How Do I Renew an Expired Vehicle Registration in Texas?

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Your peaceful Sunday lunch at a countryside Texas restaurant suddenly turns very costly when you find a state trooper standing next to your car in the parking lot. Your car’s registration clearly shows an expired date. In fact, it’s more than 90 days past its “sell-by” date, the trooper points out as he writes a ticket for “driving with an expired vehicle registration.”

Whether it’s your vintage auto or the car you left while deployed overseas, register it before you take it further than your driveway. The state of Texas has a vehicle registration grace period, but it’s a matter of days and months, not years.

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Decoding the Registration Sticker

Stuck to the lower front of your windshield on the driver’s side, the Texas state automobile registration decal tells a lot about your car and where it’s domiciled. The largest numbers range from 1 to 12 and indicate the month your registration expires, which means the registration expires on the last day of that month. Below that number is the name of the county in which the car is registered. Adjacent is the year it expires.

Additional information on that little sticker includes your license plate number and a partial vehicle identification number, or ​VIN​. Because VIN numbers are exceptionally long, the entire number isn’t printed.

Because all cars must pass a mandatory yearly inspection, that a currently registered car displays a current registration also indicates the car has either passed inspection or an inspection is pending. The state registration database reveals those details.

Deadlines for Renewals

Perhaps you missed the reminder that the State of Texas sent you that it was time to renew your auto registration; they mail it 90 days before its expiration. You find yourself driving your car, and you suddenly realize that you’re 60 days overdue. If you haven’t received any citations, you can renew online, by mail or in person any time up to 90 days past the renewal date. If you have received a citation, you must renew in person and pay an additional renewal fee.

The state allows a five-day grace period after the registration expires without issuing a penalty fee. Even though you are registering the car late, your next renewal month is 12 months from the original expiration. Consequently, you may be renewing three months into the next period, but in nine months, your registration expires, and the process begins anew.

If you have an old jalopy sitting in the barn or a car that hasn’t been roadworthy for several years, register it before driving it on the streets. Do this in person at the local tax office. Be sure you have the required paperwork before applying.

The Necessary Paperwork

The State of Texas maintains mountains of details regarding your car, its ownership, and its history of insurance and inspections. Before renewing an expired registration, be sure you have proof of the car’s current insurance. You’ll also need to have it inspected, which is a yearly requirement. A small fee is charged by the inspection station, and an additional fee is tacked on when you register.

Some counties with high levels of poor air quality may require an emissions test. Check with your county to see if the test is required before renewing your registration. This test can be performed at most inspection stations.

If you register your car online, your inspection results are sent electronically to the state, but keep a copy and bring it with you in case it’s lost in cyberspace. The more paperwork you bring with you, the easier the process.

Obtaining a Registration Renewal and Getting an Inspection

Texas authorizes some grocery stores to issue registration renewals, but not all accept inspection reports from county subcontractors. You can avoid complications by going to a government outlet to renew.

It’s a tricky maneuver when you drive your car with its long overdue registration to get inspected. Find an inspection station as close to your home as possible by visiting the Texas State Department of Safety’s website. Then drive cautiously, with no side trips.

If you are stopped by the authorities, assure the policeman that you are on your way to get the car inspected so you can register it. Offer to let him follow you if there’s any doubt.

Your Car Is Out-of-State

In some instances, you are in Texas, but your car isn’t. Or, you may be attending school out of state, and your car is with you on campus. You can still renew your Texas registration online, by mail or in person without the inspection.

On the application, you’ll have to certify that the car is out of state. The state notes on your car’s record that the inspection is pending its return to Texas.

When the car returns to Texas, you’ll have three days to get it inspected. The report is sent to the state and entered into the car’s record, which takes up to two days. In the meantime, keep a copy of the inspection report in case you are stopped. Go to your county tax office and supply proof of the inspection and then pay the state’s portion of the inspection fee. Verify that all the details of the inspection are entered into the state database.

Fees for Late Registration

The State of Texas sets the fee structure for motor vehicle registration, and individual counties also add fees that contribute to their road construction and maintenance funds. When applying for a registration after the due date, expect to pay late fees. If you are stopped for driving with an expired registration, you’ll not only receive a citation, but your penalty can add up to several hundred dollars.

The fact that you’ve received a citation eliminates the possibility of renewing online. An in-person visit to your local tax office is required to renew your expired registration.

Special Considerations for Military Personnel

Numerous military installations are found throughout Texas, which means lots of personnel and their vehicles. Most trainees do not bring their cars, but permanent military and their spouses do. The State of Texas has special guidelines for military personnel automobile registration.

If you are stationed in Texas and make it your home, all cars should be registered in the state. However, if you are living in Texas temporarily, you can maintain your car’s current out-of-state registration. Be sure that the registration remains current.

Active duty military who are deployed out of state or in another country can re-register their car and self-certify for the inspection, but they must have the automobile inspected immediately upon return or face penalties. Register online or by mail to avoid the car becoming expired.

Reduced Fees for Military Service Members

Military service members and their spouses can receive waivers on fees for licensing, title and insurance transfers if they wish to register their car in the state. If you are serving overseas and your automobile is garaged and not being used, you are still responsible for maintaining its registration.

An expired registration, even for military personnel, has consequences, but they may not be as costly.