This article is from the California Driving (and Surviving) FAQ, by "George J Wu" email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
from firstname.lastname@example.org (Dan Hepner) on 23 Dec 1992:
Normal registration fees are due if: The vehicle is parked on a public
street, or at any public parking facility once during the year in question;
the vehicle is towed once on a public street during that year; and of
course, if the vehicle is driven. One-trip permits allow for moving a
vehicle from one storage place to another, or to a repair facility, but
doing either without such a permit incurs the full fee. Off-highway fees
(usually far less than normal registration) are due if the vehicle is
operated, or transported, off-highway within the state of CA.
Once due, these fees do not go away with the next year; rather the opposite
occurs, the fees are delinquent, implying a penalty. The longer they remain
delinquent, the greater the penalty. Each year adds new fees, and a new
penalty. As bad as could be imagined.
There does appear the _option_ of waiving the fees and penalties to new
owners, but CVC 9562 suggests that this should not be expected if one buys a
vehicle with out-of-date plates. "Certificates of non-operation", which
claim that the vehicle never incurred the fee, are commonly used in
circumstances which would imply a massive liability, but one must be signed
by each of the previous owners.
from email@example.com (Melville Capps) Tue Dec 28 14:49:14 1993
There is now a non-operational registration that must be used if the
vehicle is not going to be on the public streets (either driven or
parked). The non-operational registration costs $5 for the year, and
you can register the car at any time by sending in the registration
fees. Unfortunately the greedy DMV doesn't pro rate your registration.
The state raised over $1,000,000 in 1992 from the $5 non-op fees. How
much money the state grabbed by not pro rating the registrations on these
200,000 vehicles is anyone's guess.