Tennessee car registration is a multi-step process. It must be completed in person at applicants’ local County Clerk’s Offices. Before applying for a vehicle registration, motorists must have their vehicles inspected, purchase qualifying insurance and collect the correct documentation from the vehicles’ sellers or their own files. They may also need to gather personal identification and proof of residency. These steps are necessary for both newly purchased vehicles, new or used, and vehicles being transferred in from out of state.

As a convenience, the state allows motorists to keep plates already in their possession and transfer them to new vehicles for a small fee. This can significantly reduce both the time and expenses associated with registering vehicles. DMV registration costs are fairly uniform but can vary depending on the type of vehicle and whether it is owned or leased. Electric vehicles, for example, are subject to additional fees at registration.

Tennessee Car Registration Requirements

To register a car in Tennessee, motorists must comply with a series of requirements. They must:

  • Have the vehicle inspected (emission testing).
  • Purchase adequate insurance.
  • Pay the necessary taxes and fees.

Motorists in Tennessee should make every effort to do so as soon as possible after purchasing or taking possession of their vehicles.

Car Insurance Requirements for Registering a Car in Tennessee

To receive Tennessee DMV registrations for their vehicles, motorists are required by law to prove financial responsibility. The majority of motorists meet this car registration requirement by purchasing qualifying vehicle liability insurance. State minimums are set at:

  • $25,000 per injury or death per accident.
  • $50,000 minimum cap all injuries or deaths per accident.
  • $15,000 in property damage coverage per accident.

Tennessee motorists who cannot or do not wish to purchase insurance may alternatively satisfy the financial responsibility mandate by depositing $65,000 in cash or a bond with the Department of Revenue.

Registrations can provide proof of insurance by participating in the state’s online tracking system or by providing their insurers’ NAIC codes, their policy numbers and the dates their policies began when registering. All of that information should be available on motorists’ insurance cards or policy statements.

Vehicle Inspection/Smog Inspection/VIN Inspection Requirements in Tennessee

Under current law, before residents can apply for registrations or renew a Tennessee car registration online, their vehicles must pass an emissions inspection.  These inspections are overseen by the Tennessee DEC and come in two forms. Pre-1996 vehicles receive classic tailpipe and tampering tests. Newer vehicles are subjected to on-board diagnostics tests and are checked for leaky gas caps.

Emissions tests cost $9 and results are valid for 90 days. Additional information is available from the DEC’s toll-free line at (866) 329-9632.

In May 2018, authorities began the process of eliminating emissions testing as a requirement for registering a car in Tennessee. Ultimately, such an elimination is contingent upon federal EPA approval. As such, it may take up to three years for a final ruling to be received and possibly longer for it to be implemented. In the meantime, all motorists must continue to abide by emissions testing requirements. The Metropolitan Nashville/Davidson County region elected to continue emissions testing as a local requirement even if the EPA allows it to be eliminated elsewhere in the state.

Registering a Vehicle in Tennessee

How to register a car in Tennessee depends on several factors. These include:

  • Whether the cars are newly manufactured, used or being transferred from out of state.
  • Whether purchasers are buying vehicles from dealers or in private sales.
  • If motorists have pre-existing plates they wish to keep.

In Tennessee, plates are assigned to motorists rather than vehicles. As such they can be transferred from one vehicle to another easily. Vehicle registrations only entail the issuance of new plates if motorists:

  • Did not previously have a registered vehicle in Tennessee.
  • Had to surrender their former plates for some reason.
  • Want or require different plates (e.g. specialized plates).

How to Register a New Car in Tennessee

Most in-state dealers offer Tennessee car registration services and will register newly manufactured vehicles for the buyers at the time of purchase. Dealers may additionally provide temporary tags, allowing buyers to drive their cars off the lot immediately.

Motorists who need or wish to submit a new car registration themselves will need their vehicles’ Manufacturers’ Statements of Origin and sale invoices. If they wish to keep plates they already own and transfer them to the new vehicles, they will need copies of their pre-existing registrations, as well.

Registering a Used Car in Tennessee

To register a used car in Tennessee, motorists must submit signed and completed applications to their local County Clerk’s Offices. No appointment is necessary, but applicants may wish to call ahead to confirm hours and accepted forms of payment, as they may vary from office to office.

Along with a completed car registration form, applicants must provide their Clerk’s Offices with:

  • Their vehicles’ titles.
  • Invoices or bills of sale stating the vehicles’ sale prices.
  • Odometer disclosure statements (for vehicles less than 10 years old only).
  • Their current/prior registration information (if transferring existing plates only).
  • Evidence of adequate insurance.
  • Proof of a passing emissions test within the last 90 days.

Applicants attempting to get vehicle registrations for vehicles bought for less than 75 percent of their designated fair market value must also complete and submit Affidavits of Non-Dealer Transfer of Motor Vehicles and Boats forms.

How to Register a Car in Tennessee as a New Resident

Motorists seeking to register cars in Tennessee that they previously registered in other states can simply transfer their registrations. To do so, they must first check that their insurance policies meet the minimum requirements for the state and upgrade them accordingly if they do not.

Second, they must take their vehicles for emissions tests and procure passing certificates. Third, applicants must gather:

  • Proof of identification, like a drivers license.
  • Proof of residency.
  • Their current out-of-state registration documents.
  • Their current out of state titles, including lienholder names and addresses where applicable.

Applicants must then take all of those documents to their local County Clerk’s Offices with DMV registration application forms. The Clerk’s Office will issue them new titles, registrations and plates, at which time they may dispose of their old plates as directed by their former states of residence.

Vehicle Registration for Military Members in Tennessee

Members of the United States Armed Forces can get vehicle registrations in Tennessee if they are based there or if it is their home of record. Military applicants are subject to the same rules and processes as other Tennessee residents when registering vehicles.

No special rules or requirements apply except that full-time active duty service members stationed in Tennessee or serving in the Tennessee National Guard’s Active Guard and Reserve Program (AGR) are exempt from some sales and use taxes on motor vehicles purchases.

Temporary DMV Registration in Tennessee

Buyers who purchase vehicles from dealers in Tennessee can request temporary registration tags that allow them to drive their vehicles immediately. Licensed dealers may stock controlled temporary plates or use the state’s Dealer Drive-Out EZ-Tag program to electronically generate and print valid temporary tags.

Tennessee License Plates

Vehicles registered in Tennessee are only required to have rear plates. In most cases, motorists keep their license plates and transfer them from one vehicle to another as they buy or sell cars.

In the event that new plates are needed, such as when a motorist moves in from out of state, the plates will be issued by the County Clerk’s Office at the time of registration.

Tennessee Car Registration Fees

Tennessee car registration cost is $26.50 for most personal vehicles. Electric vehicles are subject to an additional $100 fee at the time of registration on top of the standard cost. Vehicle emissions tests, which are necessary for registration, are $9 each.

Last updated on Monday, March 9 2020.