Owning a vehicle comes with myriad financial responsibilities, like registering the vehicle in the state and paying for new registration tags each year. Nearly every state (other than New Hampshire and Virginia) requires purchasing a minimum amount of auto insurance, on top of buying gas, covering maintenance. and possibly paying a monthly auto lease or loan.
If a car owner forgets to keep up with all of this, he could face a number of problems. A police officer can ticket him for expired registration or a lack of auto insurance, and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) enforces late registration and renewal fees.
Registering a Vehicle
Whether a person purchases a car in another state or brings a vehicle with her when she moves, she must register her vehicle in the state where she lives. When she goes to register her vehicle, she will need to prove:
- Ownership (possessing the vehicle title).
- The vehicle has passed the smog and emissions certification (if required by the state).
- At least the minimum amount of auto insurance required by the state.
She must also fill out the proper form and pay a number of fees and taxes. These differ depending on the state, and the information is usually available online. In many states, taxes are based on the book value of the vehicle or the type and weight of the vehicle. Taxes can be pricey, but keep in mind that it's not possible to keep a registration up to date without paying them.
Read More: What is Vehicle Registration?
Buying From a Dealership
A dealership may do the initial registration work when a car is purchased from them. It's wise to always confirm the steps the dealership takes and what else needs to be done to finalize the registration and obtain vehicle plates and tags. If someone buys a car from a private person in the state, she has a certain number of days to register the vehicle.
After moving to a new state, with exceptions for military personnel, a vehicle owner has a brief period of time to register her vehicle there. These time periods vary in each state so it is important to check on the rules in the state in question.
It is also important to know what happens if the driver does not have clean proof of ownership, i.e. the vehicle title. Without the title, some states allow a person to obtain only a non-transferable registration. This means she cannot give away or sell the vehicle. She must obtain the title and convert it to a transferable registration if she wants to sell her vehicle or transfer it to someone else.
Fees for Late Registrations and Renewals
If a person fails to originally register his vehicle within the appropriate amount of time, he will face a penalty on top of the ordinary fees and taxes. Every state has its own fee schedule. The DMV may send a notice in the mail when it is time to renew a vehicle registration, though in most states, this is a courtesy and not a legal requirement. If he does not renew within a certain number of days after his vehicle registration expires, the DMV may send him another notice or send his account into collections.
Some states provide a grace period to renew a vehicle registration after its expiration without incurring a penalty. In Texas, a vehicle owner has five days to renew his registration without paying a late fee. Other states do not provide any grace period. If it's a day late, he could pay another fee.
If a vehicle owner realizes his registration is about to expire or has already expired, he needs to renew his registration as soon as possible. Each day he waits, the penalties could increase.
Related Traffic Tickets
If someone drives a car with expired tags or without auto insurance, the police could see old tags on the license. They may stop her and ticket her for driving without registration tabs.
In California, the ticket is a $25 base fine plus a penalty assessment, which is a multiplier of the base amount. A driver could be fined upwards of $200 for driving without an up-to-date registration. In Wisconsin, a fine for a ticket for an unregistered or improperly registered vehicle is up to $200 for a vehicle weighing less than 10,000 pounds, on top of the other registration fees.
In some states like Florida, driving with expired tags or registration could be a criminal offense. If a driver is more than six months late in registering or renewing her vehicle in Florida, she faces a misdemeanor offense, which could result in jail time. Before the six-month mark, it is a traffic infraction, punished with a fine.
Getting Out of a Ticket
If a driver receives a ticket between the time he pays for the new tags and gets them in the mail or puts them on his vehicle, he may be able to get out of the ticket. He may also be able to have the ticket dismissed if he renews his tags between the time he is ticketed and must appear in court. If he can prove he paid for his renewal, he needs to make sure to speak with a court clerk or appear in court and inform the judge. He cannot ignore the ticket or court appearance.
When a driver is pulled over for expired tags or another traffic violation, a police officer will always ask for proof of insurance. If he does not have auto insurance at the time, he will be ticketed.
An expired registration ticket typically results in a fine, although an egregious situation could lead to criminal charges in some states.
- California DMV: Vehicle Registration Renewal
- California DMV: Registration Related Fees
- DMV.org: Car Registration in California
- The Mercury News: Expired License Plate Tags Cost California Millions
- California Vehicle Code: Section 16029
- California Vehicle Code: Section 5204
- Is it legal to drive without insurance? | III
Victoria E. Langley is a legal content writer living in the Pacific Northwest. She holds a B.A. in philosophy from Northern Illinois University and a J.D. from the John Marshall Law School of Chicago. She has worked as a clerk for a boutique law firm handling breach of contract litigation, a corporate document reviewer, and a legal counselor for a transactional law clinic. She now focuses on translating legalese into everyday language for firms around the country. Her work has appeared on the U.S. News Law Directory and many law firm's sites. Learn more from her website, langleylegalwriter.com