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A Motor Vehicle Registration — or more simply, a car registration — connects a car to its owner for identification purposes, and is proof that the car owner has paid the required taxes and obtained the minimum auto insurance coverage required in their state. Each state requires you, by law, to register your car with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or transportation agency.
The vehicle registration process involves providing some personal information and details on your car and paying a registration fee. If you fail to register your car or renew your registration, you could face penalty fees, a ticket and possibly impoundment.
The most common scenarios wherein you’d need to register a car are:
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) oversees vehicle registration in the state. Find out more about car registration on the California DMV page here.
In California, you must register any cars or motor vehicles you own or operate with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
The first time you register your car in California, you’ll receive a license plate for your vehicle and a registration card. Additionally, you will receive a registration sticker that needs to be attached to your vehicle’s license plate.
When you renew your registration, you’ll receive a new registration card. In California, drivers are required to keep the registration card with them when operating a vehicle. If you drive a commercial vehicle, you can carry the digital version of the card.
To register a car in California, you must:
Find out more about the requirements to register a vehicle in California and the personal information requirements here.
The main difference between a car title (or pink slip) and a car registration is that while the first proves your legal ownership of a vehicle, the second allows your vehicle to be driven on public roads. Both documents are mandatory in all 50 U.S. states.
Unlike the car title, which does not need to be renewed, the car registration has to be renewed every one or two years, depending on the state. In California, registrations have to be renewed every year.
The car title only needs to be changed when the vehicle is sold and the owner changes, or if you have finished paying the car loan and the vehicle is now officially yours. In these cases, you must complete a transfer of ownership by transferring the title.
Learn more about your car title in California here.
If you purchase a new or used vehicle at a car dealership in California, the dealership will handle the vehicle registration on your behalf but will charge the applicable registration fees.
If you purchased a used car from a private seller or are a new resident of the state, you will need to obtain a car registration yourself.
To register your car in California, complete the following three steps:
Learn what documents and information you need here.
In California, you must register your car in person. Click here to find your nearest California DMV Office location.
The cost to register a vehicle in California will depend on the age, type and weight of the vehicle, as well as your county of residence. You can pay the DMV fees in cash, with a check or with a credit card.
If you have questions about the car registration process or require assistance, contact the California DMV by phone at (800) 777-0133.
You can also submit questions or requests online by filling out the Service Advisor form here.
To renew your car registration in California, complete the following three steps:
Learn about the documents needed to renew your registration here.
To renew your registration online, click here to access the Vehicle Registration Renewal Portal.
To renew your registration in person, click here to find your nearest DMV Office.
To renew your registration by mail, you must have received a renewal notice in the mail from the California DMV. Fill out the renewal notice with the required information and mail it to your local DMV Office. Find your nearest office location and contact information here.
In addition to standard fees, you will need to pay an online service charge if you choose to renew your registration online.
If you have further questions about the vehicle registration renewal process or require assistance, contact the California DMV by phone at (800) 777-0133.
Or, you can also submit questions or requests online by filling out the Service Advisor form here.
If you applied for a new vehicle registration or requested a vehicle registration renewal for your car, check the status of your application or request with the California Case Status tool here.
You can also visit or call a local DMV Office for further assistance. Find your nearest local DMV office location and contact information in California here.
Any missing or stolen vehicle title or registration must be replaced and reported to the local authorities immediately. This includes license plates. You can replace lost or stolen title and registration documents online, in person or by mail.
To replace documentation online, click here.
To replace documentation in person, click here to find your nearest DMV Office.
To replace documentation by mail, print and complete the Application for Replacement Plates, Stickers, Documents here and send it to the following address:
Department of Motor Vehicles
P.O. Box 942869
Sacramento, CA 94269
After requesting your replacement title or registration, you can check the status of your request on the California Transportation Department website.
If you move to a new address within the state, you will need to update the address on your vehicle registration within 30 days of relocation.
To change your address online, click here.
You can also complete the California Notice of Change of Address form here and mail it to:
DMV Change of Address
P.O. Box 942859
Sacramento, CA 94259
If you need to update your name on your registration, you must change your name with the Social Security Administration (SSA) first. Learn more about how to change your name with the SSA here.
After changing your name with the SSA, you must visit a local DMV office in person to update your registration. Find your nearest office location and contact information here. You will need documents that confirm the legal name change, such as a marriage or divorce certificate or a court order.
Learn more about changing your name with the California DMV here.
If you have recently moved to California, you will need to register and title your car with the California DMV within 30 days of moving to the state. Follow the same car registration steps outlined above to complete the process.
If you have not yet obtained a California-issued driver’s license or ID card, you will need to provide your Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number with your legal name and address to submit your car registration application.
Learn more about what to expect as a new California resident here.
If you move out of California, you will need to register your vehicle in your new state. Your new state may have different requirements for vehicle services. Click here to access your new state’s official DMV website for more information.
The total cost to register or renew your vehicle depends on:
Other registration and title fees include:
Check out the DMV fee calculators here to estimate your costs.
The State of California implements fines to drivers who fail to register their vehicle, renew their registration, or operate a vehicle without valid registration. If payment for registration is late, drivers can face:
To learn more about California fines and penalties in 2020, click here.
For help with the car registration process, or for any further questions about your car registration, call the California DMV by phone at (800) 777-0133.
Or, visit or call a local DMV Office for further assistance. Find your nearest office location and contact information here.
While we are not affiliated with the government in any way, our private company engaged writers to research the car registration process and compiled a guide and the following answers to frequently asked questions. Our goal is to help you get familiar with the process by providing useful information.
Our free Car Registration Guide is filled with helpful information about how to apply, eligibility and how to get in touch with local offices. You can view or download our free guide here.