What You Should Know
- You must have car insurance to register a car in California
- If you bought your car, you have 10 days to register
- If you moved to California, you have 20 days to register
Are you moving to California or buying your first car there? It's important to know how to register a car in California to avoid fines. The first thing you need to do is make sure you have some of the best car insurance in California on your car, as you will need that to register.
We go over everything you need to know about registering a vehicle in California. If you're looking for affordable auto insurance near you, feel free to enter your ZIP code into our quote comparison tool above.
Four Steps to Register a Car in California
All vehicles operating or parked in California must be registered with the state within 20 days of moving there or 10 days of purchasing a vehicle from a private party.
To register a car in California, follow these basic steps:
- Gather required documents. You’ll need your vehicle title, proof of insurance, and a smog certificate and odometer mileage for some cars.
- Fill out the registration application. If your vehicle is registered in a different state, you’ll also need to apply for a new title.
- Head to the DMV. An employee will review your documents and confirm your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
- Pay the registration fee. California vehicle registration fees depend on the type and value of your vehicle and other factors like your location or the date of purchase.
If you’re buying a car from a California dealer, they may take care of some registration tasks for you. However, when you buy from a private seller, you may need to take a few extra steps to register your vehicle correctly.
Learn more: How to Buy a Car From a Private Seller
What documents do I need for my California vehicle registration?
When registering a car in California, you’ll need to provide:
- The vehicle title, either signed by the previous owner or from your prior state of residence
- A fully completed application for registration or title
- Proof of insurance or other evidence of financial responsibility
- Payment for all registration fees
You’ll also need a vehicle verification form, which is typically completed when you visit the DMV. Unfortunately, you cannot complete this form yourself.
Some drivers will have to provide other documentation to register their vehicles. This is most common if you buy a car from a private party instead of a dealership, but certain types of vehicles or license plate requests may also require extra documents.
Here are some other documents you may need to register your car in California:
- Bill of sale, if purchasing from a private party
- Smog certification, if the vehicle is over four years old
- Odometer disclosure statement
- Out-of-state registration, if new to California
Check with the California DMV to see the current requirements for your vehicle registration situation.
Does California require insurance to register a car?
All cars operating or parked in California must provide proof of insurance or evidence of financial responsibility to keep their vehicle registration active.
The minimum liability insurance requirements for California drivers are:
- $15,000 in bodily injury liability per person
- $30,000 in bodily injury liability per accident
- $5,000 in property damage liability per accident
California’s minimum insurance requirements only cover damages to other people and cars when you are at fault in an accident. However, you can consider adding comprehensive or collision coverage to your policy for extra protection for yourself and your vehicle.
If you don’t want to purchase liability insurance, you’ll have to file evidence of other financial responsibility. In California, this can be:
- $35,000 cash deposit with the DMV
- Self-insurance certificate from the DMV
- $35,000 surety bond from a licensed California business
While these alternatives count as evidence of financial responsibility in California, you’ll likely get more specific coverage with an insurance policy detailing liability and other limits.
Learn more: What is liability car insurance?
How much does it cost to register a car in California?
California vehicle registration fees vary depending on the value and type of your vehicle, among other factors. You can use the California DMV's calculator to determine how much you need to pay.
- When you calculate your fees, you’ll need to input:
- Vehicle type
- Model year
- Type of power (gas/hybrid/electric)
- Purchase date
- Purchase price
- Estimated vehicle value
- Date first operated in California (if new resident)
- Your home ZIP code
On top of these fees, you’ll also pay the standard vehicle registration fee and the California Highway Patrol fee. You can expect to pay a few hundred dollars for your California vehicle registration fees, depending on your vehicle.
The Bottom Line on Registering a Car in California
Registering your car in California is vital to comply with state laws and avoid fees and other penalties. Gather your registration documents before visiting the DMV to make your vehicle registration easy. Make sure to get proof of insurance, too, so your registration remains valid.
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