Learn All About Your Vehicle Registration

No matter where you live, you need a vehicle registration to drive on public roadways. You usually need a new registration 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.

After you have registered your vehicle, you will need to renew your registration regularly, as it is only valid for a limited amount of time. Registrations are usually valid for one to five years, depending on your state.

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, you will need a new car registration because you have just bought a new or used car. Fortunately, dealerships will typically complete the initial car registration process for you. 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 moving to a new state. Each state sets its own deadline for registering a vehicle after moving. This deadline 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.

Next, you need to select a registration method, submit the application to your state’s DMV and pay the registration fees.

How to Renew a Vehicle Registration

You must complete a car registration renewal when your current registration is close to 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 easier than the initial registration process. In most cases, you just need proof of car insurance to ensure you still meet your state’s minimum coverage requirements.

A vehicle inspection or emissions test is also mandatory in certain states. Once you have all your documents ready, you are usually able to renew your registration online, in person or by mail.

Note: You may not be eligible for a renewal if you do not meet your 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.

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.

If your vehicle registration is damaged, you must also order a duplicate. While stains and minor tears may not 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 your state.
  • Pay the applicable registration fees.
  • Wait to receive the new copy of the registration.

Keep in mind that these steps may vary depending on the state.

How to Update 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.

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.

Penalties for Missing 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. Therefore, be sure to stay on top of your registration’s expiration date and take the appropriate measures to renew it.

Insurance Requirements for Registration

Before you can register your vehicle, you need to have valid auto insurance that meets your state’s minimum requirements. Depending on your state, you may need coverage for:

  • Bodily injury liability
  • Property damage liability
  • Uninsured motorist coverage

In some states, such as Florida, you may also need personal injury protection (PIP). In addition to these minimums, you can purchase additional coverage, such as collision insurance and roadside assistance.

On average, a minor car accident comes with $11,900 worth of expenses. These average expenses climb to around $65,000 for serious car accidents. To make sure you can meet your financial responsibility in case of an accident, your state will require you to purchase basic or comprehensive car insurance before allowing you to complete your registration.

Not sure if you’re overpaying for auto insurance? Check the quotes below and find out how much you can save on your premiums.