Registration for Specially Constructed (SPCNS) 4-Wheel Electric Vehicles in California

by Roy Prince
March 2, 2010

There is a common misconception about registering 4-wheel Specially Constructed (SPCNS) electric vehicles in California. This misconception revolves around a supposed 500-vehicle registration limit for SPCNS vehicles. In relation to electric vehicles this is a false perception.

There is NO limit to the number of yearly registrations for SPCNS fully electric vehicles in California. Electric vehicles are exempt from smog requirements, and thus, exempt from being regulated by a 500-vehicle registration limit.

Only builders with internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles that choose to be exempted from current year registration (SMOG certification) are controlled by the 500-vehicle registration per year limit in California. Fully electric SPCNS vehicles are not subject to this DMV requirement.

Another misconception is that a SPCNS vehicle cannot be sold. Producers of vehicles specifically for sale cannot obtain a registration under the SPCNS provisions. Builders of SPCNS vehicles can sell their machines as long as the machine was not originally built to be sold.

Here’s my story.

When I asked why so many people are building three wheeled electric vehicles I was told that the CAL DMV only registered 500 four wheel vehicles a year and there was no limit for three wheeled vehicles which are considered motorcycles and as such are not subject to SPCNS registration requirements.

As I am seeking to build a four-wheel electric vehicle I wanted to verify this to be a true requirement. What I found was a tangle of DMV and Health and Safety Code sections and other information from the California DMV Web site that created a broken circle – thus no definitive exemption for electric vehicle registrations.

I spent several hours at my local DMV, where I was told that a 500-vehicle limit applied to all SPCNS vehicles including electrically powered vehicles. I was also given the phone number for the Policy and Procedures Department of the DMV in Sacramento.

After several calls to Sacramento and a letter from a DMV official…I am still frustrated…it’s that broken circle again – the DMV does not clearly state that electric vehicles are exempt from a 500-vehicle rule. However, a senior DMV representative stated explicitly that only ICE vehicles that wish to specifically define a non-current vehicle year model are subjected to the 500-vehicle per year requirement. He also stated that SPCNS electric four-wheel vehicles are smog exempt and thus exempt from any restrictions as to number of registrations per year. As we will be registering our electric vehicles as current year model vehicles they are also exempt from this restriction.

If you are having a difficult time with your local DMV specifically relating to this issue I suggest you contact the Policy and Procedures Department of the CAL DMV in Sacramento…your local DMV will provide the phone number. Sacramento DMV Policy and Procedures Department will call your local DMV and you will be able to register your electric vehicle.

My goal is to clarify issues relating to the registration and sale of four-wheel SPCNS electric vehicles in California. I am not an expert on registration issues in California or any other place so please do not contact me asking for advice.

  • Below is information I found on the Internet that applies to this issue.
  • Be advised – Some of the information is confusing and seemingly contradictory; and other issues may be addressed that do not directly bear on the subject at hand.
  • Highlights in red bold type are the writers attempt to bring your attention to the highlighted copy - this copy has not been changed.
  • Annotated text by the author is noted as "Editors Notes"
  • This information was copied directly from CAL DMV Web pages and for clarity I removed the underlined hyperlinks. You can access the hyperlinks by going to the Web address indicated at the top of each section. The Internet addresses were accessible as of the date of this document and may change at any time.

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www.dmv.ca.gov/vr/smogfaq.htm

Smog Information

Currently, smog inspections are required for all vehicles except diesel powered vehicles manufactured prior to 1998 or with a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVWR) of more than 14,000 lbs, electric, natural gas powered vehicles over 14,000 lbs, hybrids, motorcycles, trailers, or gasoline powered vehicles 1975 and older.

Vehicles registered in areas subject to the biennial smog certification program are required to submit evidence of a smog certification every other renewal period. Owners of vehicles six or less model years old will pay an annual smog abatement fee for the first six registration years instead of being required to provide a biennial smog certification. The registration renewal notice mailed to you by the department will indicate if a smog certification is required. If a smog certification is required and you have not had a smog inspection, you may still pay your registration fees to avoid any late fees. However, you will not receive your new registration or year sticker until the smog information has been received by DMV.

Editors Note: "Upon initial registration, nonresident, diesel powered vehicles manufactured in 1998 or after with a (GVWR) rating of no more than 14,000 lbs, and specially constructed vehicles 1976 and newer require smog certification. The six or less model years old  rule does not apply to these vehicles."

