Washington law requires that motor vehicle owners must register their vehicle with the Washington Department of Licensing (DOL) before taking it on the road. Both new and second-hand vehicles must be registered, regardless of whether they are purchased from a dealer or an individual. In addition, new Washington residents who have registered their vehicle in another state must register their vehicle in Washington. The initial vehicle registration must be done in person and registration renewals can be handled on-line, by mail or in person annually.
When you buy a vehicle, or if you are given one, you must register it within 15 days. If you miss this deadline, you will be charged an extra $25 on the 16th day and a further $2 for each day after that, up to a maximum of $100. Failure to pay vehicle registration at all will cost you $330.
If you are registering a motor vehicle in Washington for the first time, you must complete the following steps:
- All vehicles in Washington 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.
- Collect the necessary paperwork. If you bought your vehicle from a dealer, then the dealer will have sent the necessary paperwork to the Washington Department Licensing. In all other circumstances you will need to collect the following additional papers:
- Vehicle title. New residents in Washington must apply for a title before they can register a vehicle. The title must also show the odometer reading at change of ownership.
- A report of emissions testing, if you live in an urban area of Clark, King, Pierce, Snohomish or Spokane counties.
- A bill of sale, if you are a new owner of the vehicle.
- If you are a new resident of Washington, or if you are applying by mail, you will also need a completed and notarized Vehicle Certificate of Ownership Application.
- Visit any vehicle licensing office with your completed forms. Alternatively, you can send your registration application by mail to:
Vehicle Licensing Department of Licensing P.O. Box 9909 Olympia, WA 98507-9909
You will need to include the exact fees if mailing your application.
Registration fees are based on a number of factors, such as weight of the vehicle, where you live and whether you require specialized license plates. Full details of the fees can be found here, but typically the fees will include some or all of the following:
- The registration fee itself.
- Sales tax and/or use tax, if your vehicle is new.
- A $15 fee to verify the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) if you are registering the vehicle in Washington for the first time.
- Title fees, if applying for a new title.
- License plate fees if you want personalized license plates.
- If you do not lodge the paperwork at a county auditor you will need to pay a $4 sub-agent fee.
- Regional Transit Authority (RTA) tax, if you live in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.
- Location transportation benefits district fees, if required by your city or county.
RENEWING YOUR VEHICLE REGISTRATION
Owners of motor vehicles in Washington are required to renew their vehicle registration annually, in person, online or by mail. See our Registration Renewal section for complete details.
- The process for registering a motorcycle is generally the same as a car registration; however, there are different procedures for boat registration and custom car registration.
- Auto Insurance is needed to legally operate all vehicles in Washington.
- See also Renewing Your Vehicle Registration.
- See also Title Transfers and Car Insurance.