In every U.S. state, you must obtain a vehicle registration to drive on public roadways. Typically, you must obtain one after purchasing a vehicle from a dealership or a private seller. However, you must also complete a new DMV registration if you are moving to a new state. Additionally, you must renew your registration regularly, as it is only valid for a limited amount of time. The validity of a registration will depend on the state in which you live and the renewal options that state offers.
The application process for a car registration varies from one state to the next. In some states, you can submit online applications by providing your personal and vehicle information and uploading the necessary documentation to the state site. However, other states require in-person visits for vehicle registration applications.
If you need to replace your registration or request a change of information on the document, you may need to complete a similar process. For information on all car registration-related tasks, review the sections below.
How to Apply for a Vehicle Registration
Most often, motorists request new car registrations following car purchases. Dealerships will typically complete the initial application process on behalf of the buyers. However, this is not the case with private sellers who expect the buyers to complete this process themselves.
Another reason to apply for a DMV registration is when moving to a new state. Each state sets its own deadline for registering a vehicle after moving. It can range from 10 days to one month.
The first step in the application process for a DMV car registration is gathering the proper documentation. This can include:
- Proof of identity.
- Proof of car insurance.
- Proof of vehicle ownership.
- Vehicle information.
The next step involves selecting an application method based on what is offered in the state, submitting the application to the DMV and paying the registration fees. READ MORE
How to Renew a Vehicle Registration
You must complete a car registration renewal when your current registration is nearing its expiration date. Certain states only offer annual registrations, whereas others offer registrations that are valid for two to five years. Most state departments of motor vehicles will send you a reminder notice to complete the DMV registration renewal along with information on the available renewal methods.
The tag renewal process is generally easier than the initial application process, as motorists do not have to submit as many documents. In most cases, drivers must provide proof of car insurance to ensure they still meet the state’s minimum coverage requirements.
A vehicle inspection or emissions test is also mandatory in certain states. Once drivers have all of their documents ready, they can renew the registrations online, in person or by mail. READ MORE
Note: You may be ineligible for a renewal if you do not meet the state’s requirements. If you owe child support payments, you may be unable to renew your registration until you pay the full amount and your hold is cleared. Some states also prevent motorists with suspended registrations from completing the renewal process. You can learn more about the renewal process in our helpful guide.
When and How to Replace a Vehicle Registration
If you have lost a car registration, it is important that you replace it as soon as possible. Driving without proof of registration is a traffic violation in most states and can lead to steep fines or a license suspension. Additionally, a damaged vehicle registration is also a valid reason to obtain a duplicate registration. While stains and minor tears are unlikely to be an issue, you must replace the registration if it is no longer legible.
You can learn more about when to replace your car registration by downloading our free guide.
To replace a damaged or lost vehicle registration, you must complete the following steps:
- Gather proof of identity and vehicle ownership.
- Submit the application through one of the methods available in the state.
- Pay the applicable fees.
- Wait to receive the new copy of the registration.
Keep in mind that these steps may vary depending on the state. READ MORE
How to Make Changes to Your Vehicle Registration
There are two main types of changes that you can make on your vehicle registration: a DMV change of address and a change of name. If you want to change your car registration address, you must be moving within the state or directing your mail to another address.
In some states, you must notify the DMV within 10 days of a change of address. It is also important to do so to ensure you always get mail from the department, such as renewal reminder notices.
The process begins by completing a DMV change of address form. It is generally available online or in person at regional DMV offices. You must also turn in the following proofs of address such as:
- A lease or rental agreement
- A utility bill
- A mortgage or bank statement
Once you turn in all the necessary documentation, you must submit it to the department and wait for your file to reflect your address change on your car registration. READ MORE
While the steps to change your name on your car registration are generally the same, the documents will differ. To change your car registration name, you must provide proof of the name change. This can be a divorce decree or other court document.
To know exactly which documents you will need for a name change on your car registration, you must look at your state’s requirements. READ MORE
What happens if you do not obtain or renew your vehicle registration?
Having a vehicle registration is mandatory to operate a car in your state. You will be subject to costly fines up to several hundred dollars if you are caught driving without one. You may also face a driver’s license suspension until you obtain a proper DMV registration. Furthermore, certain states will add points to your driving record if you are stopped by law enforcement without proper registration. This can lead to higher insurance costs, which means you must pay more every month.
Renewing your car registration is equally as important. Driving with an expired registration can lead to similar penalties as not having one. As such, it is vital that you stay on top of your registration’s expiration date and take the appropriate measures to renew it. READ MORE