Is a car title and registration the same thing?

Vehicle titles show proof of vehicle ownership, while vehicle registration signifies a vehicle is registered with the state and cleared for driving on public roads. A state's department of motor vehicles issues both documents, but the vehicle title only needs updating upon a change of ownership. You’ll need to renew the vehicle registration regularly, but how often depends on each state's rules.

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What is a vehicle title and why is it important?

Typically, the state's department of motor vehicles issues titles. A car title includes information about the owner and the vehicle, including the vehicle identification number (VIN) and the type of vehicle. There are many types of vehicle titles, the most common being clean or clear titles, which signify that a vehicle either doesn't have any outstanding loans or has never been declared a total loss. Various other titles — such as salvage and rebuilt titles — typically highlight issues a vehicle has or has had.

Having the vehicle title in your name enables you to legally sell the vehicle and more easily register the vehicle for use. This also comes with responsibility, as the recognized owner retains legal responsibility for the vehicle.

What's the process for getting a car title?

Whether buying a used car from a private party, a new car from a dealership, or paying off a loan on a vehicle you've been driving, you'll want to make sure you get the title to the vehicle to prove full ownership. Dropping a loan holder from a title in some states is straightforward. However, obtaining the title from a previous owner often includes showing the local DMV office a bill of sale, proof of residency, a current odometer reading, and payments of any sales taxes and fees. Learn more about how to transfer car titles.

Is vehicle registration the same as tags on a car?

The sticker tags on your windshield or license plate indicate that your vehicle has an active vehicle registration, whereas your actual registration certificate shows you're the registered owner of the vehicle. Likewise, your license plate shows that you can drive the vehicle legally on public roads.

Why is a vehicle registration important?

Even if you own a car, you can't legally drive it on public roads without registering the vehicle with the state you live in. The vehicle registration certificate shows that the state has cleared the vehicle for use, and the registration certificate is proof of the state's acceptance.

Driving an unregistered vehicle or one with a lapsed registration is against the law.

Who can register a car?

The vehicle owner, as shown on the vehicle title, can register a vehicle. In the case of a leased car, a dealership can own the car's title and then register it in the name of the person paying the lease. Often a state requires proof of ownership — or a contract with the owner — to register a vehicle.

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