California Vehicle Registration - How to Register your Vehicle

Driving the California roadways is a privilege all licensed drivers can take advantage of. Motor vehicle owners have an additional responsibility though – California law requires most vehicles to be registered with the DMV before driving on state roadways.

Which vehicles need to be registered in California?

Below is a list of vehicles that drivers must get car registration for:

  • Passenger vehicles.
  • Non-resident vehicles.
  • Motorcycles.
  • Commercial vehicles.
  • Trailers.
  • Off-highway vehicles.
  • Vessels.

Types of motorized vehicles that do not need to be registered in California:

  • Motorized scooters.
  • Miniature motorcycle.
  • Certain specialized vehicles.

Initial Vehicle Registrations

If you purchased a used vehicle, you have within 10 days of the purchase date to register and avoid late auto registration fees. If your car is new to California, you must apply for vehicle registration within 20 days of the entry date to avoid late fees.

Renew Your Vehicle Registration Online

Renew Car Registration or Order a Duplicate

If you need to renew or replace car registration, fill out the convenient Online California DMV Vehicle Registration form above. Not only does it save you a trip to the DMV, annual auto registration renewal notices will be sent to your email automatically. This is an official car and automobile registration service which works alongside the CA DMV to ensure privacy and expediency. Services are not just limited to cars and include:

  • Motorcycles.
  • RVS.
  • Boats.
  • Trucks.
  • Commercial vehicles.

More Important Information on Vehicle Registration

Smog Inspections

In the state of California, certain vehicles need to undergo a smog inspection to be registered with the CA DMV. These include the following:

  • Hybrid cars.
  • Trailers
  • All vehicles less than four years old.
  • Motorcycles.
  • Electric cars.
  • Gas vehicles from 1975 or older.
  • 14,001 lbs. or more natural gas vehicles.
  • 14,001 lbs. or more diesel vehicles.

How to Register a Car in California

Getting a new car is exciting, and by going through an authorized dealer, your vehicle registration paperwork is submitted automatically. To take the car off the lot, the only thing you must provide is proof of auto insurance. You can expect your auto registration certificate, decal and license plate to arrive in the mail within two weeks of purchasing your new vehicle.

If you are registering a motor vehicle in California for the first time, you must complete the following steps:

  1. All vehicles in California must be insured. When you register your vehicle you must provide proof of insurance. The easiest way to do this is to obtain auto liability insurance.
  2. Collect the necessary paperwork. If you bought your vehicle from a dealer, then the dealer will have sent the necessary paperwork to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. In all other circumstances you will need to collect the following additional papers:
  3. A completed Application for Vehicle Title or Registration, signed by all registered owners.
  4. If you do not need to change ownership of the vehicle, collect the last registration certificate and a copy of the last issued out of state title.
  5. If you do need to change the ownership of the vehicle, make sure that you have completed the Change of Title for the vehicle.
  6. If you have newly purchased the vehicle, make sure that you have the Bill of Sale.
  7. For cars less than ten years old, you must also have an Odometer Disclosure Statement signed by both yourself (the buyer) and the seller.
  8. If your vehicle is not new, you may require a smog certificate.
  9. Make an appointment to visit your DMV center, making sure that you explain that you require a vehicle inspection.
  10. Once your vehicle has been inspected, you can submit your paperwork and order your license plates. These will be sent to you in the mail and must be fixed to your vehicle as soon as you receive them.
  11. You are entitled to a tax reduction for a portion of the registration fees called the Annual Vehicle License Fee.
  12. Remember that CA Auto Insurance is needed to legally operate all vehicles in California.

About Your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

When you are buying a used car, make sure to check its vehicle identification number (VIN) before finalizing the sale. If not, you could end up with a vehicle that has serious mechanical errors and requires repairs. To prevent yourself from being a victim of false advertising, order a VIN history report. A VIN report provides buyers like you with important information on the car in question. The vehicle history report will include:

  • Accident history.
  • Past owners.
  • Odometer reading.
  • Recent repairs.

Simply ask the seller for the VIN code and order a detailed car history record before purchasing it.

