How to License a Trailer in California

Licensing a trailer in California involves registering it with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This ensures your trailer is properly identified and titled for use on public roads. Proper registration is required by law and failure to do so can result in fines or impoundment of the trailer. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the entire process start to finish.

Determining if Your Trailer Needs to be Registered

The first step is determining if your particular trailer needs to be registered in California. While most trailers do require licensing, there are some exceptions.

Trailers That Must Be Registered

  • Utility trailers
  • Travel trailers
  • Fifth wheel trailers
  • Gooseneck trailers
  • Tow dollies
  • Equipment trailers
  • Horse trailers
  • Boat trailers
  • Cargo trailers
  • Any trailer with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) over 1,500 lbs

Trailers That Do NOT Require Registration

  • Trailers under 1,500 lbs GVWR
  • Trailers used solely for agriculture and not operated on highways
  • Trailers moved by human power
  • Camper shells that can’t be occupied

Key Takeaway: If your trailer has a GVWR of 1,500 lbs or less and is not used on public roads, registration is not required. All other trailers must be registered and titled.

 Fees and Costs

Registering a trailer in California comes with various fees that must be paid to the DMV. Being aware of these costs allows you to budget accordingly.

Registration Fees

This is a one-time fee to register the trailer and depends on the type:

  • Utility trailer: $10
  • Travel trailer under 40 ft: $30
  • Travel trailer 40 ft or over: $50
  • Fifth wheel trailer: $30
  • Commercial trailer: $30

Title Fee

This one-time fee covers the cost of titling the trailer. The fee is $15.

Permanent Trailer Identification (PTI) Fee

This $15 fee covers the cost of the PTI which serves as the license plate for trailers.

Use Tax

Use tax accounts for sales tax that wasn’t paid when purchasing the trailer. The rate is 7.25% of the trailer’s purchase price.

Registration Renewal

The registration must be renewed each year at a cost of $10-$30 depending on trailer type.

Key Takeaway: Registering a trailer involves various fees such as registration, title, PTI, and use tax. Registration renewal is also required annually.

 Titling Your Trailer

Titling establishes legal ownership of your trailer. All trailers that will be registered must be titled.

New Trailers

For brand new trailers, the Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin (MCO) serves as proof of ownership. This document is provided by the manufacturer and shows the trailer’s VIN.

Used Trailers

For used trailers, acceptable proof of ownership includes:

  • Previous title signed over to you
  • Bill of sale and previous registration
  • Certificate of title bond

If you don’t have one of these documents, you may need to apply for a duplicate title from the previous owner.

Steps to Title Your Trailer

  1. Complete the Application for Title (REG 343 form)
  2. Provide acceptable proof of ownership documents
  3. Pay title fee
  4. Submit application and documents to DMV

Once processed, your California Certificate of Title will be mailed to you.

Key Takeaway: Titling establishes legal ownership of your trailer. New trailers use the MCO while used trailers require specific proof of ownership documents.

Registering Your Trailer

The registration process links your trailer to your name and address in the DMV database. It must be completed after titling.

What You’ll Need

  • California Certificate of Title
  • Application for Registration (REG 400)
  • Smog certification (if applicable)
  • Proof of insurance
  • Identification
  • Fees for registration, PTI, and use tax

Steps to Register

  1. Complete REG 400 form with your personal/trailer info
  2. Provide title, insurance, ID, and any other required documents
  3. Pay registration fees and use tax
  4. Get trailer inspected by DMV official if required
  5. A PTI sticker and registration card will be issued
  6. Trailer can now legally operate on California roads!

Key Takeaway: Registering your trailer involves submitting paperwork, documentation, and fees to the DMV to receive PTI sticker and registration card.

 Renewing Registration

The initial registration is only valid for one year. Registration must be renewed annually to keep your trailer compliant.

Renewal Notices

The DMV sends a renewal notice by mail approximately 6 weeks prior to your registration expiring. This will list steps for renewal.

Late Renewals

If you go past your expiration date, late fees will apply. If you are over 6 months late, you may need to re-register the trailer.

Renewal Options

  • Online: Renew through DMV’s website up to 75 days before expiration.
  • Mail: Send check and renewal notice to DMV’s address listed.
  • In Person: Visit DMV office, wait in line, and renew in person.

Tip: Renewing online is the fastest and most convenient option. Avoid late fees by renewing as soon as you receive the notice.

Key Takeaway: Registration must be renewed annually, typically by mail or online. Late renewals result in fees so renew promptly when you receive the notice.

Transferring Ownership

If you sell your trailer or give it to someone else, the ownership must be legally transferred. This involves notifying the DMV of the new owner.

Seller’s Responsibilities

As the seller, you must:

  • Sign over the title to the new owner
  • Provide an accurate odometer reading
  • Cancel your registration with DMV
  • Remove or transfer license plates

Buyer’s Responsibilities

As the buyer, you must:

  • Submit title transfer paperwork and fees to DMV
  • Register the trailer in your name
  • Obtain new plates and registration

Failing to properly transfer can result in fines or continued liability even after selling.

Key Takeaway: When selling a trailer, the seller must sign over title and cancel registration while buyer must submit transfer paperwork to the DMV.

Key Takeaways

  • Trailers over 1,500 lbs GVWR must be registered
  • Fees include registration, title, PTI, use tax, and renewal
  • New trailers use MCO, used require proof of ownership for titling
  • Registration links trailer to owner in DMV system
  • Renew annually to avoid late fees
  • Properly transfer title and registration when selling


Registering and titling a trailer in California involves quite a few steps but is very important for legal operation. Now that you understand the fees, documentation, and process required, you can ensure your trailer is properly licensed. Refer back to this guide anytime you need to renew registration or transfer ownership. With a properly registered trailer, you can tow worry-free on California roads.

Citations: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

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