Vehicle Registration

Vehicle Registration in the United States

Every US state requires motor vehicles to be registered and titled to be driven legally. When you register your car, you are required to provide specific documents that will prove your identity and residency. Each state department of motor vehicle or DMV has its own rules and procedures for registrations and driver licensing. Some of the documents that you need to provide are a valid US driver’s license, international or home country driver’s license, and/or Social Security card. You will also be required to have your car insured.

Every time there is a change of ownership, a new set of documents are linked to the same vehicle identification number or VIN. All these documents are part of the mother lode of data tapped to create a vehicle history report. Anyone who buys a used car, pickup truck or SUV needs a car report to have in-depth knowledge of the history of the car.

If you are buying a used car, make sure to run a free VIN number lookup for any registered car in the US by simply providing the car’s VIN below:

Check VIN:

If you don’t have the VIN, you may use the license plate number to run an auto history check.

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According to Statista, California tops the states with the most registered vehicles in 2017, followed by Texas and Florida.

General Steps in Transferring Car Ownership

  1. Completion of the transfer form including the signing of the title by the buyer and the seller.
  2. Release of the Bill of Sale by the seller to the buyer..
  3. Submission of the Notice of Transfer or Release of Liability to the DMV and other required documents.
  4. Application for the new title by the buyer.
  5. Registration of the new vehicle.

Vehicle Title

The certificate of title for a vehicle (also known as a car title or pink slip) is a legal form establishing a person or business as the legal owner. Vehicle titles in the US are commonly issued by the department of motor vehicles (DMV). This agency is usually under the Secretary of State, the Department of Transportation, or the Department of Revenue.

Each state has its own distinct process for the Certificate of Title. The rules or requirements for filling out the title during a vehicle transaction in one state may not apply in another state.

The vehicle title generally indicates:

  • Vehicle information (vehicle identification number, make, and year of manufacture)
  • License plate number
  • Technical information (basis for taxes)
  • Registered owner’s name and address
  • Name of the lienholder to whom money is owed on the vehicle
  • Vehicle title brand

Driver’s License

Drivers must obtain a driver’s license from their state of residence. Each state policies and requirements vary but all states recognize each other’s licenses for non-resident age requirements. You can use the driver’s license issued in your state to drive anywhere in the US and Canada.

License Plates

All US states require registration plates or license plates to be attached to the vehicle. Plates are usually fixed directly or to a plate frame that is fixed to the vehicle. The license plate and registration will be valid for a specified period of time, usually one to two years, depending on the state or jurisdiction. At the end of this period, license plate renewal is required. Most states and jurisdictions typically send out license plate renewal notices by mail or email a few weeks or months before the vehicle’s registration is set to expire. You must pay a fee and provide updated information about the vehicle (proof of insurance, emissions testing results) and any changes to personal information such as name or address to renew the license plate.

Sales Tax

When you purchase a car in the US, the sales tax (if required by your state) is not included in the original selling price of the vehicle. You will pay your sales tax upon registration. If you are leasing a vehicle, the sales tax will be included in the monthly payment.

Emissions and Safety Requirements

Vehicle emissions and safety are regulated in the US to reduce environmental pollution and prevent accidents on the roads. These regulations are in place to ensure that cars are as safe and environmentally friendly as possible. States only permit units that comply with their specific standards. As such, examinations may be conducted prior to registration. The specific requirements for emission and safety inspections can vary by state in the US. However, there are some general steps that may apply in most cases.

The steps in emissions and safety inspection may generally include checking your state’s requirements, scheduling an appointment with an authorized emissions and inspection station, bringing your vehicle and required documents, and undergoing the inspection.

Vehicle Insurance

Almost all states in the US require vehicle insurance. The necessary content of the insurance policy may differ depending on the state and vehicle type. A typical insurance policy consists of more than one insurance coverage.

Registration Fees

Fees for motor vehicle registration charged to motorists vary from state to state and, sometimes, between localities within a state. Many states assess a flat fee while other states utilize a scale based on any number of metrics, including gross vehicle weight, vehicle age or even fuel efficiency, thus making a state-by-state comparison difficult.

How to register your vehicle

To inquire about how to register your car in your state, contact your state’s DMV or transportation agency, or click on your state on the map below. Application for registration can be done in person, by mail, or online. For first-time registration, some states might require you to apply in person.

How to find an office for vehicle registration near me?

Search online: You can use search engines like Google or Bing to search for “vehicle registration office near me” or “DMV vehicle registration near me”. This should give you a list of nearby offices that offer these services.

Check government websites: Check your state or local government website for information. They should have a list of nearby locations and the services they offer.

Use mobile apps: Some mobile apps like DMV Genie or DMV Locator can help you locate nearby DMV offices, provide you with wait times, and even help you schedule appointments.

Call your local government office: If you’re having trouble finding a location near you, you can call your local government office and ask for assistance. They should be able to provide you with a list of nearby offices and their contact information.

State-Specific Resources

You may also check these information-rich pages here at for state-specific sources on vehicle history, vehicle registration and related topics.

Free VIN Check by State
Free license plate lookup by state
Free Carfax report