In many states, if you purchase a new or used vehicle from an auto dealer a representative of that company initially registers the car on your behalf. This is especially applicable if you take out a car loan and do not actually own the vehicle. However, you may have purchased a vehicle from a private individual. In this case, you will need several items to legally register the car. Remember that in every state of the United States it is illegal to drive an unregistered vehicle, so this should be done as quickly as possible.
What exactly is needed to register a vehicle depends upon your state of residence. The best way to find out exactly what your state requires is to visit DMV.org and find the official link to the appropriate motor vehicle divisions. You can also call or stop by your local DMV.
Most states require several documents to prove your identity, vehicle ownership and auto insurance status. You’ll also typically pay taxes and registration fees if they weren’t already collected at the time of your vehicle purchase. A brief form, which will request information such as your identifying data and vehicle information such as odometer mileage, make and model, must be completed.
For example, in New York and Maryland you must prove you own the automobile through a title certificate. If you bought a car from an individual, he or she must transfer the title over to you by signing the back of the document. In New York, if you don’t have evidence of paying the appropriate vehicle sales tax, the DMV collects this from you at the time of vehicle registration.
You usually must also show proof of acceptable car insurance, which protects you from liability in the event of an automotive collision. This also would pay for any damage to other people’s vehicles or property and if applicable cover medical expenses for the injured if you caused an accident.
Acceptable identity proof requirements usually include a driver’s license or passport. If you are not licensed or had your driving rights suspended, you will not be able to register a vehicle.
Once your vehicle is initially registered, most states allow you to renew your registration and accompanying license plates each year through mail or online. Some states like Virginia also offer drive-thru DMV windows for simple tasks such as renewing a vehicle registration. As always, specific policies can vary by state.
Registering Your Car When You Move to a New State
Remember if you move to a new state with your existing vehicle that you are legally expected to re-register your car in that state. You’ll need to complete the steps previously outlined just like if you just bought a vehicle from a private individual in that state. If a lien still exists on your vehicle, DMV branches such as those in Maryland will usually send your lien holder a letter requesting a copy of the title for their records. You’ll still be expected to complete the remaining steps, such as providing evidence of car insurance and paying any applicable taxes and fees.