Find Out About Car Registration & Title Services

A car registration and title are required documents for vehicles to be operated in public streets. A motor vehicle registration is issued by a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and contains details about a vehicle and its owner/user, thus serving as a legal document that identifies the resident responsible for a vehicle. A vehicle registration renewal is typically required on an annual basis in an effort to update a DMV regarding a resident’s name, mailing address and usage of a vehicle.

Emissions testing is required by most states’ DMVs for a registration to be issued or renewed. When selling an old vehicle, owners must have a bill of sale in their possession in order to properly transfer the ownership of a car, and a salvage title may be issued for damaged or totaled vehicles. To learn more about registration and title services, read the sections below.

What is a car registration?

A motor vehicle registration is a state-issued document that establishes a legal connection between vehicle owners/users and the Department of Motor Vehicles. A car registration’s main purpose is to identify the residents who are responsible for a particular vehicle for taxation and crime detection purposes. Thus, a DMV car registration documentation must be renewed on an annual basis and list the actual user(s) of a vehicle, which may not be limited to an owner. If a non-owner is to be listed on a registration, the vehicle owner must typically file a form identifying the reasons why that resident will be operating the car. For instance, a registration of vehicle may list the names of a parent, who owns the car, and his or her child, who is an authorized user of the car.

A car registration is also a tool for the DMV to evaluate the roadworthiness of each vehicle, which may subject vehicle owners to stricter requirements in order for a vehicle registration to be issued or renewed. Certain states may require some form of vehicle inspection to be performed, such as a smog check, before approving a vehicle to be issued a registration. In other states, renewing car registration may be conducted online with minimal additional requirements.

Who needs a car registration?

A car registration is a requirement for all active users of a vehicle that is being operated on public streets. A motor vehicle registration may be issued to passenger or commercial vehicles, depending on the type of usage of each vehicle. Additional types of DMV car registration documentation include the following:

  • Combination car registration. This is a motor vehicle registration issued to vehicles that are used for both passenger and commercial purposes. However, vehicles with a gross weight over 12,500 pounds are typically not allowed to be issued this type of registration.
  • Antique car registration. This is a special form of car registration in which a vehicle is considered antique, classic or historic. The minimum age for a vehicle to be considered antique varies according to each state, but it may be as low as 20 years in a state such as Connecticut. This type of registration typically yields benefits such as vehicle inspection exemption, a distinctive license plate reduced or waived registration fees.
  • Apportioned car registration. An apportioned motor vehicle registration is made possible by the International Registration Plan (IRP), which is an agreement between the United States and Canada that allows vehicles to travel from one country to another with a registration that is recognized by both countries.

How do I register my car?

A motor vehicle registration is issued by a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which typically requires a few details regarding a vehicle and its owner. The most common documents and pieces of information required by a DMV when applying for a registration include the following:

  • The car title
  • Proof of identification of the vehicle owner
  • Proof of insurance
  • A completed motor vehicle registration application form
  • Payment of the appropriate fees established by the DMV
  • Proof that the vehicle passed any emissions testing or safety inspections requirements

A car registration can be obtained by a vehicle owner through a local DMV office, but may also be obtained by a car dealership on the behalf of a car owner at the time of a vehicle purchase. Different states have different standards for requirements such as vehicle inspection criteria or the need for proof of insurance. Additionally, the cost of a registration varies depending on the state, vehicle type and purpose the car will serve.

Do I need insurance to register my car?

The registration of vehicle is typically incumbent on a vehicle owner’s ability to submit documentation that qualifies as proof of auto insurance. In most states, a car registration is not issued until an auto insurance policy can be provided by a vehicle owner. Thus, if a vehicle owner cancels his or her car insurance, a registration cannot be issued by the DMV. Additionally, a vehicle registration renewal may be denied by the DMV if a driver’s auto insurance policy recurrently lapses or if he or she is stopped by a law enforcement officer and caught driving without an active insurance policy.

In certain states, a motor vehicle registration may be issued without proof of insurance documentation, but drivers may not actually drive the car without being insured. The few states that do not require an auto insurance at the time that a DMV car registration application is filed include:

  • Arizona
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

In the case of New Hampshire, a car registration may be issued and a vehicle may be fully operated without an auto insurance policy being in effect at any given point. NH is the only state in the country that does not require drivers to obtain at least a basic liability coverage insurance policy in order to operate a vehicle.

Senior auto insurance discounts may be available to eligible vehicle owners upon the completion of a mature driver improvement course, which is offered by organizations such as the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), auto insurance companies or the DMV.

How do I renew my car registration?

