If you own a vehicle, you must register your vehicle in your state and renew your vehicle registration each year. If you fail to register or renew your vehicle, you face late fees and traffic tickets, with penalties depending on your state’s rules.
Owning a vehicle comes with myriad financial responsibilities. You have to register your vehicle in the state where you live and pay for new registration tags each year. Every state requires you to purchase a minimum amount of auto insurance, on top of paying your auto loan each month, buying gas and covering maintenance. If you forget to keep up with all of this, you could face a number of problems. A police officer can ticket you for expired registration or a lack of auto insurance, and the DMV enforces late registration and renewal fees.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
An expired registration ticket typically results in a fine, although an egregious situation could lead to criminal charges in some states.
Registering Your Vehicle
Whether you purchase a car in a specific state or you bring your vehicle there when you move, you must register your vehicle in the state where you live. When you go to register your vehicle, you will need to prove:
- You own the vehicle (possessing the vehicle title).
- The vehicle has passed the smog and emissions certification (if required by your state).
- You have at least the minimum amount of auto insurance required by your state.
You also must fill out the proper form and pay a number of fees and taxes. These differ depending on the state where you live, and the information is usually available online. In many states, taxes are based on the value of your model year of the vehicle or the type and weight of your vehicle. Taxes can be pricey, but keep in mind, you cannot keep your registration up to date without paying them.
When you buy a car from a dealership, it may do the initial registration work for you. You should always confirm the steps the dealership takes and what you need to do to finalize your registration and obtain your plates and tags. If you buy a car from a private person in the state, you have a certain number of days to register the vehicle. After moving to a new state, with exceptions for military personnel, you have a brief period of time to register your vehicle there. You must look up these time periods for your specific state, because they are all different.
It is also important to know what happens if you do not have clean proof of ownership, i.e. you do not have the vehicle title. Without the title, some states allow you to obtain only a non-transferable registration. This means you cannot give away or sell the vehicle. You must obtain the title and convert it to a transferable registration if you want to sell your vehicle or transfer it to someone else.
Fees for Late Registrations and Renewals
If you fail to originally register your vehicle within the appropriate amount of time, you will be charged a penalty on top of the ordinary fees and taxes. Every state has its own fee schedule.
The DMV may send you a notice in the mail when it is time to renew your vehicle registration, though in most states, this is a courtesy and not a legal requirement. If you do not renew within a certain number of days after your registration expires, the DMV may send you another notice or send your account into collections.
Some states provide a grace period for you to renew your registration after its expiration without incurring a penalty. In Texas, you have five days to renew your registration without paying a late fee. Other states do not provide any grace period. If you are a day late, you could pay another fee.
If you realize your registration is about to expire or has already expired, renew your registration as soon as possible. Each day you wait, the penalties could increase.
Related Traffic Tickets
If you drive around with expired tags or without auto insurance, you had better hope you do not get pulled over. The police can see old tags on your license. They may stop you and ticket you 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. You 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 you are more than six months late in registering or renewing your vehicle in Florida, you face a misdemeanor offense, which could end in jail time. Before the six-month mark, it is a traffic infraction, punished with a fine.
If you receive a ticket between the time you pay for the new tags and get them in the mail or put them on your vehicle, you may be able to get out of the ticket. You may also be able to have the ticket dismissed if you renew your tags between the time you are ticketed and must appear in court. If you can prove you have paid for your renewal, make sure to speak with a court clerk or appear in court and inform the judge. You cannot ignore the ticket or court appearance.
When you are pulled over for expired tags or another traffic violation, a police officer will always ask for proof of insurance. If you do not have auto insurance at the time, you will be ticketed.