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    California Vehicle Registration

    A California vehicle registration is required for all vehicles belonging to California residents. Whether you have just purchased a vehicle, or are moving to California, we can help you understand how to register your vehicle for the first time.

    Registration Renewal

    This page covers the process of registering a vehicle in California for the first time. If you already have a California registration, go to our registration renewal page.

    Insurance

    All vehicles driven or parked on California roadways must have auto insurance. You must properly insure any vehicle(s) you have before you can register it with the DMV.

    New to California?

    New residents to California are required to register their vehicle(s) within 20 days of establishing residency. Find your local DMV office and make an appointment to register your vehicle.

    Residency in California applies to anyone who:

    • Is employed in California.
    • Claims tax exemptions for a home in California.
    • Rents or leases a home or apartment.
    • Applies for state documents (driver's license, voter registration, etc.).
    • Enrolls themselves or their dependents in any type of school (college, grade school, high school, etc).

    NOTE: These rules do not apply to members of the military or their families who are residents of another state.

    After establishing residency in California, go to a local DMV office and submit:

    • An Application for Title or Registration(Form REG 343) with the signatures of all owners, the information for any lienholders, if applicable.
    • Proof of vehicle insurance.
    • Out-of-state title, if you’re transferring your title to California.
      • This is not required if you are not also applying for a California title at the same time; however, the registration will be non-transferable if you do not get a California title (see “Registering a Vehicle in California” below for steps on how to change a non-transferable registration to a transferable one).
    • Out-of-state registration.
      • You may also use a registration renewal or letter showing registration from the DMV in the last state where it was registered.
    • Weight certification, if required.
    • Smog and emissions certification, if applicable (see “Safety & Smog Checks” below).
    • Payment for all fees and taxes (see “Registration Fees” below).

    A DMV employee will perform a physical inspection of the vehicle and a VIN verification. You will receive a California registration certificate, plus license plates and registration stickers for your vehicle.

    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.

    Renew Your California Vehicle Registration Today!

    Official California Vehicle Registration & Stickers Issued.
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    Instant DMV Lookup & Fee Calculation


    License Plate #

    Last 5 Digits of VIN

    Zip Code

    Renew your California Vehicle Registration online and Cartagz will instantly issue your official California registration and stickers.

    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.

    Registering a Vehicle in California

    There are different processes for registering your vehicle depending on whether you bought that vehicle from a car dealership or you purchased it from a private individual.

    There is also a separate process for converting a non-transferable vehicle registration to a transferable one.

    Purchasing a Vehicle from a Car Dealership

    With vehicles purchased from a dealership, the dealership will generally take care of all registration paperwork for you, and issue you a temporary registration certificate for you to keep in your car until your official registration arrives from the CA DMV. They may or may not issue license plates – ask your dealership beforehand what their specific process is.

    Purchasing a Vehicle from a Private Individual

    If you buy your vehicle from a private party, you have 10 days to register it. To do so, go to your local DMV office (you may make an appointment online or call (800) 777-0133 and:

    • Present the vehicle title, which must also include the odometer mileage if the vehicle is less than 10 years old.
    • If you cannot locate the title, you must complete an Application for Duplicate or Paperless Title (Form REG 227).
      • Present a valid smog certificate. The seller is responsible for providing you with the valid smog certificate if the car is more than 4 years old.
        • Smog certificates are good for 90 days after inspection. Make sure the certificate does not expire before you register the vehicle.
        • The smog certificate is not required if the previous owner renewed the registration within 90 days of the vehicle sale and renewed the registration for 2 years.
    • Pay all fees and taxes (see “Registration Fees” below).

    Changing a Non-Transferable Registration to a Transferable Registration

    A non-transferable registration in CA is given to out-of-state vehicles that are registered in California without proof of ownership (i.e. the vehicle title). These vehicles henceforth cannot be sold, transferred, or given a CA vehicle title. If you wish to buy or sell a vehicle with a non-transferable registration, you will need to have it converted to a transferable registration.

    You may convert your non-transferable CA registration to a transferable registration by submitting to your local CA DMV office:

    • Your current non-transferable registration card.
    • The vehicle’s last-issued title.
    • An Application for Title or Registration (Form REG 343) and a Bill of Sale, if you are purchasing and registering a vehicle from a previous owner.
    • An odometer disclosure statement for vehicles less than 10 years old.
    • Proof of smog certification, if applicable.
    • Payment for renewal fees, if the vehicle’s registration is due for renewal within 30 days.
    • Payment for any applicable transfer fees or outstanding citations.

    Register a Custom-Built Vehicle

    To register your custom-built car, take the following to a CA DMV office:

    • A completed Application for Title or Registration (Form REG 343).
    • A completed Statement of Construction (Form REG 5036).
    • Invoices, receipts, certificates of origin, bills of sale for major parts (to prove you own the vehicle).
      • If you don't have sufficient proof you own the vehicle and the parts, you will need to submit a motor vehicle bond (if your parts are worth $5,000 or more.
    • Brake and light adjustment certificates OR a completed Statement of Facts (Form REG 256).
    • Payment for the appropriate fees.

    You will also need to have your custom vehicle smog checked and have it verified by the California Highway Patrol. You should have your vehicle verified after you've already started the registration process with the CA DMV.

    Military Vehicle Registration in California

    Military service members and their families have slightly different rules for car registration depending on whether they are residents of California or not.

