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If you have recently purchased a vehicle through a dealership or a private seller, you will need to apply for a car registration. All vehicles in your possession must be registered in your name to be driven legally in your state. You cannot typically apply for a new vehicle registration online or by mail. You must visit a DMV office in person to register a car. To make sure that you are fully prepared for the process, download our informative digital guide. Our guide contains everything you need to know to register your vehicle with ease. You will also learn how to replace or renew your car registration, and how to change your name or address.

2. By Mail

Some states allow residents to register cars by mail. However, these applicants must meet certain eligibility requirements, such as temporarily residing out of state or having purchased the vehicle out of state. To obtain your new car registration by mail, you will need to send your completed application and all necessary documents (such as proof of ID, a bill of sale, an insurance card, etc.) to your local DMV office. You will also need to send in a check or money order for the full payment amount. Due to mailing and processing times, delays are common with the mail-in application method. It may take several weeks for you to receive your new car registration.

3. In Person at a DMV Office

In most instances, you will be required to get your car registration in person at a local DMV office. You must submit a filled-out application, proof of your identity, evidence of the car purchase and proof of auto insurance coverage for the vehicle. Additionally, you need to provide payment for all applicable fees, such as registration fees, titling fees and state taxes. Because many car owners are not sure which forms are required or which fees must be paid, application delays are common at the DMV. Additionally, any mistakes on DMV forms will add to your potential wait time for receiving your new registration.


A Washington DC new car registration is required for all vehicles owned by state residents that will be operated on public roads. In general, motorists are not required to get safety or VIN inspections on their vehicles. However, applicants will be required to compile and submit certain documents to the DC DMV in order to successfully register a car. Moreover, certain motorists may be able to avoid having to obtain a vehicle registration by applying for reciprocity privileges instead.

Registering a car in D.C. requires motorists to provide and carry proof of adequate vehicle insurance at all times. They will also need to perform routine emissions tests in order to renew their registrations. Motorists transferring out-of-state car registration credentials into the District of Columbia may need to allot additional time to allow for the title and lien processing. To learn more about the various procedures related to the registration of a car in the district, read the sections below.

Washington D.C. Car Registration Requirements

In order to get a vehicle registration in Washington D.C., motorists must present valid drivers licenses or photo ID cards that were issued by the state DMV. They must also have:

  • Vehicle titles (including lienholder information, if applicable).
  • Payment for fees and taxes.
  • Stickers issued after a car passes an emissions inspection.
  • Proof of adequate auto insurance coverage.

It is important to note that the DMV will not allow motorists to register their vehicles in DC if they have any outstanding funds owed to the state government at the time of their application. Common forms of outstanding funds include traffic tickets, bounced check fees and child support payments.

Car Insurance Requirements for Registering a Car in Washington DC

Motorists registering a car in the District of Columbia must show proof of adequate vehicle insurance coverage. The minimum amounts of required insurance include:

  • Bodily injury liability insurance of $25,000 for a single person per accident.
  • Bodily injury liability insurance of $50,000 for two or more people per accident.
  • Property damage liability insurance of $10,000 per accident.

Motorists are required to carry evidence of their ongoing insurance policy at all times while operating a vehicle. Documentation must show:

  • The name of the insurer
  • Motorists’ policy numbers
  • Name(s) of the insured
  • Coverage period

Vehicle Inspection/Smog Inspection/VIN Inspection Requirements in Washington D.C.

As a general rule, the Washington DC DMV does not include vehicle identification number (VIN) inspections or safety checkups as part of its vehicle registration requirements. On the other hand, the District of Columbia typically requires emissions testing to be performed every two years. Furthermore, newly-manufactured vehicles do not need to get inspected as part of the car registration process until four years after the issuance of their manufacturer’s certificates of origin. In any case, motorists can make appointments for emissions testing, but they are not required.

Temporary registration extensions are available upon application to drivers who need additional time to complete their emissions inspections before a vehicle registration renewal or when purchasing used cars with expired inspections.

Registering a Vehicle in Washington DC

The documentation required for registering a car in Washington DC can vary depending on whether vehicles are new, used or being transferred from a different state. However, the process generally includes documenting:

  • Proof of insurance
  • Proof of vehicle ownership
  • Proof of identity and state residency
  • Odometer readings
  • Emissions test results

Motorists must also be able to pay for the DC car registration fees at the time that their applications are filed.

