How to Register a Car in California?

Life can sometimes be somewhat complicated, but it doesn’t have to be when you are looking for how to register a car in California. If you are confused on how to go about it, then do not fret; you have come to the right page! We will consider how you can register a car in California whether as a new resident or someone who has stayed in California for long time.

Registering your car in California

All vehicles plying Californian roads must be registered through the DMV of California or through CaReg. Registering through CaReg is quite easy and more convenient since it is all done online.

As a new resident in California, you must have your automobile registered within 20 days of staying in the state. What qualifies one to be a resident? Here are some vital parameters that indicate residency:

  • You lease or rent a home/apartment in California
  • You apply for state documents, e.g., a drivers’ license
  • Enroll in a school or have your kids enrolled in a school in the state
  • You secure employment in the state
  • You claim tax exemptions for property in California

If you meet any of the parameters above, then you should register your car.

How to register your vehicle as a new resident in California

application for registration

There are several steps to take before you can successfully register your car as a new resident in California. Here are the steps to take:

  • Complete your application for registration
  • Issue proof that your automobile is insured
  • If you are transferring the title to California, you’ll have to provide an out-of-state title
  • Provide out-of-state registration
  • If it is necessary, provide weight, smog, and emissions certification
  • Pay your taxes and fees

You should note that unlike many other states in the USA, registering your vehicle is a very different process than what you might be used to. The registration procedure will be affected by whether you purchased the car from a car dealer or from a private party.

For folks that bought their vehicles from a dealer, the process is a tad less stressful since the dealership will take care of the paperwork and help to sort out registration. As a matter of fact, dealerships even give buyers a temporary registration certification that they can use until the proper documents comes.

On the other hand, if you are registering a car from a private party, you will need several documents. These include:

  • Provide the vehicle title. This title must have several things, especially the odometer mileage if the car is less than a decade old.
  • If the vehicle title is unavailable, you must complete a form for a paperless title
  • Submit the completed application
  • Pay the fees or taxes incurred.

Cars that cannot be given a title in California

For an out-of-state vehicle, if there is no proof of ownership, it is given a non-transferable registration. Hence, the car cannot be sold or transferred in California.

How to fix this

If you still want to buy or sell a vehicle without a transferrable title in California, the good news is that there is a way. You will have to produce the following documents:

  • Application for title registration and a bill of sale
  • Smog certification
  • The current non-transferable registration card
  • Cars less than ten years old will need an Odometer disclosure statement
  • Renewal fees
  • The most recent title issued to the vehicle
  • If there is no title available, you should apply for a paperless title or a duplicate title

How to Register a Car as a Current California Resident

bought the car from a dealership

The process outlined above is for new residents. If you bought the car in California and can offer proof of residency, then the whole registration process is far easier.

As said above, if you bought the car from a dealership, most of the heavy lifting will be done by the dealership. The dealership will provide you with a temporary registration until the official registration arrives. In fact, some of these dealerships can give you license plates.

It is important that you ask the dealership about their policies and related information before making a purchase. Some of the important information you should request include a manufacturers’ certificate of origin. This certificate shows the relevant authorities the history of the car and the location of sale.

Cars bought from dealerships must come with a VIN. This 17-digit number is important, not just for registration, but will also be useful for insurance purposes.

Registering a car from a Private Party

Now, if you bought the car from a friend or some private party, California gives you a 10 day period to register the car. Hence, before making the deal, ensure that it comes with the essential documents that you will need.

Once the deal is completed, you should go to your local DMV office and bring important documents along.

These documents include:

  • Vehicle title with mileage
  • Smog certificate when applicable
  • Registration application

You will also need to pay all fees and taxes incurred from the registration process. As soon as you can prove your residency, come with all necessary documents, and pay all fees and taxes, you will be issued a registration in the presence of legal witnesses.

Registration for Military Personnel

If you are a military personnel and stationed in California, you do not need to register your vehicle. All that you require are:

  • California automobile insurance
  • Valid license plate
  • Your current registration

If you are a resident of California but are stationed outside the state, you can register your car wherever you are. However, once you get back, you will have to register the vehicle at your local Californian DMV.


You can find your nearest DMV field office by visiting the DMV website here. From that website, you can see the DMV office nearest to you and can even book appointments so that you do not waste time there.

We hope that this article has helped you to see clearly how to register a car in California. Drop your questions/enquiries in the comment section provided below.