Vehicle Registration

Vehicle Registration in the United States

Every US state requires motor vehicles to be registered and titled. Motor vehicles may not be driven legally if they have never been registered or if the registration has expired.

When you register your vehicle, 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 vehicle registrations and driver licensing. Some of the documents that you need to provide are 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 vehicle 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 vehicle data tapped to create a vehicle history report. Anyone who buys a used car, pickup truck or SUV needs a car report to have an in-depth knowledge of the history of the car.

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

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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 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 of a vehicle. 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 are required to 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

A vehicle registration plate, often called the license plate, is attached to motor vehicles for identification purposes. All US states require registration plates for road vehicles such as cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Plates are usually fixed directly to a vehicle or to a plate frame that is fixed to the vehicle.

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 when you register your vehicle. If you are leasing a vehicle, the sales tax will be included in the monthly payment.

Emissions and Safety Requirements

States have specific emissions and safety requirements. They only permit units that comply with their standards. As such, examinations may be conducted prior to registration.

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

Vehicle registration fees charged to motorists for each vehicle under operation in the state 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.


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