A vehicle registration renewal notice is typically issued by a state’s DMV and sent to the address listed on a registration in order to notify a vehicle owner/user that the registration is approaching its expiration date. Most states allow residents to renew car registration online, but certain states and particular instances may require a vehicle owner to visit a local DMV office in person in order to submit a renewal request. An expired car registration is typically followed by a preset grace period that allows a vehicle owner to renew a vehicle registration without incurring additional fees. However, drivers may be charged late fees and subject to additional penalties if an expired registration is not renewed within that grace period. The DMV vehicle registration renewal process typically requires the following:

  • The driver’s license number of the person listed on the registration
  • The vehicle’s license plate number
  • The payment of appropriate renewal fees
  • The compliance with emissions testing or other inspection standards

How do I replace my car registration?

A lost car registration may be replaced with a duplicate registration issued by a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. In certain states, replacing car registration may not be conducted online. If a registration was not lost, but mutilated, the damaged document must be presented at a local DMV office to justify the need for a duplicate car registration to be issued. If the motor vehicle registration was stolen or lost due to a stolen car, the DMV may require a police report to be submitted in an attempt to avoid identity theft cases. Otherwise, the application procedure to replace car registration documents is similar to the aforementioned registration application process, and typically only requires the following:

  • Proof of identity of the applicant
  • Proof of ownership of the vehicle
  • Proof of legal residency in the U.S.
  • A valid driver’s license
  • The license plate number of the vehicle
  • Payment of appropriate DMV copy of registration fees

How do I change my name on a car registration?

A name change on car registration has different requirements depending on the regulations established by each state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Changing name on car registration may not be required by certain DMVs in certain cases. However, if a vehicle owner has recently undergone a name change and resides in a state where he or she must change name on registration, the following is typically required:

  • Applying for a name with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Before changing name on car registration, it is recommended for residents to file for a name change with the SSA.
  • Submitting required paperwork in person. The name change on car registration process must typically be conducted in person at a local DMV office.
  • Presenting current vehicle registration. Residents who want to change name on registration must present to the DMV the current car registration pertains to their vehicle.
  • Bringing proof of identity and proof of name change. The DMV requires residents to identify themselves with a driver’s license, passport or any other valid government-issued identification form. Additionally, residents must bring documentation that proves that they have recently undergone a name change, such as court documents, marriage licenses, divorce decrees or any other appropriate credentials.
  • Paying the appropriate fees. Fees may be applicable for residents to change name on car registration in certain states.

How do I change my address on a car registration?

The process to change car registration address is similar to the process of changing the address on any document issued by a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Changing car registration address can typically be done online, by mail or in person at a local DMV office and requires the following during an application:

  • Information regarding the vehicle owner. A vehicle owner must provide the DMV with the number of his or her driver’s license or identification card as well as details such as his or her full name and date of birth.
  • Information regarding the vehicle. An address change on car registration application may also inquire about details such as a vehicle’s license plate number and vehicle identification number (VIN).
  • New residential address. The vehicle owner must provide the new residential address information that will now be recorded with a car registration.
  • New mailing address. In certain cases, a vehicle owner’s mailing address will be different from his or her residential address, but the mailing address provided must be where the resident actually receives mail. If the residential and mailing addresses are the same, both sections of the change of address car registration application can be filled out with the same information.

What is a car title?

A car title is a document that establishes what resident or company is the legal owner of a vehicle. The following information is detailed in a title:

  • The owner’s full name and address. There may be one or more owners of a vehicle, and a car title must list all of the names and addresses of those who have a financial stake in the property.
  • The vehicle title number and date. Each title is issued a specific number in order to be properly identified by a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Additionally, a title also specifies the date when the document was issued.
  • Information regarding the vehicle. A car title also identifies several details regarding a vehicle, such as its vehicle identification number (VIN), body style, year, make and model.
  • Odometer measurement. The odometer reading of a car at the date of its purchase is also specified in a vehicle title, which helps the DMV to identify at which point in the vehicle’s lifespan it was transferred to a new owner.
  • Vehicle weight class. This information is listed on a car title because the weight class of a vehicle determines the vehicle registration renewal cost an owner incurs on an annual basis.

What is the difference between a car registration and a title?

A car registration is a document that strictly serves to prove that a car has been registered with a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and that its owner/user has paid the appropriate fees and taxes. A car title is a legal form that identifies who is the actual owner of a vehicle, regardless of who operates it on a regular basis. A motor vehicle registration is required for a driver to get license plate from the DMV and operate the car in public streets. A vehicle title is required for a driver to sell a vehicle.

A car title serves as proof of ownership of a vehicle, thus being typically required during a car registration application process. However, a title is not a guarantee that annual taxes related to that vehicle have been paid, nor does it provide the DMV and law enforcement officers with accurate information regarding the users of that vehicle and their updated mailing address. If a vehicle owner would like to sell a car without having a motor vehicle registration, he or she must draft a bill of sale and notify the DMV of name or address changes.

How do I transfer a car title?