How to Register a New Car in Washington D.C.

The application for a District of Columbia new car registration is generally completed by the auto dealership that sells the vehicle. Thus, motorists are simply responsible for providing their dealers with their forms of identification and proof of insurance. Moreover, newly manufactured vehicles do not need emissions testing, as they are automatically certified for four years upon their manufacturing.

Registering a Used Car in Washington DC

D.C. residents may need to get a vehicle registration for a used car that was purchased in a private sale. However, the steps for this procedure will vary depending on the inspection and title statuses that apply to their vehicles. In any case, all initial registration requests must be processed in person at a DC DMV service center. Overall, car registration applicants must:

  1. Apply for temporary tags (if required). Motorists who purchase vehicles with expired inspection stickers may need to obtain a temporary registration that allows them to operate their cars for a short period of time. This allows them to perform inspections and repairs before applying for permanent registrations.
  2. Submit their titles. Titles must be signed by both the seller(s) and the buyer(s) and have the odometer reading portion properly completed. Titles with lienholders, as well as out-of-state titles, may take additional time to be processed.
  3. Undergo emissions inspections (if required).
  4. Provide proof of identity and proof of insurance.
  5. Complete the appropriate application form.

How to Register a Car in Washington D.C. as a New Resident

DC car registration requirements allot 30 days for new residents to register their vehicles. In general, this process begins with a motorist applying for a D.C. drivers license or ID card, which are necessary for all vehicle registration applications. Once they have these credentials in hand, drivers can register their cars by:

  1. Undergoing emissions inspections, if necessary.
  2. Completing the proper application form.
  3. Visiting a DMV service center with all the necessary documentation.

Vehicle Registration for Military Members in Washington DC

The Washington DC DMV extends vehicle registration reciprocity privileges to active duty military personnel who reside elsewhere but might need to apply for car registrations in D.C. To qualify for annual reciprocity permits, military service members must apply at a DMV office with:

  • An out-of-state driving license.
  • An out-of-state vehicle registration.
  • Proof of insurance coverage.
  • Proof of DC residency.

The District of Columbia also exempts disabled veterans from having to pay standard DMV registration fees.

Temporary DMV Registration in Washington D.C.

The District of Columbia offers different forms of temporary registration tags. These temporary credentials include:

  • Five-day tags. Five-day tags are available to motorists who need additional time to get their vehicles inspected. Only one such tag is available per vehicle. Tags must be requested in person at a DMV service center or online.
  • 15-day DMV hard tags. 15-day tags allow owners of newly purchased vehicles without valid inspection stickers at the time of purchase to title and register their vehicles for 15 days while they pursue the necessary inspections for permanent registration.
  • 45-day tags. 45-day temporary registration tags are intended for vehicles with credentials that are being transferred from out of state, as well as used vehicles that need inspections before they can be permanently registered.

The D.C. DMV may also issue temporary tags in other circumstances, such as in the case of commercial or salvage title cars.

Washington DC License Plates

Motorists are issued two license plates when they apply for a car registration in Washington DC. Both tags must be displayed on the assigned vehicle. Moreover, specialty plates may be ordered at the time of registration, but will be mailed to applicants at a later date.

Washington D.C. Car Registration Fees

Before an applicant is required to pay for the car registration fees in Washington DC, he or she must resolve any outstanding debts pertaining to the D.C. government. This includes child support, parking tickets and/or bounced checks. Standard fees related to a vehicle registration include:

  • Car registration (by weight of the vehicle): $72 – $155
  • Hybrid vehicle first-time registration: $36
  • Historic vehicle registration: $25
  • Registration reinstatement: $98
  • Insurance lapse fine: $150 per day for 30 days, then $7 per day, for a maximum of $2,500
  • 45-day temporary registration tag: $13
  • Tag transfer: $7

Certain vehicles may also be charged excise taxes at the time of registration. These taxes are calculated between six and eight percent of a vehicle’s fair market value. On the other hand, hybrid vehicles are exempt.

Last updated on Monday, December 10 2018.

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