Most California Clean Air Decal Holders Losing Special HOV Lane Privilege, Unless…

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Tens of thousands of California clean air decal holders will lose their cherished “single occupant” access to the state’s carpool lanes at the end of this year – unless they buy or lease a new qualifying plug-in hybrid or zero emissions vehicle.

(NOTE: Sticker replacement rules are now available, 10/3/18.)

California legislators last year passed a bill creating a new, rolling, three-year Clean Air Vehicle decal plan that eliminates eligibility for all vehicles with the green or white decals issued before Jan. 1, 2017. The stickers permit the cars to be legally operated in carpool lanes with only one occupant.

[Estimated reading Time: 2 min.]

California Clean Air Decal

The new decal program is intended to mitigate carpool lane congestion as more and more low- and zero-emission cars and trucks are sold by reducing the number of one-occupant cars entitled to use the state’s high occupancy vehicle, or HOV, lanes. Under the new rules all green and white clean air vehicle decals awarded before Jan. 1, 2019 will expire on that date.

Because California only issues the decals one time per vehicle, only qualifying vehicles with stickers issued since the cutoff – or older qualifying vehicles that never before had a sticker – can get one of the new decals. HOV access stickers are highly valued by urban motorists trying to cope with the state’s jammed freeways.

In the early days of the program, when conventional hybrids were allowed to participate in the California clean air decal program, used Prius models with clean air stickers typically sold for about $4,000 more in California than comparable models without the decals.

Under present rules, only plug-in hybrids, battery- and fuel-cell electric vehicles and vehicles powered by dedicated compressed natural gas engines (not bi-fuel models), are eligible for the stickers.

The state has been issuing a temporary sticker, colored red, since March 2018. Vehicle owners who have one of those are good until Jan. 1, 2022.

Owners of qualified vehicles who were issued white or green decals between Jan. 1, 2017 and March 2018, will have to apply for a new sticker that also will be good until Jan 1, 2022.

Stickers issued after Jan. 1 2019 will be valid until Jan. 1 of the fourth year after the year in which it was issued. Decals issued on January 1 and Dec. 31 in 2019, for instance, both would expire on Jan. 1, 2023.

None of the stickers can be renewed, and unless extended by the legislature the program ends Sept. 30, 2025, when all decals issued after the start of 2022 also will expire.

(Note: Article updated 10/12/18 to correct an error: it original said the new decals would be issued to qualified vehicles sold on or after Jan. 1, 2017:  In fact, the sale date doesn’t matter – new decals for vehivles with existing stickers can be obtained only if those stickers were issued on or after Jan. 1, 2017.)


33 thoughts on “Most California Clean Air Decal Holders Losing Special HOV Lane Privilege, Unless…

  1. Is it possible to inquire about an old vehicle to check if it was ever given a sticker using the VIN number? Is there a number to call for that kind of verification?

    • Just got word from the California DMV: Short answer, nope. You have to trust the seller of an unstickered but qualified car (a lot of used Teslas don’t have ’em) to be telling the truth about no previous sticker being issued.

  2. I leased an i3 in March 2018…applied for a red sticker. Just got it in July 2018 and the documentation that came with it says “Valid until Jan 2019″(!) 6 MONTHS? really?? When I look online… theres an amendment that says 2022. Ihave the clea air vehicle certificate that says jan 2019…. Does anyone know?? Did CA just typo my certificate? cuz this is wierd…. why issue a red decal on Dec 28,2018 to have it expire 2 days later on Jan 1, 2019. Anyone know??

