DLR License Plate: What It Means to Have One

License plates are distinguishable by the characters they feature and serve different purposes. Among the special types of license plates you may encounter is the DLR license plate, and many people are curious about its designation.

DLR plates are occupational tags indicating that a vehicle belongs to a dealership and are common in states like California. There is plenty to learn about these special license plates, and we are glad to lead you through them.

dlr license plate meaning

What Is A DLR License Plate, and How to Use It?

The letters in the DLR license plate are short-form for dealers, and as mentioned earlier, they mean the vehicle is part of a dealership’s inventory. The letters are typically in a vertical configuration on the left side of the license plate. If you see a car with such plates, it means that the driver owns a car retailing enterprise or is under the employment of such an establishment.

If you own a car retail or wholesale establishment, you should get the DLR plates for your vehicles, which saves you from the hassles of getting individual registration for each car. This registration plate also comes in handy in logistics, as it is easy to account for the inventory.

Who can use the DLR registration plate? Apart from the dealership’s owner and employees, customers can temporarily drive a car with this tag, like during test drives or when their vehicles are getting repaired. In short, the dealer license plates are strictly for occupational settings, and you cannot use them for standard passenger cars.

Regarding the DLR plate application, you should have the tags on the license plate mounts. Customers should have a letter from the dealer during test drives or temporary uses. A potential client can drive a vehicle with the dealer plates for a considerable time, depending on the state.

Please note that DLR plates are temporary: after a purchase, the new owner should legally register their car. California traffic state laws require a vehicle to have both front and rear license plates. However, dealer-owned vehicles are exempt from this, and it is common to see cars with DLR plates with one plate on the rear mount.

DLR License Plate: A Guide for Dealers and Buyers

You now understand the DLR meaning in car license plate, which identifies the vehicle as part of a dealership’s collection. Most states resort to this registration system, though it is different from others. For instance, dealer plates in Texas have ‘Dealer’ embossed above the license plate’s serial character. Michigan and New York dealer plates have ‘dealer’ under the serial digits.

DLR license plate Washington is similar to California, with the DLR on the left side of the tag in a vertical aspect. However, Washington dealer plates are diverse, with DLR plates being solely for motor vehicle dealers. Mobile home-travel trailer dealers have registration plates with MOB HOME TRV TRLR embossed on the left side of the plate. MISC license plates indicate that the vehicle belongs to a miscellaneous automobile showroom.

Car dealers must possess the DLR plate and valid registration documents, should potential customers want to test drive the car. The customers will provide these documents when need be, like at stops. 

You should follow your state’s traffic laws when using DLR registration tags, particularly on their mounting. Some states require vehicles to have both front and rear license plates, while others need only the back plate. Case in point, California laws dictate that vehicles should have both front and rear plates, but when it comes to dealer plates, you can drive a car with one, the rear.

How long can you drive with DLR plates? The time factor differs according to the location. Some states have a longer grace period, while others limit the use of the plates to a few days.

The Meaning and Purpose of DLR License Plates in California

California is one of the states where you are very likely to encounter cars with DLR registration tags. Such vehicles belong to auto showrooms, with the letters being abbreviations for ‘Dealer.’

The design of the dealer plates has changed significantly over the years. For instance, the 1956 version came in a 1/A D/L/R 1234 configuration. The DLR 1A license plate meant that the vehicle was the first delivery to the auto dealership, and its major designation was for demonstration purposes.

Most California dealership plates had the D/L/R 1234(5) 1/2/A format. However, the blue plate, first issued in 1969, had the DEALER 1234 1/2/A configuration. Unlike other DLR plates, this version did not abbreviate the ‘dealer’ tag.

You may also encounter the special equipment dealer plate, which is a motorcycle-sized tag, with the DLR still on the left but in a horizontal design, and takes on a DLR 1A 12345 format. DLR license plates California are temporary and distinguish the vehicle as being on sale. Manufacturer license plates are also common in the road with MFG instead of DLR, and are temporary occupational plates.

The following are regulations to abide by when using DLR license plates in California

  • You can only use the plates on vehicles that belong to your dealership’s inventory and not your personal vehicles.
  • Only individuals affiliated with the automobile showroom and with a valid license can drive vehicles carrying the DLR plates. They include managers, employees, and general staff of the vehicle dealership.
  • Licensed drivers who are potential buyers of cars bearing DLR plates can test drive the vehicles. The interested party can drive the car for up to seven days and must have the seller’s authorization letter with them at all times.
  • You should properly place the plate at the rear at all times. You can also have the plates as digital license plates, which are fully legal in California.
  • License plates linked to the vehicle should remain on it.

How to Get and Use a DLR License Plate as A Car Dealer?

It is vital for car salespeople to get DLR car registration plates for their vehicles to aid with logistics and many other reasons. The process of acquiring the plates varies depending on the state you are applying for, but a business permit for the car dealership is a primary requirement.

In California, you must fill up a form for either new or used vehicles, as per what cars you deal in. The following are other compulsory items you need when applying for the DLR registration plate in California.

  • A live scan fingerprint and live scan clearance receipt for all persons listed under ownership;
  • A fingerprint card for out-of-state applicants;
  • Used and wholesale-only car dealers will need a certificate of completion for the Dealer Education Program;
  • Letter of Authorization for new trailer dealers;
  • Photos of the business location.

The following are Massachusetts’s requirements when applying for a dealer license plate:

  • A valid dealer license;
  • Current business certificate;
  • Corporation papers from the Secretary of State;
  • Employer Identification Number or Federal Identification Number.

