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California Vehicle Registration

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California Vehicle Registration Summary

On our California Vehicle Registration page, you’ll find information about registering a car for the first time with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). In addition, you’ll learn about new CA resident registration, registration renewals in California, replacements & changes, registering a vehicle purchased from an individual versus a new one from a dealership, smog check requirements, and military member registration.

California DMV Services Online

Registering a Vehicle in California

Currently, the California DMV requires registration on all vehicles in California.

The registration process will differ depending on whether you purchased the vehicle from a California car dealer or from a private-party seller.


Continue reading below for more details about how to register a vehicle in California.

Registering Vehicles Purchased from a CA Dealer

When you purchase a vehicle from a licensed dealership in California, they will take care of at least some of the vehicle registration process for you. Certainly most car dealers have the authority to issue title transfers and temporary registration, until permanent decals arrive by mail.

Importantly, if the dealer is not able to register your new vehicle, you must visit a nearby CA DMV office and gather the following:

Vehicles Purchased from a Private Party

In California, if you purchase a vehicle from an individual, this is known as a “private party purchase.” As the buyer, you must transfer the title and apply for registration within 10 days of purchase. To register your vehicle, visit your local CA DMV field office and present:

  • A completed Application for Title or Registration form (Form REG 343).
  • The vehicle title (pink slip) signed by the seller.
    • Vehicle is less than 10 years old? You must fill in the odometer reading on title.
    • If the title has been lost, stolen, or damaged, the buyer may need to apply for a duplicate title.
  • A completed Vehicle/ Vessel Transfer and Reassignment (Form REG 262), if the title does NOT have an area designated for the odometer reading.
  • Valid smog certification.
    • Certificates are valid for 90 days after the inspection.
    • If the car is more than 4 years old, the seller must provide the buyer with an up-to-date and valid smog certification.
  • A Bill of Sale, signed by both the seller and the person whose name is on the title.
    • Also, use this form when the seller is not the person whose name appears on the title.
  • Any applicable CA car registration fees and use taxes.

Importantly, you can save time by making an appointment to register your vehicle with the DMV online by clicking HERE.

NOTE: The seller has 5 days to notify the CA DMV of the transfer of ownership.

Registering Commercial Vehicles in California

To register a commercial vehicle you purchased in California, you’ll need follow the above car registration instructions and:

For specific instructions on registering your particular commercial vehicle, please contact your nearest California DMV office and speak to a CA DMV representative.

Vehicle Registration for New Residents

New to California?

The law requires you to register vehicles with out-of-state registration within 20 days of establishing California residency (e.g., employment, home purchase or lease, enrolling yourself or children in school.)

The process for an out-of-state registration is similar to that of a California resident with a few differences. You’ll need to visit your local CA DMV office and present the following:

  • A completed Application for Title or Registration (Form REG 343) that includes signatures of all owners of the vehicle.
  • Your out-of-state vehicle title.
    • If the out-of-state title has been lost, stolen, or damaged you will need to apply for a duplicate title from the state that originally issued the title. You must have a title that proves you own the vehicle (issued from the state where the vehicle came from).
  • Out-of-state registration or registration renewal notice.
  • Smog certification if applicable.
  • VIN and physical vehicle inspection which will be performed at the DMV.
  • Proof of current California car insurance.

NOTE: If you are only registering the vehicle and not applying for a California title at the same time, your vehicle registration will be non-transferable.

For instructions on how to convert a registration from non-transferable to transferable, see Non Transferable Registration Conversion below.

Smog Inspections

Firstly, the CA DMV requires smog inspections on all registered vehicles in California. Also important to note, there are a few exceptions based on age, location, vehicle type and weight of the vehicle.

If your car is less than 4 years old, you will pay a $25 smog abatement fee instead of getting a smog inspection every year for the first 8 years the vehicle is registered.

Remember, you do not need a smog inspection in California if:

  • Your gas powered vehicle is 1975 or older (this applies to both motorcycles and trailers).
  • The vehicle is powered by natural gas and weighs 14,000 pounds. or more
  • The vehicle is diesel powered, 1997 or older, or is 14,000 pounds or more.
  • Your vehicle is less than 8 years old.
  • You own a motorcycle or trailer.
  • You own an electric vehicle.

NOTE: If you are selling a vehicle, you must give the new owner a valid smog certification. Also, if the car is less than 4 years old, the new owner will need to pay a smog transfer fee.

Commercial Weight Certifications for CA Registration

The CA DMV may require a weight certification for certain commercial pick-ups and trucks in California. This requirement depends on the weight and number of axles on the vehicle.

Some vehicles are exempt from a weight certification:

  • A truck or pickup previous vehicle registrationin CA, as the state registration likely already has the weight listed. You do not need an additional weight certificate. Also you may not have modified the truck from the date of the last registration with the prior weight .
  • A truck or pickup that weighs under 6,000 pounds when empty.

A truck with 2 or 3 axles that weighs 10,001 pounds or more.

