Registering a Locost in California
Last updated February 14, 2014
The following is a
description of the registration process we went through at the end of 2013. The procedure has evolved
over the years, and earlier accounts, even as late as mid-2013, will differ. For example, you can no
longer request an SPCNS certificate of Sequence (see below) from the DMV until you have a VIN. This is
contrary to virtually all older online descriptions of the process. Of course the registration process might
change again, however unless someone at the DMV or CHP tells you otherwise, follow the steps below.
First, though, a few notes.
Senate Bill 100 (SB100) spells out the requirements for operating a smog-exempt, homebuilt car on
the public highways in California. It does not spell out the process for meeting those requirements.
When it comes to determining this process, the CHP trumps the DMV and BAR. CHP makes the rules, the
DMV and BAR follow them. In general, CHP are going to be pretty familiar with the process, BAR less
so, and the DMV will be mostly clueless. It's just not something they see very often. There are a few
DMV offices around the state known to be homebuilt-friendly, who have clerks who are very familiar
with the procedure. Good luck finding them.
Although the terms, forms, and procedures used to register a homebuilt car in California are not
familiar to everyone in the system, just about everyone knows what SB100 is. If someone is having
trouble understanding what you're trying to do, explain to them that you're looking for an SB100
registration for your new homebuilt car. To most of these people, a homebuilt and kit car are the
same thing, so don't slow things down by trying to correct them when they call your car a kit.
Give yourself at least three months to complete the entire 14-step process. Quick appointments
won't always be easy to get, and you'll do a lot of waiting. It could take longer, up to six months,
if you run into any issues with your car that need to be corrected. So start early. You can start the
process before the car is running, but it'll need to be running within about two months after you
start, so plan accordingly.
- Begin at the DMV. Tell the 'Start Here' clerk that you want to register a homebuilt car. You may
have to do a little explaining, but all you want from this first visit is form REG 124, signed and
dated by a DMV clerk, a blank Statement of Construction form REG 5036, and a blank Application for
Title or Registration form REG 343. Don't fill anything out there. Take your forms and go home.
- Call your local CHP office. Tell the clerk that you want a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) for
a homebuilt car. If you're lucky and the office you called does VIN inspections, the clerk will make
an appointment for you. Otherwise the clerk will give you the number of another office not too far
away that does VIN inspections. Call that office and make an appointment.
- Fill out your DMV forms. Leave the VIN blank. Vehicle make is SPCNS. License number is None. Model
year is whatever you like. The default year for SPCNS vehicles is 1960, but you can go with anything
close to that if you prefer. The Statement of Construction should include a simple list of parts and
cost estimates. The cost estimates will be used later to determine part of your registration fees. We
estimated $7000 and paid $882 in registration fees.
- Prepare your documentation. The more the better. The CHP will likely only glance through it, but
things you absolutely want to have are receipts for the body, frame, and drivetrain. The pink slip
and bill of sale for the donor is sufficient for the drivetrain. The registration for the donor
vehicle does not need to be current. Build pics are nice, but will likely be ignored.
- On the day of your appointment, trailer your carórunning or not, doesn't matteróto the designated
CHP office. They will have an officer specifically assigned to VIN duty. He will inspect your
documentation and glance over your car. He will be looking for a place to attach the VIN tag,
something fairly permanent like a frame tube. I think their main fear here is that they'll attach the
tag to something you can then cut off and weld into another car. The officer will want your DMV form
REG 124, your donor pink slip or other proof of drive train ownership, and possibly whatever else
you've got. He will then likely disappear inside to do some paperwork. If everything is in order,
he will return and drill a couple of holes in your car, punch-rivet on the VIN tag, and then return all of your paperwork.
- Return to the DMV. Bring all of your paperwork, but not the car. Tell the 'Start Here' clerk that
you want to request an SPCNS Certificate of Sequence for a Special Construction vehicle. You may
have to do a little explaining. When you get to the clerk, tell him or her the same thing, make sure
the clerk understands what an SPCNS Certificate of Sequence is, and then hand over your paperwork.
The clerk's first move should be to call the DMV office in Sacramento. They will give the clerk a
7-digit number, and the clerk will write that number at the top of your Registration Application
form. The clerk will then sit down and start typing, and possibly ask a few questions about year,
make, model, number of doors, etc. When this information has been printed out, the clerk will ask you
for money. Pay the registration fees. At this point the clerk should also start filling out a pink
temporary operating permit. Be very quiet and don't interrupt. This is your ticket to drive the car legally
for the next couple of months. One caution: We have heard that some DMV clerks are not inclined to issue temporary
operating permits. Ours did without asking, but if yours doesn't, explain that you will need to drive the
car to at least three different inspections over the next month or so, and would prefer to do it legally.
