eBay Gold: Old California License Plates Selling For $300

Do you have any old California license plates tucked away in the corner of your garage or attic? If you do, you might want to bring them out into the daylight, dust them off, and list them on eBay. California license plate pairs from the 1930s through the 1960s routinely fetch over $300.00 on eBay, and it is not uncommon for them to sell for an even higher price when in very good condition.

Of course, there is a catch. Not every pair of old license plates from the Golden State will sell for such a lofty price, and I’m going to show you how to tell the difference between a real nugget and fool’s gold.

You see, California, like a number of other states, has on its books what is referred to as a Year of Manufacture Law, or Y.O.M. for short. The intent of this law is to allow owners of classic cars to use on their vehicles the actual style of license plate that was issued during the year the automobile was manufactured. California restricts this law to vehicles manufactured in 1972 or earlier.

So in other words, the owner of a 1951 Chevy could put a set of 1951 California plates on his vehicle if he so desired. Simple, right? Well, it’s not quite that easy. First of all, California did not issue a license plate every year. For example, if you owned a 1958 Ford, you would need 1956 plates with 1958 stickers on them. Owners of 1949 vehicles would need a set of 1947 plates with 1949 metal tabs to affix to those plates. Those metal tabs can sometimes be hard to come by as well, and open up another great opportunity for eBay sellers. A tiny set of California metal tabs sell easily for $50.00.

Of course, the year dilemma doesn’t really matter to you as a license plate seller. You have what you have. But for a classic car owner, it makes finding authentic plates for his beloved automobile all the more challenging and costly.

And if all this wasn’t enough, there is one more, huge obstacle that must be cleared… literally. The number on the license plates must not be currently in use by another motorist. If you have a set of plates to sell with a number that is currently registered to a vehicle, you’ve got fool’s gold, my friend. They are useless to a classic car owner.

To determine if you have the real deal, you can go to the California DMV website and check the number on the personalized plate page. In the vehicle information section, select “Auto” for type of vehicle and check “No” to indicate that you are not going to put the plate on a leased or company owned vehicle. Check the first plate example shown, which is a standard-issue California license plate, and then click “Next” at the bottom of the page. When the new page opens up, you put in your plate number using the “Plate Message” drop down menu. Click “Next” at the bottom of the page, and you will be told instantly if the number is cleared for use on any vehicle.

If the response you receive, is a positive one, congratulations. You’ve just struck gold! Take a photo of the license plates, and post them on eBay. Be sure to include the words “DMV Clear” in your listing title. For a nice set of plates, I suggest a Buy It Now listing with a Best Offer option. Make your starting price $395.00 and refuse any offer less than $325.00. You’re in the driver’s seat… and soon to be in the money.

By mezza