You can obtain this weight certificate from a public scale or moving company with a vehicle scale. The fee for this service depends on the unladen weight of the vehicle and your chosen facility.

The CA DMV requires your vehicle to have a weight certification if:

You must complete a Statement of Facts (Form REG 256) with an estimate of the vehicle’s weight.

Non Transferable Registration Conversion

NOTE: A vehicle that has non-transferable registration cannot be sold, transferred, or issued a California Certificate of Title until certain conditions are met. If you purchased a vehicle that was originally registered as non-transferrable, you must convert it to a transferable registration.

In California, the DMV issues non-transferable registration to out-of-state vehicle owners when the DMV cannot verify proof of ownership. To convert a non-transferable registration to a transferable registration, you’ll need to visit your local CA DMV field office.

If you ARE the owner shown on the non-transferable registration card, you must present:

  • The current non-transferable registration card.
  • The last issued title, whether it was titled in California or another state.

If you ARE NOT the owner shown on the non-transferable registration card, you must present:

  • A completed Application for Title or Registration (Form REG 343)
  • A Bill of Sale if you’re registering a vehicle with a previous owner.
  • The last issued title signed by the previous owner and listing you as the new owner.
  • An odometer disclosure statement if the vehicle is less than 10 years old.
  • If applicable, a valid smog certificate from a certified inspection station.
  • Payment for your CA Registration Renewal fees
    • Also, transfer fees and/or unpaid citations, if applicable.

CA Registration for Military Drivers

In California, the process for vehicle registration for military personnel and their families depends on whether they are residents of California or a non-resident.

Registration for Non-Residents

Service members who are stationed in California AND military or civilian members of NATO may operate vehicles that are:

  • Registered in their home country or state.
  • Registered in the country or state where he or she was assigned when the vehicle was previously registered.

The California DMV does not require non-residents to register their vehicles in California, if these requirements are met:

  • Your vehicle has valid, up-to-date license plates from the home country or state.
  • The vehicle registration is current.
  • A military member or a spouse previously registered the vehicle.
  • You have current auto insurance on the vehicle.

Non-resident military members stationed in California who either purchase a vehicle in California or choose to register an out-of-state vehicle, are exempt from payment of the vehicle license fee (VLF) if:

  • You insured your vehicle.
  • You do NOT operate the vehicle “for-hire.”

If you have questions about your personal military situation, please contact the California DMV.

Registration for California Residents

California service member residents may register their vehicles in whichever state they are stationed. Upon returning back to California, you must register the vehicle in California and you would be exempt from payment of the vehicle license fee (VLF).

To qualify for the exemption, you must complete the following forms:

Military personnel who are residents of California and stationed outside of the state do NOT qualify for the exemption but may qualify for a renewal penalty waiver when their registration is up for renewal.

Renewing Your Registration in California

In California, you can handle most vehicle registration renewals online. You can also renew your CA vehicle registration in person, by phone or by mail.

You may refer to your renewal notice for specific instructions. Generally, the CA DMV will mail your registration renewal notice approximately 60 days before your CA vehicle registration expires. There is a penalty for late payments so be sure to check the specific date your registration expires.

Online Registration Renewals

To renew your CA vehicle registration online, visit the CA DMV’s online registration renewal portal. Before you begin your renewal, you must have the following:

  • Your license plate number.
  • The last 5 digits of your vehicle identification number (VIN).
  • A registration renewal notice containing your current address and showing no delinquent fees nor any unpaid parking tickets.
  • Proof of car insurance on file with the DMV.
  • Proof of smog certificate on file with the DMV.
  • Payment information for CA registration renewal fees. The DMV will assess a 2% fee for all credit card transactions.
    • There is no fee for payment by checking account.

Please get in touch with the California DMV if you have any specific questions.

Registration Renewals by Mail

To renew your registration by mail, you must gather the following documents:

  • Your CA registration renewal notice.
  • Proof of car insurance.
  • Proof of smog certification, if required.
  • Payment by check or money order for the registration renewal fees on your renewal notice.

And mail all of the above to:

DMV Renewal PO Box 942897
SACRAMENTO, CA 94259-0001

Registration Renewals In Person

If you cannot renew your registration online, you must visit your local California DMV field office. To renew your CA vehicle registration in person, be sure to bring the following:

  • A copy of your CA registration renewal notice or your current vehicle registration.
  • Your California driver license.
  • Proof of car insurance.
  • Payment for applicable CA registration renewal fees
  • Proof of payment for any outstanding traffic tickets, if applicable.

Please get in touch with the California DMV if you have any specific questions.

Registration Renewal By Phone

NOTE: You cannot renew your registration by phone if you have outstanding traffic tickets. To renew your CA vehicle registration by phone, you may call the DMV directly at (800) 777-0133.

You’ll need to be prepared to submit the following:

  • Your registration renewal notice (showing your current address).
  • Your Renewal ID Number (RIN) which is printed on your CA renewal notice.
  • Proof of car insurance on file with the DMV.
  • Proof of smog certificate on file with the DMV.
  • Your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
  • Your CA license plate number.
  • An acceptable payment method for your CA renewal fees.