When you transfer a vehicle that is four or less model years old a smog certification is not required. (Determine the oldest-qualifying year model by subtracting three from the current year.) The four or less model years old rule does not apply to diesel powered vehicles. A smog transfer fee will be collected from the new owner. When a vehicle is more than four model years old, a seller must provide evidence of a current smog certification except when one of the following occurs:

  • The transfer occurs between a spouse, domestic partner, sibling, child, parent, grandparent, or grandchild.
  • A biennial smog certification was submitted to DMV within 90 days prior to the vehicle transfer date (a vehicle inspection report may be required for proof of certification).

Smog certifications are good for 90 days from the date of issuance.


Does my vehicle qualify for a smog exemption?

Smog inspections are required unless your vehicle is:

  • Hybrid
  • Gasoline powered 1975 year model or older
  • Diesel powered manufactured prior to 1998 or with a Gross Vehicle Weight rating (GVWR) of more than 14,000 lbs
  • Electric
  • Natural gas powered with a GVWR rating of more than 14,000 lbs.
  • Motorcycle
  • Trailer

When a car is sold, who is responsible for the inspection?

The seller is required to provide the buyer with a valid smog inspection certification at the time of the sale or transfer. Smog certifications are good for 90 days from the date of issuance.

The inspection is not required on a transfer if a biennial smog certification was submitted to DMV within 90 days prior to the vehicle transfer date (a vehicle inspection report may be required for proof of certification).

NOTE: Smog certifications are not required for transfers that occur for a gasoline powered motor vehicle that is four or less model years old. (Determine the oldest-qualifying year model by subtracting three from the current year) the four or less model years old rule does not apply to diesel powered vehicles. A smog transfer fee will be collected from the new owner.

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www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/appndxa/hlthsaf/hs44017_4.htm

Health and Safety Code

44017.4.  (a) Upon registration with the Department of Motor Vehicles, a passenger vehicle or pickup truck that is a specially constructed vehicle, as defined in Section 580 of the Vehicle Code, shall be inspected by stations authorized to perform referee functions. This inspection shall be for the purposes of determining the engine model-year used in the vehicle or the vehicle model-year, and the emission control system application. The owner shall have the option to choose whether the inspection is based on the engine model-year used in the vehicle or the vehicle model-year.

(1) In determining the engine model-year, the referee shall compare the engine to engines of the era that the engine most closely resembles. The referee shall assign the 1960 model-year to the engine in any specially constructed vehicle that does not sufficiently resemble a previously manufactured engine. The referee shall require only those emission control systems that are applicable to the established engine model-year and that the engine reasonably accommodates in its present form.

(2) In determining the vehicle model-year, the referee shall compare the vehicle to vehicles of the era that the vehicle most closely resembles. The referee shall assign the 1960 model-year to any specially constructed vehicle that does not sufficiently resemble a previously manufactured vehicle. The referee shall require only those emission control systems that are applicable to the established model-year and that the vehicle reasonably accommodates in its present form.

(b) Upon the completion of the inspection, the referee shall affix a tamper-resistant label to the vehicle and issue a certificate that establishes the engine model-year or the vehicle model-year, and the emission control system application.

(c) The Department of Motor Vehicles shall annually provide a registration to no more than the first 500 vehicles that meet the criteria described in subdivision (a) that are presented to that department for registration pursuant to this section. The 500-vehicle annual limitation does not apply to the renewal of registration of a vehicle registered pursuant to this section.

(Amended Sec. 1, Ch. 693, Stats. 2002. Effective January 1, 2003.)

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www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d03/vc4750_1.htm

Specially Constructed Vehicles: Assignment of Model-Year

4750.1.  (a) If the department receives an application for registration of a specially constructed passenger vehicle or pickup truck after it has registered 500 specially constructed vehicles during that calendar year pursuant to Section 44017.4 of the Health and Safety Code, and the vehicle has not been previously registered, the vehicle shall be assigned the same model-year as the calendar year in which the application is submitted, for purposes of determining emissions inspection requirements for the vehicle.

( )1 (b) (1) If the department receives an application for registration of a specially constructed passenger vehicle or pickup truck that has been previously registered after it has registered 500 specially constructed vehicles during that calendar year pursuant to Section 44017.4 of the Health and Safety Code, and the ( )2 application requests a model-year ( )3 determination different from the ( )4 model-year assigned in ( )5 the previous registration, the application for registration shall be denied and the vehicle owner is ( )6 subject to the emission control and inspection requirements ( )7 applicable to the model-year assigned in the ( )8 previous registration.

( )9 (2) ( )10 For a vehicle ( )11 participating in the amnesty program in effect from January 1, 2010, until December 31, 2010, pursuant to Section 9565, the modelyear of the previous registration shall be the calendar year of the year in which the vehicle owner applied for amnesty. However, a denial of an application for registration issued pursuant to this ( )12 paragraph does not preclude the vehicle owner from applying for a different model-year determination and application for registration under Section 44017.4 of the Health and Safety Code in a subsequent calendar year.

