Register Car in California
First insure, then register.
Approved and contracted by the state, Cartagz provides a quick and easy alternative to standing in long lines at the DMV. For $29 (plus DMV fees), you can painlessly renew your registration in just a few simple steps.
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California Car Registration Online with CarTagz
- Saves you a trip to the DMV
- Helps you avoid late fees
- Offers next business day delivery
- Does not require a renewal notice
- Same Day E-Copy of Your New Registration Card.
You need to register a car in your name for the first time if you have recently:
- Purchased a new car
- Moved to California
- Changed ownership on a vehicle
If you've purchased a used vehicle registered in California or an out-of-state vehicle, you must register the car within 10 days of the purchase date to avoid late fees. The same is true for cars acquired from family members or received as gifts. To review late penalties associated with original applications, consult the official state site.
If your car is new to California you must register and pay the fees within 20 days of entry or residency. For more info on what qualifies you as a resident, visit the state site.
NOTE: When purchasing a vehicle and/or changing ownership, you’ll want to title the vehicle in your name (assuming there isn’t a lien on the car). Doing so will also register the vehicle in your name once you pay the appropriate registration fees.
If you are registering the vehicle in your name for the first time, chances are you’re also insuring the vehicle in your name for the first time. To legally operate or park the car on California roads you must show proof of financial responsibility. To many, that means getting the car insured. Your best bet is to compare insurance rates before you purchase a policy.
For new and used car purchases from a dealer, the paperwork is typically taken care of for you. In that case you’ll want to be sure the dealer has registered and titled the vehicle appropriately. For more info on titling (and therefore registering) the car in your name, see our title transfers section.
If you are registering an out-of-state vehicle or you are new to California, follow these steps:
- Complete an Application for Title or Registration, including the name and address of the lienholder if applicable. All registered owners must sign the application.
- Obtain the last-issued, out-of-state title and a copy of the last registration. This applies only if you do not need to change ownership. If you do, visit our section on title transfers. If you need order a duplicate title from your home state, read how on our page titled Replacing a Lost Title.
- For newly purchased cars, obtain the Bill of Sale. If the car is less than 10 years old, you’ll also need to obtain an Odometer Disclosure Statement with signatures from you (the buyer) and the seller.
- Obtain smog certification unless your car is new, federally certified and already registered in another state.
If you have not yet purchased the car consider ordering a vehicle history report to make sure you are paying a fair price for the car.
Be aware of the fees you will pay before you make the trip to the DMV. Because every circumstance is not the same, use the state site’s registration fee calculator to add up the amount you’ll owe. For more info on the fees you might come across using the calculator, read the following sections.
For the very first time the car is registered, you might pay significantly more than what you’ll pay when it comes time to renew. That’s because you’ll have to pay the state's Vehicle License Fee, use tax, and myriad smaller fees the first time around. For example, the use tax alone could cost you thousands.
If you lose or destroy any paperwork, license plates, or registration stickers, you may apply for duplicates by paying paperwork replacement fees. The DMV also has a list of miscellaneous fees that might also apply.
Once you complete the above steps, make an appointment at the nearest DMV to register your car in person.
Vehicle Inspection for Nonresident Vehicles
Keep in mind during this appointment you’ll need to allow enough time to have the vehicle inspected by an authorized DMV employee, law enforcement officer, or a licensed vehicle verifier. The inspection is free, but you must make clear your need to get the car inspected when you make the appointment.
Once the vehicle passes inspection, you’ll submit the above paperwork and fees. At this time you’ll order your license plates.
Whether you receive new plates depends on a few things:
- New vehicle―Your plates and stickers will be sent to you in the mail once the dealer submits your paperwork.
- Vehicle new to the state―Your plates and stickers will be sent to you in the mail. Fees for regular license plates are $17; $20 including the Reflectorized License Plate fee.
- Used car, previously registered in CA―You won't receive new plates; you'll receive stickers to affix to the old plates.
You might consider ordering a vanity or specialized license plate at this time. Check out our section on license plates for info on vanity, specialized, disabled person, disabled veteran, antique vehicle plates and more.
To further customize your new license plate, check out the latest frames. Choose from a variety of sport teams, world flags, dog breeds, you name it.
Once you receive your stickers by mail or in person at the DMV (one for the month and one for the year), just follow the instructions provided to properly affix the stickers to the license plate.
You can deduct a portion of the registration fees called the annual Vehicle License Fee from your income tax. Simply locate the fee either on your Vehicle Registration Renewal Notice or your Validated Registration card. You can't deduct any other fees―such as for registration, weight, and county/district.
For more information on income tax and deductions, consult a tax attorney.
Once you successfully register your car, you’ll be ready to hit the California roads. Just be sure you do so safely.
Are you confident your car is dependable? Are you properly equipped to handle an emergency situation? Consider signing up for a roadside assistance package to play it safe. You can also look into after-market auto warranties to help keep your car in optimal running condition while saving money. It’s also good to find a mechanic you can trust and depend on.
There are also a variety of items you can purchase to enhance road safety. For example, hands-free headsets allow you can keep both hands on the wheel while talking on your cell phone, child safety seats offer a needed extra layer of protection for your little ones, and car emergency kits provide an excellent means of dealing with a number of hazardous situations.
Other Topics in This Section
- Register Car
- Registration Renewal
- Registration & Insurance
- Replacing a Lost Registration
- RV & Motorhome Registration
- Custom Built Car Registration
- Boat Registration and Licenses
- Title Transfers
- Replacing a Lost Title
- Salvaged Vehicles
- Special Vehicles
- Drivers with Disabilities
- License Plates & Placards
- Smog & Emission Checks
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We put a lot of effort into making our content helpful & accurate. Please let us know if you see something that isn't clear or correct; we are here to ease any frustrations you may have while navigating DMV topics. We are not a government agency, please reach out to your local DMV, insurance agent, or respective professional for further assistance on specific situations.