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How to register your Specially Constructed Vehicle in California


This document gives a step-by-step description of how to register your specially constructed vehicle (SPCNS) in California. This form of registration allows you to be exempt from smog regulations and other rules applied to ordinary cars. For the year 2002, 500 smog exemption licenses were issued for SPCNS.


Please note that your local DMV office is probably unfamiliar with the procedures, and may flounder around quite a bit. If you think they are doing something wrong, or are missing a step, point it out immediately. If not, you may have to go back to the DMV for additional procedures after you get your license plates. DMV Headquarter in Sacramento will probably catch what the local office misses.


The steps after the registration start can probably be executed in any given order, depending on when you can get your appointments with different agencies.


The procedure usually totals at about 4-8 weeks and includes at least two visits to the DMV. You will get a temporary operating permit, valid for 90 days, when you initiate your registration process. With this permit you can get insurance and use your car while it is being registered.

What you need

In order to perform this registration, you will need the following:

  • A carThe car should be finished and ready for inspection. Although you can initiate the process earlier, there is nothing you will gain on it since you can drive your car while it is being registered. See appendix A for Vehicle Code Section 580 for what a specially constructed vehicle is defined as.


  • An invoice for the kit or parts you built the car from.This invoice is used by the DMV to determine the sales tax you should pay. If the invoice shows you have already paid your sales taxes, you will not have to pay any additional taxes.

  • An invoice for the engineThis invoice must come from a different company than the kit invoice. Again, the DMV uses the invoice to determine the sales tax you should pay.

  • A statement of originThis statement certifies that the kit was built and delivered by the manufacturer. Ideally it contains a VIN number stamped to the kit, an invoice number and date, a dealer reference and a reference at the manufacturer.


Step 1. Starting the process

You need two forms to start your registration process. Form 343, Application for title or registration, can be downloaded from as a PDF file. Print it out and fill in the blanks.


You also need form 256, Statements of fact, downloadable from .You just need to fill in the vehicle construction part and, under section J, the amount of sales tax you have paid for kit and engine.


Go to your local DMV office. Do not drive the car you are registering to the office since it is not yet street legal. The DMV officer may be in a pesky mood and fine you if you do.


You can book an appointment on line, but I’ve found that it is easier to go there about 15 minutes before they open during a weekday. I usually had to wait about 10 minutes in line before I could assault them with my case.


If you feel ready to pay any sales tax you owe them and/or the registration fees, bring a check or cash. You can pay these things at a later point in the registration process if you want.


Give them your filled out form 343 and 256 together with your invoices and statement of origin. Explain that you want to register a specially constructed vehicle.


Be sure that they call Sacramento headquarters to get a smog exempt sequence number, to be mailed to your home address within 7-10 business days. You will need this for step 3.


Ask them to partially complete and give you a form 124, to be finished by a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer when you go to one of their offices to have a VIN check.


If they want to perform a VIN check themselves; ask them if you can first get the CHP to do their check, and then come back to the DMV so that they can do their version of the same thing. It should save you a trip to the DMV.


You should leave this first DMV encounter with some receipts, the partially completed form 124, and a 90-day temporary operating permit. Don’t settle for anything less.

One of the receipts will show you the total amount of fees you must pay to get your registration through.


Get your car insured. (AAA does kit car insurances.) Your car is now street legal. Drive careful until you know that that puddle under the car is not brake fluid.

Step 2. California Highway Patrol visit

Find the CHP office closest to you by looking at

Give your local office a call and say that you need a VIN check. The waiting time can be a few weeks.


While you are waiting, you will probably receive your smog exempt certificate from Sacramento. Call 1-800-622 7733 to setup a smog referee appointment. They will direct you to a smog station near your home or work. If you get a smog appointment before your VIN check date with the CHP, feel free to execute step 3 before step 2.


Find a place on your car that is viewable from the outside, where a small 1x4 inch plaque can be riveted. The law requires the VIN of the vehicle to be viewable from the outside.


Take your car, form 124 from step 1, and the rest of your paperwork to the CHP office and say that have an appointment for a VIN check. This check is free of charge.


An officer will take your car and inspect it. The inspection takes about 30 minutes and you are not allowed to watch it. If the officer cannot find a usable VIN on your vehicle, he or she will assign a new VIN to the vehicle. Point out where you want the blue plaque with the VIN number to be attached.


Be nice.


The only thing you should leave with is the completed form 124 signed by the officer.


Step 3. Smog referee appointment

Take all your paperwork and car, including the smog exempt certificate mailed to you from DMV Sacramento, to the smog referee appointment you booked in step 2. The appointment will take about one hour and is free of charge.


Say “Specially constructed vehicle.”


Ask them, to be sure, if your vehicle will then be exempt from smog. If you miss this, you will have to fulfill California smog requirements.


They will then take your car to their shop and measure its exhaust at different RPM. Again, you cannot watch them do their thing.


When you leave the smog station with some signed test results.


Step 4. Brake and light inspection

Surf to in order to locate a brake and light licensed shop near you. Call them and say that you need a brake and light inspection for your SPCVN.  The appointment will take about one hour and costs anywhere from $60 to $160.


Drive your car to the shop. Watch them do their thing.


If everything is in order, you should leave the shop with two postcard sized certificates showing that you passed the brake and light inspection.


Step 5. Second DMV visit

Take your car, your signed VIN check form, your smog referee result, your brake and light certificates, and the rest of your paperwork to the local DMV office. Also bring some proof of insurance, which the DMV may or may not want to see.


Be prepared to pay the rest of the fees for the registration. Check you DMV receipt for the exact sum.


Dump all your papers on the DMV agent and say, in a nice way, that you think you’ve got everything right and would like your license plates.


The DMV may or may not want to a local VIN check at this point. This can be done while you are waiting and usually take a few minutes.


If you are lucky, you will walk away with a set of license plates and tags. After a few weeks you will get your title in the mail from Sacramento.


That’s it!


We have a company listed on our website that can do this process for a fee.


Appendix A. Vehicle Code Section 580


Taken from the web page


580.  A "specially constructed vehicle" is a vehicle which is built for private use, not for resale, and is not constructed by a licensed manufacturer or remanufacturer.  A specially constructed vehicle may be built from (1) a kit; (2) new or used, or a combination of new

and used, parts; or (3) a vehicle reported for dismantling, as required by Section 5500 or 11520, which, when reconstructed, does not resemble the original make of the vehicle dismantled.  A specially constructed vehicle is not a vehicle which has been

repaired or restored to its original design by replacing parts.

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