California fails to collect $22 million for special license plates


SACRAMENTO — Californians can buy special license plates featuring pictures of whales, firefighters and palm trees, but the Department of Motor Vehicles has failed to collect up to $22 million from drivers who have them, a new audit shows.

The agency appears to have undercharged some people for the plates by nearly $10.2 million, according to the study, released Thursday by state Auditor Elaine Howle. Some fees were set below the level required by the law.

DMV officials said they acted “in good faith” in setting the fees, which were created by different pieces of legislation, but said they would review the matter further.


The DMV also did not collect about $12 million during the last two years that it was required to charge those who want to keep special plates that are no longer in active use on cars.

Most special plates cost $50 extra initially and $40 to renew each year. There is an additional $98 charge to have a plate personalized with letters and numbers spelling out a word or message; those plates cost an additional $78 to renew.

The DMV will review its practices, said Armando Botello, an agency spokesman.

“DMV has generally not continued collecting fees from people who kept a personalized plate after they no longer have it on a car,” Botello said. “DMV will do an analysis to determine whether it makes financial sense to change this practice.

“As for the other fees,” he said, “DMV has developed plans to take corrective action.”

Those include making sure all fees are at the level required by law, and studying whether it makes financial sense to upgrade an antiquated computer database that hinders the tracking and collection of renewal fees.