    • Not a typo, just typical bureaucratic inability to do things simply.
      As the article above says, your sticker issued July 2018 will be good until Jan. 1, 2019. You will be able to apply for a replacement sticker sometime around then – the application period hasn’t opened yet, the DMV website should post a notice when it is – but your replacement will expire Jan. 1, 2022.
      For more information, check out the Calif. Air Resources Board site’s carpool lane section:

      Repeating what TheGreenCarGuy article says:
      The state has been issuing a temporary sticker, colored red, since March 2018. Vehicle owners who have one of those are good until Jan. 1, 2022.
      Owners of qualified vehicles who were issued white or green decals between Jan. 1, 2017 and March 2018 will have to apply for the new sticker, which will be good until Jan 1, 2022. Application rules and forms have not yet been published.
      Stickers issued after Jan. 1 2019 will be valid until Jan. 1 of the fourth year after the year in which it was issued. Decals issued on January 1 and Dec. 31 in 2019, for instance, both would expire on Jan. 1, 2023.
      None of the stickers can be renewed and unless extended by the legislature the program ends Sept. 30, 2025, when all decals issued after the start of 2022 also will expire.

  3. Having bought my PHEV in 2016, and paying the premium price for the plug in, I feel that the new law is unjust in cutting off the 2016s from the car pool lane stickers. Since I bought my car, I have averaged about 77 MPG, which is great even by today’s standards. When the car pool lane stickers expire, I might just start putting gas back into the car and quit plugging it in as a protest. I have solar panels on the house and have the car set to charge during evening hours. What a shame the State wants to jeopardize these efforts.

  4. Have application rules and forms been published yet for vehicles who were issued white or green decals between Jan. 1, 2017 and March 2018. I have green sticker issued in December of 2017 and want to apply for the red sticker before it runs out Jan 1st.

    • They have not yet been published. As I understand the rules, you can keep using stickers issued in 2017 and this year until the new application and sticker color/design are published. To check the state’s progress in getting the new applications posted, pay a weekly visit to this site: TheGreenCarGuy will also post an article as soon as there’s something to write about.

  5. I drive CNG, cleaner than many of the now qualifying vehicles they want to sell me. I’ll be writing letters and making phone calls about this unjust new program. The folks in the regular lanes have no idea what is about to hit them come January1! If anyone knows of an existing coordinated effort to fight this new law, please advise! Thanks!

  6. We bought a 2018 model Chrysler Pacifica hybrid this month i.e. Sept 2018, which is eligible for red-sticker as of now. I have been thinking of applying for HOV decal in Jan of 2019 so that it is valid till end of 2023 (as opposed to end of 2022 if I applied it this year). Is there a chance of Pacifica Hybrid losing the eligibility of red-sticker if I applied in 2019? And if so, will the 2018 Pacifica hybrid model bought in 2018 still be eligible for red sticker?

    The eligibility chart only shows the model year of the car, and not when the application for HOV decal was filed – so I am hoping even if 2019 model of Pacifica hybrid loses the eligibility, applying for HOV decal in 2019 for a 2018 model of Pacifica hybrid bought in 2018 should still be OK.

    Thanks in advance for any insight.

    • Your strategy is a good one. At this point it make no sense to get a sticker now for a vehicle purchased in Sept. because you would lose 9 months of eligibility. Apply in January and get four full years. Even if Chrysler’s 2019 Pacific somehow didn’t make the cut, your 2018 would, so no worries there.

  7. Will my white POV sticker expire on Jan 1, 2019?
    I leased my Toyota Mirai on Aug 18, 2016 for 3 years. which is due on Aug 18, 2019

    • Sorry, but as I understand the rules, yes, your Mirai’s white sticker will expire on Jan. 1, 2019. The law is pretty clear: ALL green and while stickers issued before Jan. 1, 2017 expire on Jan.1, 2019. Stickers issued between Jan 1, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2018, (including the red ones) can be renewed – once the renewal rules and applications are posted -and the renewal expires Jan. 1, 2022. All stickers issued on or after Jan. 1, 2019, are good until Jan.1 of the 4th year after their issue. So a sticker issued Jan 2, 2019 would expire on Jan. 1, 2023; a sticker issued on Dec. 30, 2019 also would expire on Jan. 1,2023, and a sticker issued Feb. 4, 2020 (or any date in 2020, for that matter)would expire Jan. 1, 2024. The program will end, for all stickers, on Jan, 1, 2025 – unless extended by the legislature.

