California's Planned Non-Operation Registration: A Quick Guide To Non-Op

Illustration for article titled Californias Planned Non-Operation Registration: A Quick Guide To Non-Op
Photo: Andrew P Collins

If you have a car in California and want to take it off the road for a while, to save money on registration and insurance you can file “Planned Non-Operation.” Here’s a brief rundown on how “non-op” works, how to use it, and some potential pitfalls with it.

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Planned Non-Operation, also referred to as PNO or just “non-op,” is an option you’ll see every time your annual California vehicle registration renewal notice comes around. “I forgot to put my broken BMW E30 on non-op three years ago and now I’m broke,” your car buddy might have once told you. Don’t be that friend!

In the case of my personal Nissan Z, I had the option to re-up the registration as usual for $128 or pay $20 for PNO.

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Why Put Your Car On Planned Non-Operation

The best use of PNO status is for situations where you want to mothball a car for a long time, but don’t want to rack up a big stack of late fees. If you simply stop paying your registration while your car’s not used, you won’t get pulled over of course, but you will accumulate major fees and you (or a new buyer) won’t be able to register the car again until those fees are paid.

California determines your registration cost by vehicle value, hence my cheap Z’s annual rate being so low. A newer car would cost a lot more every year, though, and PNO would more worthwhile.

Let’s say you own multiple cars but aren’t driving one much. You don’t really want to sell it, but hate paying recurring costs on it while it’s just sitting. With PNO, you can legally take insurance off your car while taking advantage of that super-low registration fee.

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Or, if you’ve got a project car that won’t pass emissions or just has a really long way to go before it’s road-ready, a PNO car doesn’t need to be smogged either. Until it comes time to return to the road, that is.

Downsides Of Planned Non-Operation

A PNO car cannot be legally driven or street parked. You probably figured that. In fact, it’s not even supposed to be towed on non-op without a special moving permit.

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When you do want to drive the car, you need to physically go to the DMV or AAA to put the paperwork through. We’ll cover that shortly.

But remember: PNO status is really only optimal if you’re sure the car’s going to be off the road for at least a full year. If you put it on non-op and then want to return it to road-legal status before your first year’s up, you still have to pay for a full year’s worth of registration. On the plus side, though, as discussed, you don’t have any late fees. So if you cancelled your insurance, you likely did save money doing non-op for only part of a year even though you have to eat the non-op fee and registration fee. At least you won’t have any late fees.

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How To Put Your Car On Planned Non-Operation

The DMV will accept PNO filings up to 60 days before registration expires or
up to 90 days after registration expires, so that’s your window.

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When registration renewal comes due and you want to take the car off the road, doing PNO instead of a standard registration will be very clearly instructed and laid out right in the document you get in the mail.

You can also file online if you don’t have the paperwork handy.

If you want to take a car off the road outside the DMV’s prescribed PNO period of time, you might want to try getting an Affidavit Of Non-Use.

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PNO Alternative: Affidavit Of Non-Use

Well, shoot, what about if you just want to take your car off the road for just a few months? Keeping it registered without insurance, even if you don’t drive it, isn’t legal and could potentially cost you penalties.

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But as you just read, PNO filing can only be done in a certain window of time. If you’re outside that window, don’t want to drive for a while, and want to suspend insurance but be able to reactive the car for road use easily, look into filing an Affidavit Of Non-Use online. With that, you should be able to legally stop insuring your vehicle for the period of time you want to.

However! An Affidavit Of Non-Use has caveats too. You can only use one on a car that’s currently registered, the document needs to be submitted before the period of non-use begins, and if your registration is going to expire within 75 days, you can’t use this form at all.

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If your registration renewal comes due while you’re vehicle’s being “non-used,” the DMV is supposed to force you to pick, either bring the car back on the road or file for PNO.

How To Put A PNO Car Back On The Road

Ready to drive again, great! Getting a car from PNO status to a regular registration is slightly more arduous than taking it off, but it’s not too bad as long as you have your paperwork in order.

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As of this writing, there’s no provision for moving a car from Planned Non-Op status to a regular registration online. So you have to physically go to the DMV or AAA if you’re a member to get it done, and that’s basically why it’s a pain. And don’t forget that AAA in southern California only takes cash or checks for dealing with DMV-related business! If you’re in NorCal, that’s not the case. Weirdly.

Which one you go to, DMV vs. AAA, basically just determines how long you should plan to wait. DMV lines are typically much worse than AAA’s, though where I’m at in west LA they’re both pretty brutal.

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Anyway, here’s what you’ll need to have in order to get this done:

  • A certificate of non-operation (fill out the part promising you didn’t drive the car while it was on PNO)
  • Get insurance back on your car and get a proof of insurance doc. (If you go to AAA, it’s OK if this is just on your phone
  • Your last valid registration or your last registration renewal notice
  • Cash or a check for the full amount of a year’s registration
  • If the car is model-year 1976 or newer and it’s been more than two years since your car’s last smog inspection, and you live in a county that cares about such things, you’ll need a fresh smog certificate to get a registration. So you’ll need to either risk driving to a smog shop with no insurance or registration, or, get one of those one-day moving permits to do this.
  • Meanwhile, if you have done smog within two years, you don’t need a new one to bring your car back on the road.
  • If you don’t have any registration docs from when the car was driving, you’re likely going to have to go through the process of registering a car for the first time, so bring your title.
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Useful Documents And More Help

The latest version of the California DMV website is decent, but I was annoyed that there didn’t seem to be a single page covering both starting and stopping a vehicle’s non-op status, hence wanting to write this post

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I’m also hoping that the comment section gets populated for more tips from people who have dealt with specific situations that might not be detailed on the standard DMV pages.

Meanwhile, here are some useful links that should help you if you’re still confused on this process. (A few of which are linked above as well.):

Happy registering!

Reviews Editor, Jalopnik | 1975 International Scout, 1984 Nissan 300ZX, 1991 Suzuki GSXR, 1998 Mitsubishi Montero, 2005 Acura TL

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DISCUSSION

halftrackelcamino
Half-track El Camino

Wait… so in California, if you have a car, even a non-functional car, that you are not driving and which just sits in your garage and never moves—they want you to register it? A car which is basically a very large doorstop? What happens if you just, you know, don’t?