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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 DC Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) oversees vehicle registration in the District. Find out more about car registration on the DC DMV page here.
In DC, you must register any cars or motor vehicles you own or operate with the DC Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
The first time you register your car in DC, 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 DC, 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 DC, you must:
Find out more about the requirements to register a vehicle in DC here 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 DC, passenger vehicle registrations have to be renewed every two years and commercial vehicle registrations must be renewed each 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 DC here.
If you purchase a new or used vehicle at a car dealership in DC, 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 DC, complete the following three steps:
Learn what documents and information you need here.
In DC, you must register your car in person. Click here to find your nearest DC DMV Office location.
The cost to register a vehicle in DC will depend on the 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 DC Department of Motor Vehicles by phone at (202) 797-4404 or 711 (TTY) or by email at email@example.com.
To renew your car registration in DC, 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 by mail, you must have received a renewal notice in the mail from the DC DMV. Fill out the renewal notice with the required information and mail it to:
Vehicle Services Administration
P.O. Box 90120
Washington, DC 20090
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 DC Department of Motor Vehicles by phone at (202) 797-4404 or 711 (TTY) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 DC Vehicle Registration Verification 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 DC 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 or in person.
To replace documentation online, click here to request a replacement copy. Online replacements are only available once per year.
To replace documentation in person, click here to find your nearest DMV Office.
After requesting your replacement title or registration, you can check the status of your request on the DC 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 60 days of relocation. You can update your address online, in person or by mail.
To update your address online, click here and complete the digital form.
To update your address in person, click here to find your nearest DMV Office.
To update your address by mail, you will need to complete the DC DMV Driver Application form here and mail it with two proofs of residency (find examples here) to:
Attn: Change of Address
P.O. Box 90120
Washington, DC 20090
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 court order.
Learn more about changing your name with the DC DMV here.
If you have recently moved to The District of Columbia, you will need to register and title your car with the DC DMV within 60 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 DC-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 DC resident here.
If you move out of DC, 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:
Click here for more registration fees.
Any person driving a vehicle without a valid car registration in DC can face a fine. The fine for operating a vehicle with registration that expired less than 30 days prior is $100. Drivers with registration that expired more than 30 days ago face a $200 fine and having the vehicle towed and impounded.
To learn more about DC 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 DC Department of Motor Vehicles by phone at (202) 797-4404 or 711 (TTY) or by email at email@example.com.
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.