In order to legally drive your car on public roads, you need to register your vehicle with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or an equivalent agency. Depending on what state you live in, you might be able to register your car online, but you can always visit your local DMV office to register your vehicle in person.
Most states require you to have a minimum amount of car insurance coverage in order to drive legally. When you register your car at the DMV, you might be required to show proof of insurance in order to successfully register your vehicle. Even if your state is one of the two in the U.S. that does not legally require car insurance, you may still have to pay uninsured motor vehicle registration fees if you’re forgoing coverage.
You legally have to register all vehicles with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or an equivalent agency
When registering your car, you will most likely need to show proof of car insurance or send proof of insurance to your DMV within 30 days
Your physical insurance ID card, auto policy declarations page, or digital insurance card are all forms of proof of insurance
If your state legally requires insurance and your policy lapses after you register your car, you risk serious consequences for driving uninsured
When do I need to register a car?
If you get caught driving an unregistered vehicle, it could result in fines or driver’s license suspension. All vehicles need to be registered with your state’s DMV or similar agency, including trucks, buses, motorcycles, and recreational vehicles.
Some common situations in which you will need to complete a vehicle registration form include:
If you are the owner of a new car
If you move to a new state
Your annual or biennial registration renewal
How to register a car
There are a few documents you will need to bring to the DMV when registering your vehicle.
Proof of auto insurance (or self-insurance, if you qualify)
The original title of the vehicle (or other proof of ownership)
Insurance ID card (depending on your state)
Bill of sale
Proof of identity (driver’s license, state ID)
A completed vehicle registration application
You can renew your registration online (depending on your state), either annually or every other year. Most of the time, you will have to pay a renewal fee. You should receive a renewal notice in the mail instructing you to renew your registration. If you renew your registration late, you could be subjected to late fees.
Do I need insurance to register a car?
Different states have different requirements when it comes to insurance coverage minimums and regulations, however the majority of states do require you to have an auto policy that is currently in-force when registering your vehicle.
Depending on your state, you will have to renew your vehicle registration annually or biennially. Every time you re-register you will need to show proof of up-to-date car insurance coverage.
There are a few common ways to show proof of insurance when registering your car, all of which should be easy to access through your insurer. They include:
Physical insurance card
Your auto policy declarations page
When you register your car, you will get a license plate and a registration card. Some states will give you a registration sticker to put on your windshield. You should always keep your registration card in your car — if you get in an accident or if a police officer pulls you over, you will be asked to show proof of registration.
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Registering a car without insurance
Some states do not require you to show proof of insurance in order to register your vehicle that same day. However, you will still need proof of insurance before you start driving. Certain states will give you a window of time post registration to show them proof of insurance, usually around 30 days. Meaning you have one month to send your state’s DMV proof of your auto insurance policy. If you do not, then your vehicle registration may be suspended.
New Hampshire and Virginia are the two states that do not legally require drivers to carry car insurance. That said, New Hampshire and Virginia do have financial responsibility laws, meaning drivers must be able to pay for any damage or injury they cause in a car accident, even if they forgo insurance. Virginia also requires non-insured drivers to pay an uninsured fee for choosing to go without coverage.
What if my insurance lapses after I register my car?
If you do not pay your insurance premium then your auto policy will lapse, meaning you will no longer be covered. Depending on what state you live in, this could mean it is now illegal to drive your car.
If you get caught driving without car insurance, your vehicle registration could be revoked and you might have to pay a reinstatement fee or fines in order to get your registration reinstated. Going without insurance coverage can also have other consequences, like license suspension.
If you get a new insurance policy or renew your previous policy, you should contact your DMV and send them any updated documents that they need about your insurance coverage. You don’t want to risk breaking the law.