How to Calculate California Vehicle License Fees

The California Vehicle License Fee (VLF) is assessed when applying for an initial vehicle registration or an annual renewal. It is based on the purchase price for initial applications, and on the value of the car on renewal. Of all the fees required to obtain or renew vehicle registration, the VLF is the only fee that is tax deductible. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) maintains an online fee calculator to help car owners calculate their VLF. Failure to pay the fee results in a fine and prevents registration renewal. Most of the proceeds of the fee go to the cities. The temporary fee increase is intended to help the state's budget shortfall.

Things You'll Need

  • Model year
  • License plate number
  • VIN (last five digits)
  • County of registration
  • Zip code

Instructions

    • 1

      Multiply purchase price by rate. For an initial vehicle registration, the VLF is the purchase price of the car multiplied by the current VLF rate. Beginning May 19, 2009 and continuing through June 30, 2011, the fee is 1.15 percent. A vehicle with a purchase price of $25,000 will have an initial VLF of $238.

    • 2

      Multiply current value by rate. For registration renewal, the value of the car is adjusted for depreciation for the first 11 years. Using the Blue Book value for the car to determine the current VLF rate will give only an estimate of the license fee. The online DMV calculator provides a more precise figure for most vehicle owners.

    • 3

      Contact the DMV. The online calculator provides accurate results for basic transactions. If you have a more complex situation, such as a registration year of less than 12 months, planned non-operation of the vehicle or permanent fleet registration, call DMV toll free: 1 (800) 777-0133 Mondays through Fridays between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Tips & Warnings

  • The VLF applies to all automobiles, motorcycles, trailer coaches, and all commercial vehicles with a gross operating weight of 10,000 pounds or less. Renewal fees must be paid prior to the expiration of the previous registration to avoid a penalty of at least 40 percent of the delinquent VLF.
  • The VLF rate has been temporarily increased from 0.65 percent to 1.15 percent of vehicle value and is intended to be phased out in 2011, but can be extended for an additional two years by the California state assembly.
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