Wisconsin is unique in that it allows motorists to conduct initial car registration transactions online, as well as vehicle registration renewals. This is characteristic of the state’s minimal car registration requirements. Unlike many other states, Wisconsin does not require safety inspections, VIN inspections or emissions inspections at the state level. Some counties require that qualifying vehicles registered to residents or stored in their jurisdictions be emissions tested every two years.

The state also takes an indirect approach to auto insurance. Motorists can pay a modest fee at the time of DMV registration and legally drive without vehicle insurance unless or until they are involved in an accident. At that time, they must fully cover any and all costs for which they are legally liable or risk losing their licenses and registrations. Motorists who lose their driving privileges in such a manner are then required to acquire adequate minimum insurance before re-registering a car in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Car Registration Requirements

Under Wisconsin car registration requirements, newly purchased vehicles must be registered promptly upon purchase and cannot be driven without permanent or temporary plates. Residents moving in to the state from elsewhere have 60 days to transfer their registrations.

While specific requirements vary, in general to register a car motorists need:

  • Proof of identity and residency.
  • Proof of ownership.
  • Acceptable payment.

Depending on their counties and vehicle types, they may also need inspections and insurance.

Car Insurance Requirements for Registering a Car in Wisconsin

The relationship between auto insurance and vehicle registration in Wisconsin is unique. Technically, motorists are permitted to register cars without holding auto insurance, provided they pay a modest uninsured motorist fee.

However, the state’s Safety Responsibility (SR) Law creates legal conditions that strongly incentivize motorists to carry certain minimum insurance coverages. Under the SR law, motorists found at fault in reportable vehicle accidents will have their driving privileges and vehicle registrations suspended for one year unless they:

  • Provide proof of acceptable liability insurance in place at the time of the accident.
  • Have authorized alternative arrangements, such as cash or bonded deposits, in place with the Department of Transportation.
  • Sign legal agreements promising to pay the full cost of the injured parties’ claims out of pocket.
  • Supply proof that they have independently settled all claims resulting from the accident with the injured parties.
  • File evidence showing they have requested hearing to show they were not actually at fault.

To avoid possible suspension under the SR Law or to reinstate licenses and DMV registrations after a suspension, motorists must provide proof of insurance that includes at least:

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

Alternatively, upon request the WisDoT may permit motorists to deposit $60,000 in cash or bonds in lieu of insurance coverage.

Vehicle Inspection/Smog Inspection/VIN Inspection Requirements in Wisconsin

Wisconsin new car registration does not typically involve VIN inspections and does not require that motorists have their vehicles inspected for safety. There is also no state level mandate for emissions testing.

Independent counties, however, reserve the right to require emissions testing as part of the vehicle registration process for motorists who live or store their vehicles in those jurisdictions. Currently, emissions testing is required in Sheboygan, Washington, Ozaukee, Waukesha, Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties. Cars must be tested before getting vehicle registrations if they are:

  • Gasoline powered, over 8,501 pounds gross weight (GVWR) and have model years between 1996 and 2006.
  • Gasoline or diesel powered, less than 14,000 GVWR and model years 2007 or later.

Note: Electric vehicles are exempt from testing, but hybrid vehicles are not.

Emissions testing is managed by DMV-contracted Opus Inspection Facilities. Testing schedules are based on vehicles’ model years and due every 24 months or at the time of registration when vehicles change hands. Vehicles that change ownership must be subjected to emission inspections with 45 days.

Registering a Vehicle in Wisconsin

Wisconsin of one of few states that allow motorists to register a vehicle online for their initial registrations, not just vehicle registration renewals. Registration involves few or no inspections and insurance is optional. Motorists do, however, need:

  • Proof of residency and identity.
  • Proof of ownership.
  • Payment of applicable fees.

These requirements remain consistent whether motorists submit their registration applications online, in person or have them submitted on their behalf by a dealer.

