Is a first-time registration different than a renewal?

Registering your vehicle for the first time usually takes a few more steps than simply renewing your registration. When renewing your registration, most states don't require the same level of information but may still need your VIN, license plate number, and driver's license number. Keep in mind that if you purchase your car from a dealership, both the title and registration process may be handled by the dealership — typically for a fee — but it becomes your responsibility to ensure that this is the case.

Requirements vary slightly from state to state, but expect to bring the following to your department of motor vehicles for your initial vehicle registration:

  • Driver's license, which serves as proof of identification and residence
  • Proof of auto insurance
  • A bill of sale or ability to show sales tax payment
  • A car title in your name or a signed lease agreement
  • Certificates showing the vehicle has passed any state-required safety or emissions tests
  • Vehicle registration fee
  • A completed registration form, which may include information such as the car make and model, odometer reading, and vehicle identification number(VIN)

How long do I have to register my car?

The vast majority of states offer a 30-day window, or grace period, to allow you to register a newly acquired vehicle or one you're bringing in from out of state.

Can I register my car online?

More and more states are allowing first-time car registration online. However, some states still require initial registrations to be done in person. Check your state's department of motor vehicles website to see if you can register your vehicle online. Keep in mind that many states also allow renewals online.

Can you register a car without a license?

It can be tricky to register a car without a driver's license. Some states require a valid driver's license to register your vehicle. But since you don't need to have a driver's license to own a vehicle, some states don't technically require one to register it. Check with your state for details.

Do I need the title to register my car?

Showing a vehicle title is a requirement of registering a vehicle. If the title was lost, you'll need to get a replacement car title before you can register the vehicle. In many cases, the name on the title must be the same as the name on the registration. However, additional names can be added to a registration. Learn more about how to add names to car registration.

Does the car need to be present to register it?

You don't need the car physically present to register it. However, you'll need the car in order to get all the information needed to register it. For instance, states that require the passage of a safety or emissions test will require the vehicle to be present to go through this step. You'll also need information such as the car's make and model, VIN, and odometer reading to fill out the registration form.

If you won't have the vehicle with you when you file your registration paperwork, it may prove beneficial to download and print out the required forms ahead of time so you can fill in the necessary details.

Can you register a car without a license plate?

If you're buying a car from a dealership, they can issue a temporary license plate until all registration paperwork and new license plates come in. If you're registering an older car without valid license plates, you need to register the vehicle to obtain new plates. However, many states allow a short grace period to drive the vehicle to your own home as long as you have a bill of sale and proof of insurance.