You can apply online and send copies of the required documents online. The fees vary per state; for example, you don’t pay any fees when applying for the dealer plates in Massachusetts. In California, you pay a $175 non-refundable application fee, a $1 family support program fee, and $70 for each branch. You may also pay an extra $92 for each plate if applicable.

Always confirm with your state’s DMV to be sure of the application process, associated fees, and waiting time. If approved, you will receive the dealer plate and must abide by your state’s laws for mounting registration plates. Most states require you only to mount it at the rear and only used for vehicles on sale.

DLR License Plate: What It Means and Who Can Use It

DLR on car license plates stands for dealer and hints that the vehicle is part of a wholesale or retail inventory. You will encounter these registration plates in states like California and Washington. New York, Texas, and others have different styles of dealer license plates.

Only select people can drive cars with dealer license plates, and they include:

  • The owner or proprietor of a car dealership;
  • Employees of the dealership;
  • A driver of one of the people mentioned above;
  • A member of the owner’s or the employee’s household;
  • A potential customer taking the vehicle out for a test drive.

The person behind the wheels of the car should have a valid license. People not directly affiliated with the car dealership should possess a letter of authorization from the owner or person in charge when driving the cars. A DLR license plate lookup will reveal the registration details of the associated car retailer or wholesaler.

Benefits and Restrictions of DLR License Plates for Dealers

If you are in the car business, you should get DLR license plates to enjoy their many perks. The following are some benefits you gain from DLR registration plates as a dealer.

  • Easy logistics: keeping tabs on your vehicle inventory with DLR plates is easy, and you don’t have to go through the hectic paperwork of registering the cars.
  • Temporary registration: the dealership can use the dealer tags temporarily before a client purchases the car and fully registers it with their details. A license plate lookup will show you the entity that owns the vehicle.
  • Cost savings: the dealership saves a lot on registration costs, considering how costly it can be to register individual cars under its collection.
  • Compliance: like other license plates, dealer license plates ensure the car and owners comply with the state’s traffic laws.
  • Branding purposes: as a licensed vehicle salesman, you can use the DLR tags to advertise vehicles on sale.

While the license plates have several benefits, you should abide by set restrictions to avoid various penalties. Highlighted below are some of the common limits of using DLR registration plates.

  • You cannot use them on personal cars that are not part of your vehicle showroom.
  • Potential buyers can test drive cars with dealer plates for a select number of days that varies according to state.
  • The person driving the car should be a licensed driver associated with the vehicle dealer.
  • If the driver is not associated with the dealership, they should always have a letter of authorization with them.
  • The license plates should be mounted correctly as per the state’s regulations.
  • You should promptly report lost or stolen DLR plates to the relevant law enforcement agency.

DLR License Plate: A Special License Plate for Car Dealers in California

As a California-based automobile salesman, you don’t have to register all cars under your catalog. Instead, get them the DLR license plate, a particular registration type for vehicles on sale. The plates are solely for vehicles held by the showroom for sale, and you might get in trouble if you use them for other purposes.

You can apply for the plates through the DMV portal, where you will also see the requirements needed for the application, such as a business permit. You will know whether your application was successful in a matter of days.

You should follow the rules of using the plates to avoid being on the wrong side of the law.

How to Drive A Car with A DLR License Plate Legally and Safely?

You should mount dealer plates as per your state’s laws. Most states, like California, only require you to mount DLR plates on the rear and ensure that it is visible. You should strictly use DLR license tags for vehicles on sale, not personal cars.

Also, only people directly linked to a dealership, like the proprietor and employees, can drive cars with such plates. If a third party is driving vehicles with dealer plates, like a customer or a relative of the employees, they must have a letter of authorization from the auto showroom.

Moreover, you should renew the plates when they expire. Consult your state’s DMV on the renewal process and associated fees.

What Is the Difference Between A DLR License Plate and A Regular One?

DLR license plates are special plates intended for car dealers around the country. They differ from regular plates in many ways. For instance, DLR plates are occupational plates for vehicles on sale, and you cannot use them on ordinary cars. After buying the vehicle from the showroom, a customer can swap the dealer plates for standard ones.

The application process is also different and is dependent on where you reside. Among the critical requirements for a dealer license plate are a car dealership business permit and employer identification numbers. Depending on jurisdiction, DLR plate application costs can be higher or lower than regular plates.

Final Words

What does DLR mean on a license plate? This is a common question, especially if you have been to states where such plates are standard, like California. The letters are short for dealer and indicate the vehicles with such registration plates are part of a showroom’s catalog.

This discussion comprehensively covers all you need to know about this occupational plate, like its meaning, application process, benefits, and restrictions. As a car retailer or wholesaler, you should get the DLR plates for your vehicles to keep tabs on your auto inventory effortlessly. Also, follow the rules of using these plates, like restricting the use of DLR-registered cars to employees and direct affiliates of your company. 


Hi there, I am R. Hasan Tito, a mechanic, and owner of this website. My friend and I created this website to share our knowledge, expertise, and experience with our fellow mechanics' community and car users. I am a specialist and certified automotive mechanic (Both Heavy Commercial and Private Cars). I worked as a Mechanic and Mechanic Supervisor for over fifteen years at Global Rebound Automotive companies - Toyota, TATA, BMW, Nissan, TVs, and Others. Now, I enjoy my new role of leading a team of automotive experts (in their respective fields) and publish new content on a regular basis on my website and social media.

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