If you want to access dealer-only auctions and sell (or flip) even one vehicle in California for profit, you are legally required to have a dealer license. Dealer 101® is 5-Star rated and provides DMV Approved training programs. We’ve helped thousands of people just like you to get their California Dealer License. They can now access auctions and wholesale deals closed to the public. Learning how to get a vehicle dealer’s license in California can be confusing, and we can help. We put together this step-by-step guide that explains how easy it is to get your dealer’s license in California. We cover all of these topics (and more), during our online courses.
1. Take The Required Dealer Pre-License Training Class (California DMV Approved)
California requires anyone wanting a Wholesale or Retail Dealer License to take a “Pre-Licensing Class”. No industry experience or additional preparation is needed. By completing the one-day (6 hours) training first, you can save a lot of wasted time and expense.
Our DMV Approved class is 100% online and led by an experienced Instructor and a Licensed Dealer. You can attend using your smartphone, tablet, or computer. A camera or microphone is not required.
After registering, you will receive your clickable link to join the class, a detailed course Dealer Study Guide. You will have a Chat where you can ask the Instructor any questions. After the class, you will receive a recording of the entire class you attended. Your DMV Certificate of Completion will be sent to you the following business day. We now offer two DMV-approved training options.
- Online with an Instructor – attend a 6-hour “live” class on a Wednesday or Saturday
- Online Home Study – complete the training on your schedule, at any time of day
2. Pass the DMV’s Dealer Test
The California DMV requires that you pass an in-person test at the DMV office.
- If applying as a Corporation or LLC, one member must pass the test
- If applying as an Individual, that one person must pass the test
- If applying as a Partnership (without a Corporation or LLC), all partners must pass the test.
Schedule Your Test at the DMV Occupational Licensing office
Once you have your DMV Certificate of Completion from us, you can call your nearest DMV Occupational Licensing office to schedule your test. The DMV requires the Certificate as proof that you have completed your training and understand the DMV regulations and requirements.
Practice For Your Test at Dealer 101
We have an excellent (free) online Practice Test to ensure you’re ready to visit the DMV. You can repeat our Practice Test as many times as you like, at no cost.
Take the Test at The DMV Occupational Licensing office
Make an appointment at your nearest California DMV Occupational Licensing Office. To pass, you will need a score of 70% or higher (28 correct answers from 40 multiple-choice questions). You are allowed three attempts to pass.
3. Decide on a Dealer License Type
California has two types of Dealer licenses for selling pre-owned vehicles; Retail and Wholesale.
- Retail Dealers can access dealer-only auctions, sell to other Dealers -and- sell vehicles to the public. Retail Dealers are required to have an approved commercial office.
- Wholesale Dealers can also access dealer-only auctions and sell to other Dealers but not to the public. Wholesale Dealers may work from a home office. Some Wholesale Dealers work in partnership with a Retail Dealer to sell through to consumers.
4. Decide – Corporation, LLC, Partnership, or Sole Proprietor?
You can apply for your Dealer License as a Corporation, LLC, Partnership, or as a Sole Proprietorship (a private individual). If you decide to set up your Dealership as a Corporation or LLC, you need to supply the DMV with documents showing Officers that will be active in the operation of your Dealership.
You can learn more about establishing your own Corporation or LLC here:
Name Your Business
You will need a business name for your license, bank account, and various permits. If you plan to operate your Dealership using a name other than actual Corporation, LLC, or personal name, you must file a Fictitious Name Statement (also known as a DBA) at your local County Recorder’s office.
5. Open a Bank Account
Retail and Wholesale Dealers must open and maintain a bank account in the name of the Dealership. The DMV will verify your bank account but not your balance or credit rating.
6. Get a Live Scan
“Live Scan” is a fingerprinting service where your fingerprints are sent to the Department of Justice for a criminal background check. The DMV requires this scan to uncover past criminal activities within the past 10 years that may prevent you from obtaining a license. If you’re unsure if your background check will pass DMV standards, you can submit an Abbreviated Application for DMV review.
7. Secure a Location (and your Dealer address)
Retail and Wholesale licenses both require a physical place of business that houses your accounting and business records. At the DMV’s discretion, a California DMV Inspector may visit your location to verify it is in compliance with the DMV’s requirements.
- Wholesale Dealers must have an office, and it may be located in a residence or commercial location. The home office must be on the ground floor and directly accessible from the outside. For example, walking through the kitchen to reach the office would be unacceptable.
- Retail Dealers are required to have a commercial office dedicated to their dealer business, a two-foot square sign with your name and address posted permanently outside, and a display area. The display area must be large enough for at least one vehicle and reserved as a “Display Area Only”.
8. Apply for Your Permits
City Business License
If required in your area, you must obtain a Business License at your local city or town office’s Tax or License division. This license may be called a Business License, Certificate of Occupancy License, or Tax Certificate.
Seller’s Permit from the CDTFA
Both Retail and Wholesale California Auto Dealers must have a Sellers Permit from CDTFA (California Department of Tax & Fee Administration) which allows you to purchase vehicles you will sell, tax-free. You will also need the Permit to collect taxes when you sell to Consumers. To get a Sellers Permit, you can apply online or in-person at your local CDTFA office.
9. Get a Dealer Bond
Each Dealer applicant must provide a valid Dealer Surety Bond that protects consumers and the State of California from Dealers should they fail to pay their DMV fees or remit sales taxes they collected. Retail Dealers must obtain a Bond with a $50,000 value. Wholesale and Motorcycle/ATV Dealers require a $10,000 Bond. The cost of the Retail bond ranges based on your credit score. Wholesale bonds do not require a credit check. You can obtain a no-obligation Bond Quote using the links below.
- Get a Quote for $50k Retail Bond (averages $500+/year)
- Get a Quote for $10k Wholesale Bond ($100/year)
10. Apply for Your License
Prepare & Submit Your Application
You’ll need to complete a “Used Dealer Application” for either license type. The DMV has a great Checklist that details everything you need to include with your application. We recommend that you drop off your completed application in person at your nearest DMV Occupational Licensing Office. You’ll meet your local DMV Inspector(s) there and can set up an appointment for your location inspection. We have an excellent program that includes all the required DMV forms and step-by-step video instructions on how to complete them.Application Forms & Instructions
Host the DMV Inspection
After reviewing your application, your Inspector will contact you to coordinate a meeting with you to inspect the premises. The Inspection usually takes only a few minutes. When the Inspector approves your location, they will hand you a Temporary Dealer License.
As you can see, it’s not difficult to get a Car Dealer’s License in California. It’s a process that we have helped many people navigate to obtain their licenses and start their businesses. Ready to get started? Register for one of our online DMV Authorized, Dealer Pre-License courses.
Questions? Contact Us