CONSUMERS : It Won’t Pay to Ignore a ‘Fix-It’ Ticket


Better fix that broken tail light and get current tags or new license plates if you need them. If you don’t, you may get a “fix-it” ticket that can cost you time and money.

Equipment citations, so-called “fix-it” tickets, seem to be growing more popular with law enforcement agencies. Last year, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) handed out more than a million of them.

Fix-it tickets range in price from $20 to $50, depending on the violation. It’s $35, plus the cost of a car seat, if you get caught without a child passenger restraint system; it’s $50, plus court time, for altering license plates.


In Los Angeles County, a broken tail light ticket costs $20. But before you pay the fine, you must prove the light has been fixed; to do this, you must go to a county marshal’s inspection station--at the Van Nuys or Downtown traffic courts--a highway patrol station or a DMV office. Officers there sign the citation, showing the equipment has been fixed.

And don’t forget, even after you’ve made repairs, traffic courts can levy “penalty assessments”--a fancy legal term that means more money out of your pocket.

Penalty assessments, a Los Angeles Municipal Count Traffic Division spokeswoman explained, are sums tacked onto fines as required by government and penal codes of California.

Under state codes, $13.50 is added for every $10 of your fine; $7 of that sum goes to the state as an assessment, $2 to courthouse construction, $2 for criminal justice facilities, $2 to emergency medical services fund and 50 cents to the automated fingerprint identification fund. Then $1 more is added to help pay for operating the night courts.

That $20 ticket? With the assessments added, it’s now $48, plus your repair costs.

Depending on where you got the ticket, however, you may not have to pay the $20 fine, if you prove you’ve made repairs. And not all fix-it tickets carry a penalty assessment.


But when it comes to license tag violations, be prepared for increased enforcement and tough citations. Last year, the CHP issued 191,930 such tickets, a number expected to increase.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles says 2 million drivers--of the 25 million cars, vans and trucks in the state--operate vehicles without valid registrations. That means the state, counties and cities are losing money. Of the $4 billion California collects in registration and license fees each year, 14% goes to the CHP, 11% to the DMV, 10% to the state Department of Transportation; the rest goes to counties and cities.

If you get caught without current tags on your license plates, it’ll cost you a $20 fine and you must prove you have a valid registration. The DMV charges 20% above its regular fee for late registration (thus, a $140 charge, for example, would be $168). If you keep driving sans proper registration and license, the penalty goes to 40%, then 80% in ensuing years.

Remember too the DMV and the courts are separate; just because you’re registered and have plates from the DMV doesn’t clear you with the courts. If cited, you must show you have valid registration in traffic court--and face fines.

In Los Angeles County, if your car is unregistered (or if you get five parking tickets and ignore them), you’ll get a mailed notice telling you the courts have issued an arrest warrant for you; ignore that, and you’re likely to end up in jail.

Oh, you say, you’re just missing that front plate and you’ll take your chances. Well, that’s still illegal, and you may pay the price.

In 1989, of the 1,013,262 fix-it citations issued by the CHP, 56,650 were for front plate violations--most by sports car owners, “because a lot of them think the design of the car looks nicer without a front plate. . . . They don’t like the look,” an agency official said.

In Los Angeles Municipal Court Traffic Division, a front plate fix-it citation costs $20; there are penalty assessments too, plus the $8 the DMV charges for new plates.

That $20 ticket? It’ll cost you $55.

And, by the way, when you go to the DMV to deal with your plate problems, you should know this: Unless you have personalized or vanity plates (which cost $31 for a duplicate), you’ll emerge from the agency with new plates, not duplicates of your old ones. The DMV, which prints 7 million general-issue plates annually, says it’s cheaper and more efficient to issue new plates rather than to try to duplicate lost or destroyed regular-issue plates.