A car title transfer is a procedure that generally takes place during the buying or selling of a vehicle. Because a car title establishes the legal ownership of a vehicle, a transfer of title is a significant step in the process of transferring the car to a new owner. To transfer car title, the following factors must be taken into consideration:

  • The Title Assignment section in a vehicle title must be filled out correctly the first time. This government-issued document is not legally binding if any of its contents are scratched or visibly erased during its filling out. A common mistake includes a seller putting his or her name in the buyer’s section or vice-versa.
  • The seller must include the name and address of the buyer, as well as the date and price of the sale. Upon transferring car title, the vehicle’s odometer reading must be recorded in the title. Sellers must then sign the title, print their names and write down their address.
  • The buyer must sign the car title being transferred, print his or her name and provide a mailing address.

How do I replace my car title?

Replacing car title in a timely manner is a necessary procedure if a title has been stolen, lost or destroyed. A vehicle title is an important document that records the ownership of a car, and it is essential for a car title transfer to be conducted when the vehicle is sold. In many states, a duplicate car title must be a certified copy issued by the state. To replace lost car title, vehicle owners may visit a local Department of Motor Vehicles office or, in certain cases, use an online tool to file the request. A lost car title has different requirements in each state in order to be replaced, but the following documents are typically requested:

  • A car title copy application form
  • A valid government-issued identification form from the vehicle owner
  • Payment of the applicable fees

To replace lost car title through an online method, an applicant must qualify under additional requirements. To submit this online request, the vehicle owner must:

  • Reside at the same address that the DMV currently has on file
  • Have a registered and titled vehicle within the same state where the duplicate car title is being requested
  • Request no changes to be made to the details in the original title

How do I change my name on a car title?

The car title name change process has similar requirements to the name change procedure regarding a car registration. Thus, changing name on car title has varying requirements depending on each state’s DMV. If a vehicle owner has recently changed his or her name and resides in a state where he or she must update name on car title, the following steps must be taken:

  • Update name with the Social Security Administration (SSA) first. Updating name on car title is typically an easier process when a resident has already submitted a name change request with the Social Security Administration.
  • Submit paperwork at a local DMV. A car title name change procedure must take place at a Department of Motor Vehicles office within the resident’s state.
  • Bring current vehicle title. The current car title in a vehicle owner’s possession must be submitted for the resident to apply for a name change on the title.
  • Present proof of identity and name change. The process of changing name on car title requires vehicle owners to identify themselves with a valid form of identification such as a driver’s license or passport. Applicants must also bring the appropriate documents that prove a name change, such as a marriage certificate or divorce decree.
  • Pay the required fees. A car title name change procedure may require applicants to pay fees that vary according to each state.

What is a salvage title?

A salvage vehicle title replaces a regular car title when the vehicle is declared a total loss due to damage incurred during an accident. A salvage title may receive a “rebuilt salvage” designation if the vehicle recovers from a total loss and is able to be operated again. However, even in the case of a “rebuilt salvage,” a salvage certificate issued by a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles will still serve as an official document that makes potential buyers aware that the vehicle has been through major damage and was considered totaled at one point. A salvage certificate application typically requires the following:

  • Information about the vehicle. To apply for a salvage title, residents must provide information such as a vehicle identification number (VIN), make, year, state affiliation and registration number.
  • Information about the applicant. A salvage certificate application can typically be filed by a vehicle owner or an insurance company. To acquire the salvage title, applicants must list their full names and addresses.
  • Information about the incident. A salvage vehicle title application also typically requires details about the incident that damaged the car, such as the date the car was wrecked or destroyed and the estimated value of the vehicle after wreckage.

What are emissions inspections?

Emissions testing is a requirement for vehicle owners to obtain or renew a vehicle registration in certain states. This type of vehicle inspection includes a smog check that measures the emissions exhaustion level of a car’s engine and compares it to the acceptable standards established by a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). However, these standards vary in certain states depending on each city and/or county. For instance, in North Carolina, 48 out of 100 counties require testing regarding emissions.

A vehicle that fails a smog test must undergo repairs before a car registration is issued or renewed by a DMV. Repairs related to vehicle emissions testing are typically inexpensive, and some states may temporarily waive the requirement for a vehicle to pass a smog check if the vehicle owner spends a significant amount of money (which varies according to each state) in repairs and the vehicle persists on failing the tests. Certain states have strict regulations regarding the emissions inspection process, such as California. However, other states do not require any form of emissions testing in order to issue or renew a registration, such as the following:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

When do I need to use a bill of sale?

A bill of sale is a legally binding document that records the transferring of a vehicle to a new owner. Thus, a bill of sale document is typically only used during the buying or selling of a vehicle. A vehicle bill of sale includes the following information:

  • Names and addresses of seller and buyer
  • Date of purchase
  • Amount paid for the vehicle
  • Description of the vehicle
  • Signatures of the seller, buyer and notary