New Resident Car Registration

After establishing a new residency in the state of California, you have 30 days to visit a local DMV office and register your vehicle. Upon arrival, you must bring the following documents:

  • An Application for Title or Registration (REG 343).
  • A Declaration of Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)/Combined Gross Vehicle Weight (CGW) (REG 4008).
  • A Permanent Trailer Identification (PTI) Certification (REG 4017).
  • One proof of car insurance:
    • Permanent vehicle insurance card.
    • Printed temporary auto insurance card.
  • Your out-of-state car title, if you are transferring car title to California.
  • Your out-of-state car registration.
  • Weight certification, if necessary.
  • Smog and emissions certificate, if necessary.
  • Payment for all taxes and fees, based on the fee calculator:
    • The DMV accepts cash, checks, money orders, and debit/ATM cards.

How to Register a Vehicle as a Non-Resident

When non-California residents register a vehicle in California, it is often due to owning a separate residence. In this case, provide the following items to get car registration:

  • Application for Title or Registration (REG 343).
  • Your out-of-state car title or one proof of ownership:
    • Car title transfer document.
    • Bill of sale.
  • A Verification of Vehicle (REG 31).
  • Payment of applicable fees, based on the fee calculator:
    • The DMV accepts cash, checks, money orders, and debit/ATM cards.

Depending on the kind of vehicle you are registering, there are a number of other documents that you may be asked to present:

  • Out-of-state license plates.
  • A smog certification.
  • A weight certificate.
  • Customs, safety, and emissions documents (for out-of-country cars).
  • A Statement of Facts (REG 256).
  • A Lien Satisfied/Legal Owner/Title Holder Release (REG 166).
  • A Permanent Trailer Identification (PTI) Certification (REG 4017).
  • A Declaration of Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)/Combined Gross Vehicle Weight (CGW) (REG 4008).

How to Register a Vehicle as a Military Member

The process to register car credentials as a member of the military depends on your status as a resident or non-resident.

Non-California Residents in the Military

If you are not a California resident, then you do not need to obtain CA car registration. All you have to do is:

  • Purchase California car insurance.
  • Have valid license plates from your home state or the state where you were last stationed.
  • Have a current car registration in either your name or your spouse’s name.

California Residents in the Military

If you are a resident of California, then you must follow a different set of rules. You have the option to register a vehicle in the state that you are stationed in and then register your car in California once you return. In addition, CA military members can qualify for a vehicle license fee exemption by turning in one of the following forms to the CA DMV:

  • For military members: Nonresident Military (NRM) Exemption Statement (REG 5045).
  • For NATO members: North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Status of Forces Agreement (REG 5046).

California drivers serving in the military are also exempt from the vehicle registration renewal fee by filling out applicable forms.

How to Register a Motorcycle

The process to register a motorcycle in California is almost identical to registering cars. Provide:

  • One proof of ownership (only originals or certified copies):
    • Car title.
    • Name and address of lien holder, if you have a loan.
  • One proof of motorcycle insurance:
    • Permanent insurance card.
    • Temporary insurance card printout, if your official ID has not arrived.
  • Payment for applicable fees, based on the fee calculator:
    • The DMV accepts cash, checks, money orders, and debit/ATM cards.

Smog inspections are not required to get motorcycle registration.

How to Register an RV

Registering RVs in California is mandatory for all California RV owners. Complete the following steps:

  • Buy RV insurance for the vehicle. Uninsured vehicles cannot be registered in California.
  • Complete an Application for Title or Registration form (REG 343).
  • Show proof of your RV ownership:
    • Car title.
    • Name and address of lien holder, if you have a loan.
  • Show Bill of Sale (REG 135).
  • Present smog certification, depending on the age of the RV.
  • Provide payment for applicable fees, based on the fee calculator:
    • The DMV accepts cash, checks, money orders, and debit/ATM cards.

How to Register a Trailer

The state of California has determined that any trailer longer than 16 feet or wider than 96 inches needs to be registered with the CA DMV every year, just like a recreational vehicle would. Due to their size, trailers do not qualify for permanent vehicle registration. However, trailers that do not meet these specifications can be registered through the Permanent Trailer Identification Program.

In order to register the right type of trailer in California, you will need to:

  • Buy car insurance.
  • Complete an Application for Title or Registration form (REG 343).
  • Show proof of your RV ownership:
    • Car title.
    • Name and address of lien holder, if you have a loan.
  • Fill out a Permanent Trailer Identification (PTI) Certification (REG 4017).
  • Provide payment for applicable fees, based on the fee calculator:
    • The DMV accepts cash, checks, money orders, and debit/ATM cards.

Smog testing is not required to get trailer registration in California.

Do boats need to be registered?