    Non-Resident Military Vehicle Registration

    Members of the Armed Forces/NATO and their families who are stationed in California are not required to get a California vehicle registration. To legally drive in the state, military service members must:

    • Have valid CA auto insurance.
    • Have valid license plates issued from your state/country of residence, or the state/country of your last permanent duty station (you may be required to show orders or other documentation).
    • Have current registration in either your own or your spouse’s name.

    All out-of-state vehicle registrations must be renewed properly in the state/country where it was issued in order to be legal in California.

    If you purchase a vehicle in California or choose to register your out-of-state vehicle with the CA DMV, you will qualify for a non-resident vehicle license fee exemption. Please see the information below for California military residents.

    Vehicle Registration for CA Military Residents

    California residents who are stationed outside of California can register your vehicle in whatever state you are currently stationed in, and then register it in California when you return to the state.

    CA military members stationed within the state, or non-resident military members who register their vehicles with the CA DMV, are eligible for a vehicle license fee exemption. To obtain the exemption, submit the following to the CA Department of Motor Vehicles:

    CA resident service members stationed out of California do not qualify for the vehicle license fee exemption.

    California residents deployed by the military may also qualify for a deferment of payment when it is time to renew your vehicle’s registration. Visit our CA Registration Renewal page for more information.

    Out-of-State Vehicle Registration in CA

    If you buy a vehicle out of state and return to California, you will need to register the vehicle as described in the above section for new residents (see “New to California?” above).

    California has strict emissions standards, and most vehicles must undergo a smog certification every 2 years. For more information on vehicle safety and emissions checks in California, please visit our California Smog & Emissions page.

    California Vehicle Registration Fees

    California has multiple fees that are required when you register a vehicle depending on different factors. If you are purchasing a vehicle from a car dealership, these fees will be a part of the total price of the vehicle. You must pay the fees directly to the CA DMV if you purchase your car from a private individual.

    All vehicles must pay:

    • Registration fee: $46.
    • California Highway Patrol fee: $23.

    Late Vehicle Registration Fees

    Vehicles must be registered in California within 20 days after you establish residency or you will be subject to late fees determined by the duration of delinquency.

    You have 10 days to register a vehicle in California after you purchase it from a private party, or you must pay late fees.

    California Vehicle Registration Penalties:

    • Less than 1 year: $30.
    • 1 to 2 years: $50.
    • More than 2 years: $100.

    California Highway Patrol Fee Penalties for an original registration:

    • Less than 1 year: $30.
    • 1 to 2 years: $50.
    • More than 2 years: $100.

    All other fees vary depending on your vehicle. You can visit the California state site to use their registration fees calculator to get an idea of what you will be required to pay. Any and all fines, violations, and debts to the CA DMV must be paid in full before you will be allowed to register a vehicle.

    CA Smog Checks & Weight Certifications

    Almost every vehicle in California must pass a smog inspection prior to being registered. California has certain areas that require a smog certification every 2 years. New cars that are 6 years old and under located in this area will be charged a $20 smog abatement fee every year for the first 6 years of registration instead of getting a smog inspection.

    The only vehicles that do not require a CA smog inspection are:

    • New vehicles less than 4 years old.
    • Hybrid and electric vehicles.
    • Gas vehicles model year 1975 and older.
    • Diesel vehicles model year 1997 and older.
    • Diesel vehicles weighing more than 14,000 lbs.
    • Natural gas vehicles weighing more than 14,000 lbs.
    • Motorcycles.
    • Trailers.

    For more detailed information on California smog and emissions inspections, please visit our Smog & Emissions Check page.

    CA Weight Certifications

    Weight certificates are required to register some pickups and trucks in California. You can get this certificate from either a public scale or a moving company that has a vehicle scale. There will be a nominal fee to get your truck weighed, which varies by location and is based on the unladen weight of the vehicle.

    Trucks requiring a weight certification are:

    • Are commercial vehicles with an operating weight of 10,000 lbs. or less.

    You must fill out a Statement of Facts (REG 256) estimating the weight of the vehicle.

    Trucks exempt from the weight certification requirements are:

    • Any truck or pickup that has previously been registered in California, and the prior CA registration displays the unladen weight (the truck cannot have been changed or modified in any way that would change the printed weight on the registration).
    • Trucks or pickups that weigh 6,000 lbs. or less when empty.
    • Trucks with 2 or 3 axles weighing 10,001 lbs. or more.

    CA License Plates

    California vehicles are required to have license plates, which must have a current registration sticker in order to show that they are valid.

    License plates will remain with the vehicle when bought and sold, unless they are specifically requested to be kept by the seller.

    There are a number of special interest license plates available in California, including collegiate, military, and social cause plates. Fill out the Special Interest License Plate Application to get the special license plate you would like. Please visit our guide on License Plates in California for more detailed information on standard and specialty CA license plates.

    California Vehicle Registration for Motorcycles & Special Vehicles

    CA motorcycles, motorized scooters, trailers, and other vehicles have their own registration requirements and processes. If you are looking for registration information on a vehicle other than a standard passenger car or truck, please visit any of our following guides:

    Motorcycle Registration
    Scooters, Mopeds, Etc.
    Boat Registration and Licenses
    Special Vehicles
    Custom-Built Car Registration
    Salvaged Vehicles
    RV & Motorhome Registration

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