  8. I have a buddy that has a 2012 Honda Civic nvg with the white sticker on it what is going to happen to his car when this comes into effect

    • Nothing will happen to the car – but the sticker will expire, as will all pre-2017 stickers, and the car won’t be legal in California carpool lanes unless there are 2 or more people inside.

  9. Hello John:
    I am seriously considering purchasing a new 2018 Audi A3 E Tron Sportback. (Sept./Oct. 2018) I would postpone application of the carpool sticker until 2019, to maximize eligibility. My concern is that if the State “runs out” of stickers, I have just bought a nice car, but for no reason, as I currently drive a 2016-registered Ford Fusion Energi. I’m changing cars primarily to get 4 more years of carpool access.
    Great advice you provide in here. I’ve spent a lot of time attempting to understand theses rules, as they are quite convoluted to put it mildly!

    • The state won’t run out of stickers. And yes, apply after Jan. 1, 2019 but as early in Jan. as you can so you get maximum eligibility.

  10. Just purchased a used 2015 Plug In that came with green sticker. Not sure when sticker was applied. How does this all work for used cars, with stickers, that were purchased between 2017-2018?

    • Once sticker was issued, that’s the date that sticks with it – the stickers are linked to the cars, not to owners, so doesn’t matter that you just bought it. As far as the law is concerned, it expired Jan. 1 2019 because it’s a sticker that was issued before Jan. 1 2017 (unless you can trace it back and prove it wasn’t issued until 2017 – more than a year and maybe 2 years after the car was first purchased).

  11. John, So if I buy a used plug-in with a sticker issued after 1/1/2017, I can apply for a red sticker that’s good through 1/1/2022. If the sticker was issued before 1/1/2017, it will expire on 1/1/2019. Correct?

    If eligible, can I wait and apply for the new sticker in January to pick up the extra year of eligibility?

    And thanks, I’ve looked at a dozen sites and articles, and this is the best explanation.

    • Answer to first question is “Yes.” As to question #2 – my understanding is that renewal for ANY sticker issued between Jan. 1, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2018 will expire on Jan. 1, 2022 – regardless of when you apply for it. Sorry.

  12. I purchased a new 2017 model year Ford C-Max Energi Plug-In Hybrid in February 2017 and obtained the green California Clean Air Decal-HOV sticker in April 2017. My understanding is that I can then apply for the new red HOV sticker as well since the car was purchased new in 2017.

    I now plan to purchase a Tesla Model 3 and to sell the C-Max Energi. Will the buyer of my used C-Max Energi also be eligible to apply for the new red HOV sticker? Or is the buyer ineligible because the car already has HOV stickers issued to the previous owner who purchased the car when new (me)?

    • Yes to No. 1; and yup, buyer of C-Max energi can apply to renew. It doesn’t matter how many times a caris bought and sold, only thing that does matter is date the original sticker was issued.

  13. There is an portion of the new law that is unclear to me – are you ineligible for the new CAV stickers if you have EVER received a rebate (I received one for a 2015 EV) or only if you have received one after Jan. 1 2018… I just purchased a NEW 2018 EV in 09/2018 and am unsure of my eligibility…

    The DMV CAV Sticker Application (REG 1000) states: For a vehicle purchased on or after January 1, 2018, the Department of Motor Vehicles cannot issue a clean air decal to an applicant who HAS RECEIVED a consumer rebate, nor can an applicant participate in both the Clean Air Decal Program and the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, pursuant to California Vehicle Code (CVC) §5205.5, unless the income restrictions for tax returns falls below: $150,000 for a single person, $204,000 for a head of household, and $300,000 for a joint tax return.

