Steve Jobs' Mercedes Trick: How He Got Away Without License Plates in California

Steve Jobs Maroon Turtleneck - H 2011
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Steve Jobs Maroon Turtleneck - H 2011

For years Jobs seemed to flout the law, but now a former Apple security official spills the beans on the loophole that allowed his boss to drive without plates.

Steve Jobs famously drove a silver Mercedes Benz 550 AMG without license plates for years -- seemingly in violation of a California law that requires automobiles to display front and rear license plates. Silicon Valley was rife with rumor and speculation about how Jobs got away with breaking the law.

Some blogs speculated that he just paid the $250 fine for failing to display a license plate every time the police pulled him over. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak claimed it was because Jobs had a special permit. "You can get a permit for that," he said in an interview with blogger Dan Lyons. "Steve was always trying to be anonymous, and hidden. That's the opposite of how I am.”  

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Still no one knew precisely how Jobs avoided the law and his license plate-less Benz was a legendary sighting around Silicon Valley.

But now a former Apple security official is claiming that Jobs discovered a loophole in California law that allowed him to legally drive without a license plate. Jon Callas, who did two stints in Apple's corporate security office and is now the Chief Technology Officer at Entrust, says the Apple boss learned that California law gave a six-month grace period for new vehicles before they would be required to display license plates. Callas tells iTWire that Jobs simply struck a deal with a leasing company to give him a new Benz every six months so he never have had to add a license plate.

Jaimie Garza, a spokesman for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, says Callas is only partially correct: "There is no loophole that allows owners of new vehicles to drive up to six months without plates. California law requires plates front and back on all registered vehicles."

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When a new car is bought or leased, the DMV issues a small paper permit that attaches to the front windshield. Physical license plates are mailed within 30 days, though technically the paper permit is good for six months. That's the small loophole Jobs exploited to avoid putting plates on his car.

But before any Hollywood celebrities get the idea of trying the same stunt, be aware that the California legislature passed a new law in September shortening the grace period to three months. It takes effect in July 2012.