(c) (1) The Bureau of Automotive Repair may charge the vehicle owner who applies to participate in the amnesty program a fee for each referee station inspection conducted pursuant to Section 9565. The fee shall be one hundred sixty dollars ($160) and shall be collected by the referee station performing the inspection.

(2) A contract to perform referee services may authorize direct compensation to the referee contractor from the inspection fees collected pursuant to paragraph (1). The referee contractor shall deposit the inspection fee separate trust account that the referee contractor shall account for and manage in accordance with generally accepted accounting standards and principles. Where the department conducts the inspections pursuant to Section 9565, the inspection fees collected by the department shall be deposited into the Vehicle Inspection and Repair Fund.

Added Sec. 2, Ch. 693, Stats. 2002. Effective January 1, 2003.
Amended Sec. 2, Ch. 420, Stats. 2008. Effective January 1, 2009.
Amended Sec. 1, Ch. 235, Stats. 2009. Effective January 1, 2010.
The 2009 amendment added the italicized material, and at the point(s) indicated,
deleted the following:
1.“(a)”
2.“vehicle has not been previously registered, the vehicle shall be assigned
the same”
3.“as”
4.“calendar”
5.“which”
6.“submitted, for purposes of determining emissions”
7.“for”
8.“vehicle”
9.“(b)'
10.“If the department receives an application for registration of a specially constructed passenger vehicle or pickup truck that has been previously registered after it has registered 500 specially constructed vehicles during that calendar year pursuant to Section 44017.4 of the Health and Safety Code, and the application requests a model-year determination different from the model-year assigned in the previous registration, the application for registration shall be denied and the vehicle owner is subject to the emission control and inspection requirements applicable to the model-year assigned in the previous registration.
11.“that participated”
12.“subdivision”

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www.dmv.ca.gov/vr/spcnsreg.htm

Registration Requirements for Home-Made, Specially Constructed, or Kit Vehicles

A "home-made, specially constructed, or kit vehicle" is a vehicle that is built for private use, not for resale, and is not constructed by a licensed manufacturer or remanufacturer. These vehicles may be built from a kit, new or used parts, a combination of new and used parts, or a vehicle reported for dismantling (junked) that, when reconstructed, does not resemble the original make of the vehicle that was dismantled.

Editors Note: The above statement does not prevent the SPCNS builder from selling the vehicle. It states that the vehicle must be “built for private use” but this does not preclude the builder from selling the vehicle.

A specially constructed vehicle (SPCNS) does not include a vehicle that has been repaired or restored to its original design by replacing parts or a vehicle modified from its original design.

Example: A Volkswagen "Beetle" with modified fenders, engine compartment lid, and front end, but still recognizable as a Volkswagen is not considered a specially constructed vehicle.

NOTE: The registration requirements for kit commercial vehicles are the same as for specially constructed vehicles.

The Registration Requirements are:

  • A completed Application for Title or Registration (REG 343).
  • A vehicle verification done by the California Highway Patrol (CHP). You must start your application process with the DMV prior to contacting the CHP for a vehicle verification. DMV verifies trailers with an unladen weight of 6,000 pounds or less.
  • A completed Statement of Construction (REG 5036).
  • Proof of ownership, such as invoices, receipts, manufacturers’ certificates of origin, bills of sale, or junk receipts for the major component parts (engine, frame, transmission, and body).NOTE: A motor vehicle bond is required when proof of ownership cannot be obtained for parts valued a $5,000 or more.
  • Official brake and light adjustment certificates. When an official brake and light station that inspects specific vehicles such as motorcycles and large commercial vehicles is not located within a reasonable distance, DMV will accept a Statement of Facts (REG 256) from a repair shop attesting that the brakes and lights are in proper working order. Brake and light certificates are not required for off-highway vehicles or trailers weighing less than 3,000 pounds gross vehicle weight.
  • A weight certificate for commercial vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less.
  • An emission control inspection (smog check) by a Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) Referee Station. Click here for information on SPCNS Certificates of Sequence . To make an appointment at a BAR Referee Station, call 1-800-622-7733.
  • All fees due.
  • Visit your local DMV to begin the application process, make an Appointment(s) for faster service.

Roy Prince is an ecological architect and builder of electric vehicles. In 2009 he, along with a friend, converted an ICE motorcycle to electric power. He also built an electric drive system for a Cortina Triton DS bicycle. His current projects are the design and construction of a small electric car and a bicycle derived lightweight electric motorcycle.