Boats need to be registered just like standard and commercial vehicles do. However, there are a number of exceptions to this rule. If you own one of the following types of vessels, then you are not required to register your boat:

  • A vessel that is used for racing.
  • A vessel that is registered in another state and typically used in out of state waterways.
  • A lifeboat of a ship.
  • Nonmotorized sailboats that are eight feet long or less.
  • Nonmotorized surfboats that have a sail and mast, which the operator holds up.

Off-Highway Registration Requirements

In order to register an OHV in California, you will have to meet all of the following requirements:

  • Street-legal license plates.
  • Green sticker (for year-long operation).
  • Red sticker (for operation during certain times in the year).
    • These stickers are used for motorcycles and ATV made in 2003 or later.
  • Nonresident OHV Use Permit (if applicable).
  • Closed Course Competition Transportation Permit (for racing cars).

How to Get Handicap Placards in California

If you need to obtain handicap placards in California, you may do so at the same time you get car registration from the DMV by following these steps:

  1. Fill out an Application for Disabled Person Placard or Plates. (
  2. Get a licensed physician to sign the Doctor’s Certification section of the application.
  3. Submit the fees when requesting a temporary placard.
  4. Mail the application to the address you find on the form.

California Car Registration Fees

The last factor to become familiar with when it comes to registering cars in California is cost. There are two fees associated with getting car registration documentation:

  • CA car registration fee: $46
  • California Highway Patrol fee: $23

If you recently bought a used car, you have 10 days to register the used vehicle. If you don't register your car within 10 days of purchasing it, you may have to pay late fees associated with obtaining DMV car registration.

Penalty fees from California Highway Patrol:

  • If expired for less than one year: $30
  • If expired between one and two years: $50
  • If expired for more than two years: $100

Penalty fees to California vehicle registration:

  • If expired for less than one year: $30
  • If expired between one and two years: $50
  • If expired for more than two years: $100

The DMV accepts cash, checks, money orders, and debit or ATM cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover) as methods of payment.

Suspended Vehicle Registration

Like a drivers license, your car registration can be suspended by the CA Department of Motor Vehicles too. One of the most common reasons for vehicle registration suspension is not having car insurance. If you are driving without proof of financial security, visit the California Car Insurance Regulations page.

To reinstate suspended car registration, you must provide proof of car insurance and then go to a local CA DMV office. Otherwise, you will be unable to renew or replace vehicle registration documentation.

How to Obtain Salvage Car Titles

If you live in California, a salvage vehicle does not have a title. Thus, you will need to substitute your current car title for what is known as a Salvage Certificate. This can be done at a local California DMV office.

Personalized License Plates

Another option to choose when registering car credentials is whether or not you want to buy vanity license plates. Also known as custom license plates, vanity tags allow you to choose the letters and numbers as well as the style of the license plate in question. For instance, you can choose your alma mater, or a license plate that supports a cause.

If you want to get a new personalized license plates, you may change it again at the time you go to renew car registration decals.

How to Transfer Titles to Another State

When moving out of California to a new state, you do not need to surrender license plates. Just be sure to have your California registration certificate and car title to provide your new state’s DMV. Because the process for transferring title varies from state to state, you are also encouraged to contact that state’s DMV for more details.

Additional Resources

The following are further resources to help with your specific needs whether you are doing your California vehicle registration for the first time, renewing or replacing your auto registration:

Vehicle Registration Renewal

Guide to California vehicle registration renewal. What is required for renewing your vehicle registration in CA, where and when to renew your vehicle, fees, mailing address, forms, etc.

California Vehicle Registration Replacement

CA Vehicle registration replacement information for lost, stolen or damaged vehicle registrations. Step-by-step guide to getting a new copy of your vehicle registration.

California Car Registration Fee Calculator

California car registrations fees vary depending on a number of factors including the make and model of the car, the date of late registration, traffic tickets, etc.'s car registration fee calculator can help you figure out how much it will cost to register your vehicle.

The California Vehicle Code

The California Vehicle Code is important for anyone registering their vehicle since it contains all the rules and regulations that drivers and vehicles are subject to while on the road.

California Car Registration Plates

This article is an overview of license / car registration plates. It covers the regulations for displaying and mainting your plates as well as information on vanity, disability and vintage vehicle plates.

California Custom Car Registrations

There are different procedures for registering a custom or vintage car in the state and you can find that information in this article.

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