- Tape the pink temporary operating permit to the lower inside of the windshield on the passenger
side. Then celebrate. You can't do anything else at this point except wait until your SPCNS Certificate
arrives in the mail. They say it takes 9 or 10 business days, but maybe they're not counting Mondays
- Once you get the actual certificate, or possibly a few days before, call the office of the
California Smog Referee program. The number we have is 1-800-622-7733. Tell them you want to get an
SB100 smog exemption for your Special Construction vehicle. Answer all of their questions, and
they'll soon give you a date, time, and location for a meeting with a smog referee. They may ask if
you have your SPCNS Certificate of Sequence, in which case the answer needs to be yes. You can
possibly make this appointment in anticipation of receiving your certificate in the mail shortly, but
you can't go to your appointment without that certificate.
- On the day of your appointment, drive or trailer your car to the designated Referee office. The
referee will want your SPCNS certificate and receipts for the frame, body, and engine, only for the
purpose of determining that you built the car and didn't buy it off the shelf. The referee will make
copies of your paperwork and take photos of your car, and then send all of this to Sacramento for
approval. In a week or so, the referee will call to let you know the results. One other note:
We have heard from an unofficial source (i.e. the Internet) that smog refs have been additionally
tasked to check for safety equipment, specifically a windshield, wipers, and lights. Our smog ref
didn't mention this, possibly because our car had all of these items, or possibly because the
Internet is sometimes wrong.
- When the referee calls back to tell you that your SPCNS exemption has been approved, call the 800
number for the Smog Referee program and explain that you want a follow-up appointment to collect your
exemption certificate and sticker.
- On the day of your appointment, drive or trailer your car to the Referee office. Bring all of your
paperwork. The smog ref should still have copies of it, but maybe not. Ours didn't, although in
fairness that was because we went to a different smog station in order to to avoid a longer wait for
an appointment. In any case we were very glad to have brought all of our paperwork. The referee will
need a few signatures from you, and then he or she will attach a sticker to your car, probably
somewhere in the engine bay. You'll also be given a smog certificate, similar to the one you'd get
from a smog station. This one says your car is exempt for life.
- Make an appointment for a brake and light inspection at a certified California Bureau of Automotive Repair
(BAR) station. The nearest station to you can be found online at www.brakeandlampinspection.com.
The cost of this inspection will vary, but will easily be at least $100. We paid over $300. The car will
need to be running at this point.
- On the day of your appointment, drive your car to the Brake and Lamp inspection station. Here,
it's difficult to say exactly what you'll face. A Google search of individual experiences vary from a
cursory glance to a full on, tear-the-car-apart and check the operation of every brake and light
component in the car. That's what our inspector did. Your mileage may vary. One thing, though. Make
sure before the inspector starts that he or she understands that regardless of the year you built the
car, or the model year of your donor, the state of California has designated your car as a 1960
model, and it only needs to meet brake and lamp standards that were in effect that year.
- Take everything you've accumulated to date to your local DMV office. Tell the 'Start Here' clerk
that you're here to register a car. Nothing special, just an everyday registration. When you get to
the registration clerk, hand him or her your 'Incomplete Application' form that you received on your
second DMV visit. Wait for questions and be prepared to hand over your Brake and Lamp certificate.
Within two minutes you will receive your official registration, your license plates, and your license
plate stickers. Thank the clerk and show yourself out. You're done.
Registering our Locost was a long and painful process, in part because we didn't know the exact
procedure, and in part because the Internet wasn't always clear about it, or was outright wrong. The
order in which you visit the various government agencies has changed over the years as the state has
learned and adapted to SB100, but it seems now they have it figured out and we expect the process to
be pretty much as described here for the foreseeable future.
One last note about the number of SPCNS certificates. You will hear from everyone that only 500
certificates are awarded each year, and that you need to get yours in January or they'll all be gone.
This is no longer the case. It's true there is a limit of 500 certificates per year, but only in the
first couple of years of the program were all 500 handed out. We requested ours in November, and
there were still a couple of hundred left. Barring a huge resurgence in the popularity of kit and
homebuilt cars in California, you should have no problem obtaining your certificate no matter what
time of year you request it.
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