In 2018, California began to test digital license plates with a select group of drivers. The plates digitally display the driver’s plate number (and have a slew of other benefits – and potential downsides – besides, more on that later). In October 2022, the state concluded testing, making digital plates available to all Californians. If you’re wondering, “should I get a digital license plate? How much does a digital license plate cost? Will other states adopt them, too?” you’re in the right place – let’s get into it. 

How Do Digital License Plates Work?

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) partnered with California-based company Reviver Auto to create a patented digital license plate, the RPlate. Californians can select one of two digital license plates – the standard, battery-powered RPlate Battery, and the more advanced RPlate Wired. 

The RPlate Battery supports easy installation, allowing owners to activate and install the license plate themselves (with help from Reviver’s custom app and support team). Designed to last up to 50,000 miles, the RPlate Battery runs off its own power source. Conversely, the RPlate Wired requires professional installation – it’s wired directly into the owner’s car, and runs off of the car’s power.

To learn more about digital license plate installation, visit Reviver’s Customer Support Page

At first glance, digital license plates perform the same function as physical plates – most of the time, they display a car’s license plate number. However, they can also:

  • Send out a tracking signal when a car is stolen, helping law enforcement officials track it more easily;
  • Display amber alerts when one occurs in close proximity to the vehicle;
  • Allow car owners to automatically see and pay parking tickets, road tolls, and more;
  • Allow car owners to instantly update their vehicle registration, displayed on the plate;
  • Monitor vehicle mileage and estimated emissions;
  • Display custom graphics and messages when parked. 
Digital license plates let car owners instantly pay tolls.
With digital license plates, manually paying tolls could be a thing of the past.

How Much Does a Digital License Plate Cost?

Car owners can get an RPlate Battery and RPlate Wired both have options starting at $19.95 a month for 48 months, or $215.40 a year for four years. The RPlate Wired also requires a $99 installation fee. 

Car owners who want more features can opt-in to more expensive options – digital plates can run as much as $800 for fleet owners who want to track individual vehicles. 

What Are the Downsides of a Digital License Plate?

Critics of digital license plates have various concerns, the most pressing being privacy. Digital license plates give the companies who make them, like Reviver, the ability to collect a lot of data about drivers. For example, a digital plate can collect data about:

  • How many miles car owners drive per day;
  • What time of day most drivers are on the road, and for how long;
  • Which freeway exits and streets drivers take most often;
  • Which toll booths drivers use the most;
  • The routes specific drivers take to and from their homes the most often;

And more. For example, an earlier version of the RPlate had a vulnerability that allowed hackers to change the messages of plates and even track cars – obviously, not good. Digital plates could also allow organizations (and thus, hackers who break into them) access to customer names, phone numbers, email addresses, and loan statuses. 

The California DMV and California Highway Patrol (CHP) have stated that they can turn off digital license plate features, such as location tracking, if a plate becomes compromised. Additionally, the DMV, CHP, and Reviver have stated that they are committed to continually improving digital plate cybersecurity features and ensuring that bad actors cannot use digital plates to access other systems, such as DMV servers. 

Picture displaying a computer being hacked.
Cybersecurity is a key concern for digital license plate supporters and critics alike.

What Have Reviver & State Governments Said About Digital License Plate Security?

In a statement to Vice following a report on the vulnerabilities of digital plates, Reviver stated, “Cybersecurity is central to our mission to modernize the driving experience, and we will continue to work with industry-leading professionals, tools, and systems to build and monitor our secure platforms for connected vehicles.”

California Assemblymember Wilson reiterated those promises, stating that, “any time CHP feels like safety is a concern in terms of license plates being altered in any kind of way, they can pull that back and make sure that is taken care of before it’s continued use.”

Should I Get a Digital License Plate?

Ultimately, it’s a question of convenience. Would having the ability to instantly pay parking tickets and tolls or update your registration notably improve your quality of life? Do you want the peace of mind of seeing nearby amber alerts or being able to easily track your car if someone steals it? Do you own a fleet of cars you would like to track easily? Digital plates offer a number of quality-of-life features that tech-savvy car owners may find attractive, or that fleet owners could find exceptionally useful. 

On the other hand, it’s not like metal plates are going anywhere anytime soon. So if being an early tech adopter isn’t alluring and the features digital plates provide wouldn’t noticeably improve your quality of life, you may not be in a hurry to switch anytime soon.

Will Other States Use Digital License Plates?

Long answer short: Yes. California and Arizona were the first states to approve digital license plate programs, and Michigan, Texas, and Colorado will likely soon follow. Michigan and Texas already allow digital plates for commercial fleet vehicles, and Reviver recently announced that Colorado would soon join them.

Introducing digital license plates in all 50 states could benefit drivers by making registering vehicles and getting plates an easier, online-only process – especially if Reviver remains the sole partner authorized to provide them. Whether – and how quickly – that will happen remains to be seen. 

Looking for more car news, tips, and Carvana stories? Stay tuned!

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