What Do I Need to Register My Car?

Nobody enjoys paperwork and admin – it can be complicated and confusing, it’s a hassle and it’s often very time-consuming. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that sometimes we just have to get it done – and one of those times is when it comes to registering a car.

If you want the process to go as smoothly as possible, the key is understanding what you need to do and what to prepare. If this is a task that you are likely to be facing soon, here we answer the question, what do I need to register my car?

As we will explain in a moment, registering your car is different in every state – but to give you an overview of the process and a preview of some of the stuff we’re going to be talking about, here’s a video we found on registering a car in Denver.

The biggest complication…

In the US, one of the biggest complications comes from the fact that each state is different. This means that, depending on where you live, the regulations and the hoops you need to jump through will vary.

For this reason, in this article, we will talk about what you need to register your car in general terms to help you understand the kind of things you need to prepare – but the best advice is to check with your local DMV for the correct information about your home state.

So what do you need?

Here is a list of the kind of documents you will need:

  • Title – or other proof of ownership
  • Bill of sale
  • Proof of tax payment
  • Driver’s license – or other form of ID
  • Insurance ID card
  • Proof of inspection
  • Emission compliance papers (in some states)
  • Completed application form (can sometimes be done online)

In most states, you will need some kind of proof of ownership, and in general, this is the title certificate – although other possibilities exist.

You need a bill of sale, which should include details such as the car’s make and model as well as its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). It should also state the date of sale, the purchase price, your name and the seller’s name.

Usually, the ID you present will be your driver’s license, although sometimes other forms of ID are acceptable.

In fact, in most states, it is possible to register a vehicle even if you don’t have a driving license. For example, if an elderly or disabled person is the owner of a car that is used to drive them about, they can register the car in their name – although this can be a little more complicated.

In most cases, you will also need valid insurance to be able to register a car – although this varies from state to state, and sometimes it is possible to register a car and take out the insurance within a set time period afterwards.

Let’s look at the question of insurance in a bit more detail.

The question of insurance

The question of insurance

Broadly speaking, you need insurance before you can register a car. In some states, insurance is not required, but in those states, you will usually need to be able to prove you have enough savings to pay for any damage you cause if you are responsible for an accident.

In some states, it is possible to register a car without insurance as long as you take out insurance within the allotted time after registration.

However, failure to do so can result in large fines, the suspension of the car’s registration and even the car being impounded. This means that if you choose to register your car before you take out an insurance policy, you should be very careful not to miss the deadline.

Also, you might think that once you take out the insurance policy and register your car, you can then cancel the insurance – but this won’t work.

If you cancel the insurance, your local DMV can track it online. Furthermore, your insurance company is legally obliged to inform the DMV if you no longer have insurance with them – so the DMV will know!

When do you need to register a car?

When do you need to register a car

If you are buying a car from a dealership within your state, usually, the dealership will take care of the title and registration admin for you. The fees for doing this will normally be added to the price of the car, the financing arrangement or the lease if you are leasing.

However, if you are buying a used car from a private seller, you will be expected to take care of the registration process yourself.

If you buy a car from a dealer, but for some reason, you don’t want the dealer to do the paperwork, you also have the option of doing it yourself.

If you buy a car from out of state, you will also usually be expected to register it yourself in your home state.

If you are just driving your car into other states, your insurance and registration will both remain valid.

However, if you move to a new state and take your car with you, you will also need to register it in the new state in the same way as you would register a newly purchased car in that state.

Once you have registered a new or newly-purchased car, you will also be required to re-register that car every year, every two years or every few years.

The interval depends on the laws where you live, but failure to do so can result in fines and your car being impounded – so make sure you know about the applicable regulations in your area and don’t forget to do it when the time comes.

A necessary hassle that you need to get done

Car registration is a hassle that few people look forward to, but the fact is, it needs to be done – so the best thing is to understand what you need to do and which papers are necessary and prepare them all in good time.

As we mentioned, the rules and regulations vary between the different states, so the best advice is to check the website of your local DMV for the information that’s relevant to you and then to prepare all the documents the site mentions.