    California Code, Vehicle Code – VEH § 5205.5 States:
    (7) (b)(1) The department shall not issue a decal, label, or other identifier to an applicant who has received a consumer rebate pursuant to the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, established as part of the Air Quality Improvement Program pursuant to Article 3 (commencing with Section 44274 ) of Chapter 8.9 of Part 5 of Division 26 of the Health and Safety Code, for a vehicle purchased on or after January 1, 2018, unless the rebate was issued to a buyer whose gross annual income falls below one hundred fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) for a person who files a tax return as a single person, two hundred four thousand dollars ($204,000) for a person who files a tax return as a head of household, and three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000) for a person who files a joint tax return.

    • My understanding is that you can get rebates if you previously received them, as long as that was before Jan. 1, 2018. But I underscore the qualifier – my understanding. I have no official standing to interpret hard-to-deciper and horribly convoluted legalese. ALSO, you still hve to meet the new income rules.

    • Apologies – I misunderstood your question – you were asking about stickers, not rebate eligibility. The law says you can get a new CAV decal for a qualified car, regardless of income, unless you exceed the income cap(s) AND received a rebate for a vehicle purchased (or leased) on or after Jan.1 , 2018.

      So, if you bought a 2018 EV in 2018, and you fall under the income caps, then you can get a sticker for it even though you previously had one for a 2015 EV. If your income exceeds the cap, you can still get a sticker because your previous rebate was for a vehivle (2105 EV) purchased before Jan. 1, 2018.

  14. Hi John,

    1. I want to buy an out of state 2015 Ford Fusion Energi. Since it never had California HOV stickers I should be able to get them here till 2022 yes?

    2. Also, do you think if the car had Maryland HOV stickers this would make a difference?

    • It was explained to me early on by a DMV spokesperson that an older vehicle that never had a sticker could still get one. But if getting the new sticker is the only reason you’d buy the ’15 Fusion Energi then I’d try to get an answer from DMV before I went ahead (I will check also and post answer here as soon as I get one. Also, I have no idea whether having had a sticker from another state would be disqualifying. See my previous comment.

    • From the DMV: If it is an otherwise quaified vehicle that never had a Calif. Clean Air Vehicle decal before, you can get a new one. Doesn’t matter where the car was originally sold or whether it had another state’s HOV sticker. As long as it wasn’t a Calif. CAV decal, you are good to go.

      • John, trying to understand the used car technicality. It seems that I can buy a used, qualifying car with existing stickers (as long as they were issued after 1/1/2017), transfer the stickers into my name, and apply for red stickers in 2019 for that car (details TBD). I can also wait till 2019 and buy a used car that has new red stickers on it, and transfer them into my name. Is that correct?

        So the only reason that I would consider getting a used car that never had stickers (out of state or otherwise) is to get an older model car? For example the 2015 Ford above would only qualify for the new red stickers if it never had stickers before… OR if its stickers were applied after 1/1/2017 (unlikely scenario). Am I correct?

        Thank you for the great writeup!

        • Yes, yes, and sort of: Your comment refers to a 2015 Ford that is missing from the comment. I assume you mean a 2015 Ford EV or PHEV. the way the rules are written, you can buy a pre 2017 vehicle that would otherwise qualify and if that vehicle had never been issued an HOV sticker in Calif. (doesn’t matter if it had one in another state, Calif. doesn’t care) then you can apply for a new one.

  15. If I lease a CAV-eligible vehicle and the dealer applies for the rebate, can I still get the CAV decals? I am over the income limit to get both the CAV decals and the rebate. The dealer indicated that they would apply for the rebate anyway, and it wouldn’t matter to me. Is that correct or would this prevent me from getting the CAV decals?

    • Hmmm… you don’t say whether you are leasing a battery EV or a fuel cell electric. IF a fuel cell, there is an either-or choice if you exceed the income limit, but if it is a battery-electric, then there is no rebate possible for those with high incomes, only a decal. But thode are the ruleswhen the owner and user are the same. In your case, with a leasing entity actually owning the car, I’m not absolutely sure and will have to check and get back to you.

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