Red semi truck bobtail driving in California

Trucking Permits for California Carriers + CARB Emissions Regulations

Want to start a trucking business in California? You’ll need to start by getting all the necessary permits, licenses, and decals for your trucks.

Here’s a summary of those permits and licenses you need to establish yourself as a carrier in California.

Disclaimer: Bobtail cannot and does not provide legal advice. The information provided here represents Bobtail’s best information regarding the changing regulatory landscape as of May 2024; all facts and laws are subject to change. Contact your legal counsel for the current state of the law and all legal advice.

California Secretary of State Filing

You’ll need this filing if you’re forming a corporation, LLC, or partnership. We generally recommend carriers set up a corporation or LLC for their businesses.

Learn about legal structures for trucking businesses here.

California Authority

Carriers based in California need a California Identification number (CA#) from the California Highway Patrol and a California Motor Carrier Permit (MCP). If you plan to hire drivers you’ll need a California Employer Pull Notice (EPN). 

California also requires carriers to get a USDOT number (see below).

Franchise Tax Board (FTB)

This is similar to an EIN you get from the IRS, but for the state level. It’s used to associate your state tax filings with your business.

Find more information about FTB on their website.


The California Air Resources Board (CARB) was established in the 1960s to reduce air pollution in the state. CARB is responsible for evaluating emissions and ensuring vehicles meet emissions standards.

All owner-operators and trucking companies must ensure their trucks meet CARB requirements and all carriers must register their certifications in the Air Resources Board Equipment Registration (ARBER) system. 

Here’s the link to the Air Resources Board website where you can register.

Drivers are responsible for providing proof of CARB compliance if requested by a law enforcement officer.

All internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles must have an engine year of 2010 or newer to register. There are exceptions for vehicles that travel fewer than 1,000 miles per year or operate in Nox exempt areas. 

Drayage Trucks

Drayage trucks are Class 7 and 8 on-road vehicles that transport containers and bulk goods to and from seaports and intermodal railyard. Beginning January 1, 2024, only zero-emission drayage trucks can register with the CARB Online System. Legacy drayage trucks can continue to operate through their minimum useful life (either 18 years or 800,000 miles, or a minimum of 13 years if the truck has over 800,000 miles).

Emissions Screening and Testing

High-emitter vehicle screening began in California in January 2023. These screenings use roadside emissions monitoring devices. If your truck is identified as a potential high emitter, you’ll get a Notice to Submit to Testing (NST) in the mail and have 30 days to pass a Clean Truck Check compliance test.

Biannual (twice per year) emissions compliance testing will go into effect on October 1, 2024. Vehicle compliance deadlines on or after January 1, 2025, will require a passing vehicle emissions compliance test. Vehicles can submit tests up to 90 days before the vehicle’s compliance deadline. Your vehicle’s compliance deadline is linked to your truck’s DMV registration expiration/renewal date. 

Advanced Clean Fleets Rule

In April of 2023, CARB approved the Advanced Clean Fleets rule, which attempts to phase in zero-emissions vehicles over the next few decades. The regulations about what vehicles will be phased out and which are still compliant can be confusing. To solve this, in August of the same year, CARB launched Cal Fleet Advisor to help owner-operators transition to zero-emissions vehicles. When researching for this article, we reached out to Cal Fleet Advisor and got a response to our questions within a few days.

More details about testing requirements can be found here.

Additionally, here are some licenses and permits required on the federal level for your trucking company.

Commercial Driver’s License

Depending on the weight of your truck(s), you/your drivers may need to hold a CDL. CDL stands for commercial driver’s license – it’s issued by state governments and the baseline requirements are established by the FMCSA.

Learn how to get a CDL in this article.

DOT and MC numbers

You will need to get a Motor Carrier (MC) authority from the FMCSA if your business meets any of the following

  • You haul hazardous materials (hazmat) in quantities that require a safety permit in intrastate commerce.
  • Your vehicle has a weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds or greater and you’re hauling across state lines.
  • The business is engaged in interstate commerce.

After generating your DOT number and MC authority, you need to activate by filing insurance, BOC-3 filing, and Form MCS-150.

Learn more about activating your MC authority in this article.

What is a BOC-3 filing? Find out here.


EIN stands for Employer Identification Number. Also referred to as a Federal Tax Identification Number, an EIN is issued and used by the IRS to identify a business. It’s used to associate all your federal tax information with your company.

Find more information about getting an EIN here.

In addition to getting an EIN, you wil also need to submit IRS form 2290, the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax. As of 2024, the HVUT for vehicles with a gross taxable weight of 55,000-75,000 is $100, plus $22 for per 1,000 lbs over 55,000. The tax is $550 for vehicles over 75,000 lbs.

More information about HVUT can be found here.

International Fuel Tax Agreement License

If you plan to haul across state borders, you will need an IFTA license. This allows you to pay your quarterly fuel taxes through one platform.

To register your business with an IFTA license and get the decals for your trucks, you’ll need to go to your state department of transportation or motor vehicles. Simply search for “IFTA license [your state]” on Google or another search engine and you’ll be able to find the process. This registration should be renewed every year.

Learn more about IFTA taxes here.

International Registration Plan Trip Permit

When you register for IRP credentials in your home state, your cab cards list all of the jurisdictions where your vehicles can operate and the fees are apportioned based on how many miles you operate in each state and the weight of your truck(s). 

More information on IRP can be found here.

Unified Carrier Registration

UCR is a nationwide registration system for interstate carriers. As of 2024, the fee for companies with 0-2 vehicles is $37.00; for 3-5 vehicles, $111.00. Carriers need to complete UCR registration every year by December 31. Stay up to date on the UCR website.

FMCSA Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse

This is a database to record all drug tests under the FMCSA’s drug and alcohol testing program. Carriers and drivers must register on the website, complete queries on drivers, and register their drug and alcohol testing consortium/third-party administrator. 

See the steps for registration in this article.


The Standard Carrier Alpha Code is a 2-4 digit code carriers get from the National Motor Freight Traffic Association to track and inspect imported shipments. This is only needed if you are involved in international commerce.

Go to the SCAC Renewal and Application website and pay the $90 filing fee (as of April 2024) to apply for a SCAC. Be sure that the information you provide in your application matches exactly the information the USDOT has for your company, including the legal name and USDOT and MC numbers.

A User Manual for Carriers about SCAC is available here.