

If the vehicle was purchased within a year of coming to California, you have to pay California sales tax on it.

You will get credit for any tax you paid before, but it is to ensure the state has taxed your car. 

Additionally, if you own a commercial vehicle, including pick-up trucks and vans, you will need a weight certificate.

This will be registered as a commercial vehicle, and this will make the process easier for you as it is defined as a commercial vehicle. 

Bringing Your Out Of State Car To California

There is a process to bring your car to California if you are from out of the state. We’re going to talk you through some of the steps. 

So, once you have moved residence to California or decided you are visiting for a longer amount of time, you have twenty days to register your car with the DMV.

If you do not do this, there is a chance you will face paying late fees. You can easily book an appointment online, and you will need to submit several documents. 

These documents include a completed application for registration, the car’s out-of-state title, the car’s out-of-state registration, your proof of insurance, a smog certificate, and payment for registration fees.

Once you have done this, you will be given a vehicle VIN inspection, and then you will get your California state registration plates. 

When To Get An Out Of State License

smiling young woman holding up her new california driving license after passing her driving test

So, you may have a driver’s license for your former residence. How long can you have this for, and what are the next steps?

A lot of people assume that when you pass your driving test, you can drive wherever you want.

All 50 states allow out-of-state drivers to visit, but you cannot keep your out-of-state license if you are going to reside in the new state. 

If you are over the age of 18, you can have your out-of-state license, and drive in California for the whole of your visit.

But, if you are younger than 18, you can only drive out of state for a maximum of ten days. 

As soon as you are a legal California resident, you have ten days to apply for a California driver’s license, otherwise, you will face late paying fees. 

To establish residency in California for the purpose of obtaining a driving license there are a number of things you can do. 

You can vote in a California election, file for a homeowner’s property tax exemption or pay resident tuition. 

These and other privileges which are not normally available to non-residents will allow you to establish yourself as a California resident. 

How To Get A Driver’s License For California?

Let’s look at how you would go about getting a driver’s license in California. Firstly, if you have a driving license from a previous state, you must show this.

You also need to pass a knowledge test, ensuring you are safe to be driving.

If you have completed your actual driving part, you will not have to redo this in California, but be prepared just in case you may have to. 

A lot of the knowledge tests have 46 questions, to which you need to get at least 38 correct to pass the test.

If you are younger than  18, you will receive a provisional license, with which you cannot drive after 11 pm, and you can only have passengers who are younger than 20. 

What If You Buy A Vehicle From Out Of State?

If you have purchased your car from out of the state of California, it has to be certified to comply with any smog laws in California.

This will also include diesel vehicles and commercial vehicles.

If the car does not qualify for registration because it does not meet the standards, you will not be able to apply for registration.

A lot of vehicles are made to be registered in all other 49 states, excluding California.

This is due to their strict rules on cars. Find out whether your car is suitable to be registered in the state before you buy it. 

Final Thoughts

Driving an out-of-state car in California is not easy, but if you are just taking a short trip, you will be fine.

Anything longer and you will have to re-register your vehicle for the state of California. Thank you for reading!

Jonathan Rice

1 thought on “Can I Drive An Out Of State Car In California? (A Guide To Greener Driving)”

  1. Moral of the story, avoid communist Kalifonia like the plaque that it is. Perfectly fine to rob their businesses, terrorize the public, and then tax the wheels off of law abiding citizens. What a joke of a state.

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