As most people are aware, the cost of buying a car doesn’t stop at the price you negotiate with the salesman on the forecourt or with the private seller. Once you have struck a deal, there are lots of extra expenses and fees you need to pay before you can legally drive a vehicle.
One of the fees you have to pay to drive your car is the registration fee, without which you can’t legally take your car out onto the road. There are several factors that affect how much you need to pay, so here we answer the question, how much does it cost to register a car?
This is a complicated topic, so if you want a preview of some of the stuff we’re going to be talking about, you can check out this video before reading on.
What is a registration fee?
Before we look at how much you have to pay, let’s talk briefly about why you have to pay – what is a registration fee?
Registration is the process whereby you prove that you have paid all the necessary fees and taxes required for owning the vehicle in the state where you live. To complete the process, you pay the registration fee and, effectively, the state gives you permission to drive the car.
What makes this question a little tricky is that every state calculates this differently, and there can be a huge difference in what you are required to pay from state to state.
For example, in 2019, the lowest registration fee in the country was just $8 (in Arkansas), whereas if you lived in North Dakota in 2019, you could have ended up paying as much as $274, depending on your vehicle.
But that’s not even the highest since if you registered a new car in Oregon in that year, the maximum fee was $368, again, depending on your vehicle.
How are registration fees calculated?
Why is there such a big difference from state to state? The answer is that each different state calculates the fee differently, with some charging a lot and others charging much less.
The most common way the registration fee is calculated is simply to charge a flat rate for the registration of any car, new or used, within the state. This is the method used in around half of the states in the US.
Alternatively, some states calculate the fee according to the value of the car, so you end up paying more for higher-end vehicles. Other states use the weight of the vehicle to calculate the fee, so if you have a heavier car, you pay more.
A couple of states base the fee on the age of the vehicle, Washington state charges a flat fee of $30 plus a filing fee and Missouri charges a flat rate of $21.75 plus an extra fee based on the vehicle’s horsepower.
Some states also distinguish between new and used vehicles, and in some states, how much you have to pay can vary even within the state.
Registration Fees by state
So, as we have seen, the situation is fairly complicated. The best way to find out how much you need to pay in each state and how the fees are calculated there is to check the details from that state individually, so here is a list of fees for passenger cars, state by state, from 2019:
Alabama $15-$23 plus $50 each year
Arizona $8 + $32 public safety fee
California $60 plus a transportation improvement fee of $25-$175
Colorado Based on weight
Connecticut $80 for two years
Florida $14.50-$32.50 plus a $225 fee for a new vehicle
Hawaii $45 plus weight-based fee
Idaho $45-$69, depending on the vehicle’s age
Iowa Up to 1% of list price, depending on age
Kansas $39-$49 (depends on county)
Louisiana $20-$82 depending on value
Maryland $135-$187 for two years
Massachusetts $60 for two years
Michigan Based on vehicle value
Minnesota $35 and up, based on vehicle value
Mississippi $12.75 for renewals, $14 for first time registrations
Missouri $21.75 and up based on horsepower
Montana $28-$217 based on vehicle age plus a 3% fee
Nebraska $20.50 including fees
New Hampshire $31.20 and up based on weight plus $10 transfer fee plus local fees
New Jersey $35.50-$84 based on weight
New Mexico $27-$62 based on weight and year
New York $26-$140 based on weight
North Carolina $36-$67 based on weight
North Dakota $49-$274 based on age and weight
Oklahoma $96 for a new registration and then decreases over time
Oregon $112-$172 for two years for used cars, $248-$368 for new cars
Rhode Island $41.50
South Carolina $40
South Dakota Based on weight and year
Texas $51.75 plus local fees
Utah Based on year
Virginia $40.75-$51.75 based on weight plus $2 for emissions inspections in some areas
Washington $30 plus filing fees
Washington D.C. $72-$155 based on weight, $36 for hybrids and electric cars
West Virginia $51.50
Wyoming $30 plus county fees
When do you need to register a car?
Whenever you buy a car – whether it’s a new car or a used car – you need to register it with your state’s DMV. If you move to a new state and take a car with you, you will also need to register it in your new state.
After this, you will also have to re-register a car every year or every two years – again, depending on which state you live in. For further information about this, you should check the website of the DMV in your home state.
What else do you need to pay?
The registration fee is not the only fee you should expect to pay. The situation varies from state to state, but other fees you might need to pay include:
- License plate fee
- Title transfer fee
- Lien recording fee
- Documentation fee
- Sales tax
- Personal property tax
- Emissions fees
- Inspection fee
- Hybrid or electric vehicle fees
Once more, please refer to the website of your local DMV for further details.
A complicated picture
When taken nationally, the question of registration fees is complicated. Each state does things its own way, and there are so many variables at play, so the best advice for the most accurate information is to refer to your local DMV’s website for the most up-to-date information.