How To Register a Car In California

If you just moved to California, you’ll need to get an inspection and head to the local tax office to complete your registration. After that, you can renew online!
Written by Claire Beaney
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If you've recently moved to California, you have 10 days to register your vehicle at a California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) field office. Just keep in mind that you'll need to pass an emissions test every other year.
You must renew your California automobile registration every year, and you'll also have to pass emissions testing every other year. Thankfully, the process of renewing your registration is pretty straightforward. Here to walk you through it all is
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How to register a car in California

Registering your car in California is a pretty straightforward process. You'll need to submit a Title or Registration Application (REG 343), a copy of your vehicle's title, proof of insurance, payment of any fees, and, in some cases, a valid smog certificate.

If you just moved to California

New to the Golden State? You'll only have 10 days to get your vehicle registered and your California driver's license. You'll go to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for the license and registration, but the process will differ depending on whether you bought from a dealership or a private party.
A dealership may be able to transfer titles and issue temporary registration for you to use until your permanent registration and stickers arrive in the mail. You'll need to register the car yourself if the dealer you purchased it from does not offer registration services.
If that’s the case, the following items are always required for vehicle registration:
You might also need these documents—be sure to check the California DMV website to see if you have to submit the following:
A private party purchase is when you buy a vehicle from someone other than a dealer. Buyers have 10 days from the date of purchase to transfer ownership from the seller to themselves, while sellers have five days from the date of sale to register the transfer of ownership to the DMV.
To register a privately-purchased car in California, you will need:
  • The vehicle's title (also known as a pink slip), signed by the individual selling the car
  • If the seller is not the owner whose name appears on the title, a Bill of Sale must be signed by both the seller and the person whose name appears on the title
  • An odometer mileage record (if the vehicle is less than 10 years old)
    • If the title doesn't have a mileage line, complete a Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment (REG 262) form, signed by both buyer and seller
  • A smog certification
When registering a vehicle for the first time or renewing an existing registration, applicants may be subject to a number of different fees. A registration fee of $65 and a California Highway Patrol fee of $29 are required for ALL vehicles.
Registration fees are based on your car's make, its declared value, the city/county you live in, and more. You can check out the
California DMV website
for a list of useful fee calculators.
And you’re done! Bring your completed documents to your nearest DMV field office to get your vehicle registered and tagged.

How much insurance coverage do you need in California? 

If you are a new resident of California, you must either obtain insurance that satisfies the state's minimum requirements or modify your current policy to do so. California requires, at minimum, the following car insurance:
If your policy fulfills the basic coverage requirements, you'll be fine for your pre-registration inspection. However, it is usually a good idea to acquire additional coverage, such as extra liability,
collision insurance
, and
comprehensive coverage
.
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How to renew your California vehicle registration 

In California, you must renew your vehicle registration every year, with emissions tests required every other year. The DMV will mail you an official renewal notice well in advance of your registration's expiration date.
You can also check your vehicle's registration sticker to see when the date is approaching. Your registration will be valid until the last day of the month listed on the sticker. For example, if your sticker says "10/23," your registration will expire on Oct. 31, 2023.
In terms of what you’ll need for the process itself, make sure you have:
  • Your license plate number
  • The last five digits of a vehicle's identification number (VIN)
  • A notice of renewal confirming your current address
    • If you moved, be sure to update your address before beginning your renewal application process
  • Your payment details
    • A 1.95% payment processing fee is added to all credit/debit card transactions
    • There are no additional fees if you pay directly from your bank account
You have a number of options when it comes time for renewing your registration. The easiest method is doing so
online
, but you can also head to your nearest DMV field office for renewal. If you want to renew your registration by mail (and have the time to wait), you can mail it to this address:
DMV Renewal
PO Box 942897
Sacramento, CA 94269-0001
The cost for renewing your registration is the same as your initial fee—$65

How to replace a lost registration sticker or license plate

If you happen to lose your vehicle registration sticker, you can get a replacement by mailing or taking the completed Application for Replacement Plates, Stickers, Documents (REG 156) to the address listed on the form or your local DMV office along with the appropriate fee of $23.
To replace your license plates, you’ll need a completed application for your plate type, a police report (if your plates were stolen), any remaining license plates in your possession, and the necessary fee (also $23) either
online
, in person, or by mail.

How to save on auto insurance in California

Finding adequate auto insurance coverage is an important step in registering your car in California, but doing it yourself can be stressful, take a lot of time, and involve a lot of phone calls.
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FAQs

To register a vehicle in California, you’ll need a completed application, the vehicle's title (with odometer mileage if the vehicle is under 10 years old), a valid smog certificate (if the vehicle is over four years old), and payment of any necessary fees.
The exact fees for your vehicle registration will depend on a number of factors, including the county you live in, your specific car, and more. But for all vehicles, you’ll have to pay a registration fee of $65 and a California Highway Patrol fee of $29.
Some California residents who are considered non-residents, such as active duty military personnel, are not required to register their vehicles in California.
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