How to Register Your Car

Registration is an extremely important part of owning a vehicle. Whether you are purchasing a new vehicle, or a used one, you will need to make sure that it is properly registered before you can legally drive it. In fact, if your car is not registered, it is illegal to drive it, and the punishment can be quite severe.

Thankfully, registering your vehicle is a relatively easy task. It won’t take you much time or effort to get your car registered, and once that is done, you’ll be all set to drive.

Part 1 of 2: Registering a car in each state

The registration laws vary from state to state. Each state has different fees and dues associated with registration, different government agencies that handle registration, and different rules for when and how you must get your car registered. To avoid getting into any trouble, make sure to read up on how to register a vehicle in your state:

Part 2 of 2: Register your car

Step 1: Gather the necessary information and paperwork. Different states have slightly different requirements for registering a vehicle, so you may not need as much information in your state as you need elsewhere.

vehicle insurance card

Gather proof of your vehicle’s insurance, the vehicle identification number (VIN), proof of purchase (or the car’s title), your driver’s license and social security card, and proof of residence (such as a utility bill or a lease agreement), before you start the registration process.

  • Tip: If you are not sure of what paperwork you will need, call your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to find out how to register your car in your state.

Step 2: Visit your local DMV. Most DMVs allow walk-ins for vehicle registration, but your DMV may require an appointment. To check, call your local DMV, and see if you need an appointment. If you do need an appointment, make one for a convenient time.

  • Tip: Depending on your state, you may have a Motor Vehicle Administration, or a Department of Transportation.

Step 3: Fill out the registration forms. When you get to the DMV, ask for the relevant vehicle registration paperwork to fill out.

In the form, you will need to provide your personal information, as well as information about the vehicle (VIN, make, model, etc.). You will also have to provide a DMV worker with the paperwork that you brought, to prove that you are eligible to have the vehicle registered in your name.

Step 4: Pay for the vehicle’s registration. After filling out all the necessary paperwork and forms, you will have to pay a small fee to register your vehicle.

In general, most DMVs accept all standard forms of payment.

  • Tip: If you are concerned about what forms of payment your local DMV office will take, call them and find out beforehand.

person putting registration sticker on license plate

Step 5: Place the registration sticker on your license plate. After registering your vehicle at the DMV, you will be given a sticker to put on the rear license plate of your car.

The registration sticker makes it clear from the exterior of your vehicle that it is currently registered. This allows law enforcement and parking officers to tell whether or not your vehicle is actively registered.

  • Tip: After putting the registration sticker on your license plate, make sure to put the registration paperwork in your glove compartment, so that it is readily available when you need it.

After your vehicle has been registered, you may have to renew your registration every year or two, depending on the state in which you live. However, renewing your registration is an incredibly easy process that can be done online or through the mail, and you will be notified through the mail when it is time to renew your registration.

Again, each state will have its own specific requirements. If you have any questions, be sure to Ask a Mechanic for some quick and helpful advice and have a safety inspection performed.


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Ford Fusion L4-2.0L Hybrid - 75 Point Safety Inspection - San Jose, California
I have ordered a 75-point inspection of the car since my dealership claimed it had an oil leak and the timing cover replacement was due (this kind of repair costs in the ballpark of a thousand dollars). I mentioned the need for a second opinion on that since the car had been bought relatively recently from that dealer (certified pre-owned) and not very actively used. Pradeep performed the safety inspection in a very timely manner and addressed my main question by honestly concluding that there was no leak but just some dust collected over time. This has saved me much time and money. Finally, I was also very glad to learn a tip on how to find a matching paint for a body scratch from him.
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