How to Register a New Car in Wisconsin

Wisconsin new car registration for newly manufactured vehicles is traditionally handled by dealerships in Wisconsin. Purchasers can expect car registration services to be part of the sales package. In other cases, buyers will need to see temporary registration agents and acquire temporary tags to drive their vehicles until their permanent registrations are processed.

Registering a Used Car in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is one of the rare states that allow motorists to complete an initial car registration online using its eMV Public system. To use the system or register in person, applicants must have:

  • Wisconsin titles for their vehicles that are signed by the sellers and include the vehicles’ odometer readings at the time of sale. (Vehicles more than 10 model years old are exempt from listing odometer readings.)
  • Lien releases, where applicable.
  • Wisconsin drivers licenses or non-driver ID cards.
  • Acceptable forms of payment.

Upon completing the online vehicle registration forms, applicants must mail their printed eMV receipts, titles and lien releases to the DMV. The DMV will then mail motorists’ permanent registrations and plates. Temporary plates may be printed for use in the meantime. Alternatively, motorists may take all of the above to their local DMV offices to register a car in person.

How to Register a Car in Wisconsin as a New Resident

New residents have 60 days to get Wisconsin vehicle registrations at any DMV service center or through registered DMV agents. They will need:

  • Their out of state vehicle registrations.
  • A Title/License Plate application form, completely filled out and signed.
  • Proof of identity (e.g. a drivers license).
  • Payment of appropriate fees, including wheel taxes, where locally required.

Motorists should note that if they turn in only their out of state car registrations at the time of application, they will receive new registrations but not new titles. This will allow them to operate their vehicles in the state but not to sell them. New Wisconsin titles must be requested before vehicles can change hands. Applicants who submit their titles and registrations will receive new titles with their new registrations.

Applicants who have owned their vehicles for 90 or fewer days must also provide evidence that they already paid sales tax to avoid being charged in Wisconsin. Motorists can take their applications to DMV customer service centers or DMV agent locations or mail them at your rarest WisDOT office. Fees may vary by location and application method.

Vehicle Registration for Military Members in Wisconsin

In general, United States Armed Forces servicemembers must follow the same processes and procedures as civilians when registering a car in Wisconsin. However, they may be eligible for:

  • Registration fee refunds.
  • Pro-rated registration renewal fees.
  • Temporary license plates (during leave).
  • Specialized military license plates.

To access any of these vehicle registration benefits, applicants must have copies of their military IDs or orders.

Temporary DMV Registration in Wisconsin

Temporary license plate agents issue Wisconsin temporary registrations to motorists needing to operate their vehicles while waiting for their permanent DMV documents and plates. To apply, motorists can take their applications to authorized agents who, for a $7 combined fee, will review and submit the applications on motorists’ behalf. They will then issue them temporary tags good for 90 days.

Alternatively, motorists may complete their applications themselves in person or online and take their receipts to a DMV service center. The service center will provide them with temporary registrations free of charge.

30-day temporary tags are also available to motorists who need additional time to pass emissions tests before renewing registrations. They are available through DMV service centers or Wisconsin Vehicle Inspection Stations for $7.

Wisconsin License Plates

The DMV will issue Wisconsin motorists two license plates when they register a vehicle. Standard plates will be mailed within 10 days. Specialty plates may take as long as six weeks to arrive.

Wisconsin Car Registration Fees

Wisconsin vehicle registration fees differ depending on vehicles’ types and ages, motorists’ counties of residence and the method of application. DMV agents traditionally charge more than DMV service centers or the online system. Standard fees include:

  • Non-expiring antique vehicle registrations$5
  • Annual car registration fee $75
  • Electric vehicle surcharge $100
  • New title or title transfer $69.50
  • DMV service center counter service fee $5
  • DMV agents’ transaction fees $10 – $19.50
  • Duplicate certificate of registration $2
  • Uninsured motorist registration fee $50
  • Local wheel taxes $10 – $30
Last updated on Monday, March 9 2020.