How to Calculate Vehicle Registration Fees

By: Alicia Sparks July 11, 2012
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You save and save and save to get enough for your dream car (or, at least, enough for a down payment for your dream), only to find out you also need enough to cover the vehicle registration fees, too.

Nasty surprise, if you’re not ready for it. do you get ready for it?

Common Factors Determining Car Registration Fees

Fortunately, some states provide an online tax calculator. A tax calculator is especially helpful if you’ve purchased a used car from a private seller, as dealerships tend to handle vehicle registration fees for buyers (whether they purchase new or used vehicles).

If your state doesn’t provide a car registration fee and tax calculator, below are some common factors that go into determining your registration fees:

  • Vehicle type. Some states consider year and weight, too.
  • Vehicle price. This is for vehicle tax purposes.
  • Trade-in value. This is for folks who trade in used cars for their new (or, new-to-them) cars.
  • Registration period. Some states allow drivers to register for several years at a time; obviously, this affects the total registration cost.
  • License plate or tag transfer. This applies if you live in a state where you can transfer your current license plate from your old vehicle to your new one.

Some states also consider city or county of residence, lien information, and other vehicle specifics such as number of cylinders, vehicle weight, and fuel type.

Muddying the waters further, these costs don't even include any required smog and emissions testing and safety inspections.

NOTE: Because a title transfer and vehicle registration often go hand-in-hand, be prepared to lump the title transfer payment in with the overall cost.

Tips for Calculating Vehicle Registration Fees

Even if you know every item that goes into determining registration fees, it can still get confusing.

For help, you can:

  • Review your state’s car registration requirements. Often, registration fees – or, at least, the factors that go into determining them – are included.
  • Look at the registration application form. Generally, these forms outline what you have to pay, and why.
  • Contact your DMV or state motor vehicle registration agency. These folks are trained for this! Give them a call, and be prepared to answer specific questions about your vehicle.

For more on car buying, check out our section on buying and selling vehicles.

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