Washington car registration requirements can differ significantly depending on motorists’ specific circumstances. Some aspects of the process may also diverge from motorists’ expectations if they have previously registered vehicles in other states. For example, motorists are required to have auto insurance in Washington, but the verification and purchase of auto insurance is considered part of the official WA driver licensing process and may not be directly evaluated as part of the vehicle registration process. Similarly, emissions testing requirements vary not only by vehicles’ ages, weights and mileages but by motorists’ counties of residence.

New residents and United States military servicemembers stationed in the state can also be subject to different DMV registration documentation requirements, taxes and rules than existing state residents. It is essential, therefore, that motorists review all of the mandates specific to their situations and vehicles before registering a car in Washington.

Washington Car Registration Requirements

Motorists must be Washington residents or United States Armed Forces servicemembers stationed in Washington to get a new car registration in the state. They must have adequate insurance. Qualifying vehicles must pass emissions testing, as well. Car registration deadlines and the documentation necessary to complete the process varies.

Car Insurance Requirements for Registering a Car in Washington

Technically, acquiring auto insurance is considered part of the driver licensing process rather than the car registration process in Washington. All motorists driving vehicles in the state are required to hold a minimum of:

  • $25,000 in bodily injury or death liability coverage for a single person per accident.
  • $50,000 in bodily injury or death liability coverage for one than one person per accident.
  • $10,000 in property damage liability coverage per accident.

Motorists must carry proof of coverage with them when driving. Motorists without insurance may legally drive if they have deposited $60,000 or more with the DMV for that purpose, or taken out bonds in the same amount with an approved company.

Although these expenses are not considering part of the car registration fees and process, they are required of all motorists.

Vehicle Inspection/Smog Inspection/VIN Inspection Requirements in Washington

Washington car registration requirements do not include safety inspections or VIN inspections, but do call for emissions inspections for some vehicles.

  • Vehicles model year 2008 or earlier are generally exempt from emissions testing.
  • Vehicles model year 2009 or later with 7,500 or fewer miles on the odometer must meet California emissions standards to qualify for car registration.
  • Some passenger vans, buses and cargo vehicles with high gross weight ratings may be exempt.
  • Used vehicles with over 7,500 miles on the odometer at the time of purchase, previously registered vehicles transferring into the state, vehicles owned by military servicemembers stationed in Washington and vehicles inherited due to death, divorce or dissolution may all be exempt from emissions requirements, as well.

Generally, motorists can find the emissions information necessary for DMV registration on a Vehicle Emissions Control Information (VECI) label located in vehicles’ engine compartments.

Registering a Vehicle in Washington

What you need to register a car in Washington can vary substantially depending on numerous factors. These include:

  • Purchase type (e.g. new vs. used vehicles).
  • Vehicle age and type.
  • Title style.
  • Vehicles’ previous registration status.
  • Motorists’ residency and military service statuses.

While some general rules apply, motorists registering a vehicle in Washington are encouraged to contact their local vehicle licensing offices for assistance and clarification, when necessary.

How to Register a New Car in Washington

Washington new car registration is almost always the responsibility of the dealer making the sale. Motorists may need to provide their IDs and other information, but can reliably expect dealers to handle the registration process before they take possession of their vehicles.

Registering a Used Car in Washington

Motorists have 15 days to register a car purchased in a private sale in Washington. Steep penalties apply for motorists who miss this title transfer deadline. Purchasers should ensure that their bills of sale cover all necessary information before signing them and take possession of their vehicles’ titles at the time of sale.

To get a vehicle registration, motorists must:

  • Complete the Odometer Disclosure section on their titles. If there is no odometer disclosure section on the title, motorists must acquire an Odometer Disclosure Statement from a vehicle licensing office and complete that instead.
  • Have a completed and signed bill of sale.
  • Have their vehicles’ existing titles.
  • Complete a Vehicle Title Application form. Forms must be signed in the presence of licensing agents or notaries.
  • Get vehicles emissions tested. Where applicable, only.

Motorists should take all of their documents, along with photo ID, to a vehicle licensing office to apply for a DMV registration. Fees, including sales tax, will be due at the time of application.

How to Register a Car in Washington as a New Resident

To get a Washington vehicle registration, motorists must first apply for and receive their Washington state drivers licenses. Driver licensing and vehicle registrations cannot be processed at the same DMV offices and must be done separately and in that order. New residents have 30 days from moving in to apply for new DMV registrations.

Once motorists have their new licenses, they will need to gather their documents.

  • For vehicles less than 10 years old, motorists will need to complete the Odometer Disclosure Statement sections on their titles or complete separate Odometer Disclosure forms (available only at vehicle licensing offices). Vehicles 10 years old or older are exempt from this step.
  • Vehicles model year 2009 or later must pass state emissions testing. Additional vehicles may need testing if the registering motorists live or intend to garage their vehicles in Clark, King, Pierce, Snohomish or Spokane counties.
  • Registration requests for previously registered vehicles motorists have owned for 90 or fewer days must be accompanied by bills of sale and dealership documents evidencing taxes paid, if any.
  • Vehicle weight slips are required where vehicle weights are not recorded on their titles. These are available from vehicle licensing offices or scale houses.

Vehicle owners who have collected their titles, photo ID and any of the documents above that apply to their vehicles may take or mail them, along with their application forms, to a vehicle licensing office. Motorists applying for car registrations in person must sign their forms in the presence of a DMV agent. Those applying my mail must sign their forms in the presence of a notary.

Payment of all applicable fees is due at the time of vehicle registration. Motorists applying by mail should contact their licensing offices in advance to determine what they will owe and their payment options.

Vehicle Registration for Military Members in Washington

United States Armed Forces servicemembers stationed in Washington are not required to register their cars in the state if they are already registered with their homes of record. Vehicles that were registered at former duty stations must be re-registered in Washington or motorists’ homes of record when their existing registrations expire.

Servicemembers returning from overseas duty have 30 days to register vehicles in state or with their homes of record. Servicemembers leaving the military but remaining in Washington have 30 days from separation to get a vehicle registration in Washington.

In some cases, servicemembers who buy vehicles in Washington may be exempt from sales, excise and RTA taxes.

Temporary DMV Registration in Washington

Washington temporary registration permits allow motorists to drive unregistered vehicles on public roadways. This can include vehicles with no registrations or with registrations that have expired. Permits cost $30 and motorists may apply for them at any vehicle licensing office. The DMV will not issue permits for salvage vehicles or those which are unsafe to operate, and will not issue more than 3 permits to any motorist during a 30-day period.

Washington License Plates

Motorists registering a car in Washington will be issued two plates. Motorists who apply in person receive their plates immediately. Those who apply by mail will have their plates mailed to them within three weeks of applying.

Washington Car Registration Fees

Exact car registration cost totals will be different for every applicant as they are based on vehicle type, plate type, whether or not taxes are due and other factors. Standard fees include:

  • Registration $3
  • Registration and title $7
  • License tab fee $30
  • Plate transfer $10
  • Electric car fee $150
  • Emissions tests $15
  • Out of state service fee $15
  • Trip Permits $25 -$30
Last updated on Monday, March 9 2020.