Did you lose your CA registration renewal notice or have yet to receive it? If so, please contact your local CA DMV or DMV Customer Service at (800) 777-0133.

Replace a Lost or Damaged Registration

If your CA registration card, license plates or decals have been lost, stolen, or damaged, you can apply for a replacement online, by mail or in person at your local California DMV office.

Continue reading below to learn more.

Replace CA Vehicle Registration Online

To replace your registration card or stickers, you can submit an application for an Online Replacement Sticker or Registration Card. Be sure to have the following on hand:

  • California license plate number.
  • The last 5 digits of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
  • Vehicle ownership information.
  • Payment for the $23 registration replacement fee.

Replace CA Vehicle Registration In Person

To replace your registration card, license plates and stickers in person, you’ll need to visit your local CA DMV field office and submit:

NOTE: If you are replacing your CA license plates, you may need to surrender the damaged plates.

Replace CA Vehicle Registration by Mail

If you need to replace your CA license plates and/or decals and your vehicle is NOT eligible for online replacements, you’ll need to submit:

And mail the above documents and CA registration replacement fees to:

Department of Motor Vehicles
Registration Operations
PO Box 942869
Sacramento, California 94269-0001

Changes to Your CA Car Registration

Name Changes on CA Registration

You can make changes to your name and/or address on your vehicle registration by visiting the CA DMV in person or by mail. On the other hand, if you are simply correcting your name on your registration you can mail certain documents, please see below for specific details.

  • Before you can make any name changes to your vehicle title or registration, you must first visit the Social Security Administration (SSA) to report your legal name change.
  • You must complete an Application for Social Security Card (Form SS-5).
  • Provide the legal documents supporting your name change such as:
    Marriage License
    Divorce Decree
    Court ordered name change
  • Proof of identity
  • Proof of citizenship

Furthermore, once you legally change your name with the SSA, you can proceed with changing your name with the California DMV.

Next, you’ll need to visit your local DMV office to proceed with your name change and:

  • Present an updated and signed title:
    • You must write or type the correct name on the title above your previous name.
  • Complete section F of the Statement of Facts (Form REG 256).

Alternatively, you can mail everything to:

Department of Motor Vehicles
PO Box 942869
Sacramento, CA 94269-0001

If you do not have the vehicle title, visit a nearby CA DMV office in person and submit:

NOTE: If you are correcting your name (and not changing it), you can also mail your completed REG 227 and REG 256 forms along with proof of ownership, and payment for your duplicate certificate of title to the address listed above.

Address Changes on CA Vehicle Registration

Changing your address with the CA DMV can be done online, by mail, or in person.

Online Address Change

You may change your address with the CA DMV online.

The change will be effective in approximately 10 days.

Address Changes By Mail

To change your address by mail, you’ll need to complete a Notice of Change of Address (Form DMV 14) and mail it to the address on the form.

The change takes effect in approximately 20 days.

Address Changes in Person

To change your address in person, please visit any CA DMV office and submit a completed Notice of Change of Address (Form DMV14).

Your address change takes effect in about 10 days.

Vehicle Registration Fees in CA

Since there are different types of vehicle registration fees in California, you’ll want to understand how the CA DMV calculates these amounts.

Basically, the California DMV calculates its registration fees by:

  • Your vehicle type.
  • Your vehicle’s purchase price or declared value.
  • The date your vehicle was purchased or entered California.
  • Where you live or work.
  • And in some cases, the weight of your vehicle.

However, many of these fees are included in the total price of the vehicle if you are buying from a dealer. On the other hand, you’ll need to pay these fees to the CA DMV directly if you purchased from a private party.

California Vehicle Registration Fees

Here are the registration fees for all vehicles in California:

  • CA Vehicle Registration fee: $61.00.
  • California Highway Patrol (CHP) fee: $28.00.
  • Vehicle License Fee: This fee is determined by your vehicle’s value.
  • Transportation Improvement fees: These fees are determined by vehicle value.
    $0 to $4,999: $27.
    $5,000 to $24,999: $55.
    $25,000 to $34,999: $110.
    $35,000 to $59,999: $165.
    $60,000 and up: $192
  • County and District fees
  • Use/Sales Tax if applicable

Late CA Registration Fees

There are no grace periods for paying your annual registration renewal. However, the DMV requires you to pay penalties for late registrations. Also, the California DMV determines your late fees by the length of time your registration has been delinquent.

The current late registrations fees are as follows:

  • Less than 1 year: $30.
  • 1 year to 2 years: $50.
  • More than 2 years: $100.

Furthermore, the California DMV provides a useful Fee Calculator to help you determine a more accurate calculation of all of the various fees for new vehicles, used vehicles, non resident vehicles, renewals, and Vehicle Licensing Fees (VLF).

5 FAQs on vehicle registrations in California

Are smog inspections required when registering a vehicle in California?

Yes, smog inspections are required when registering or renewing registration for a vehicle in California, with some exceptions

How can I renew my vehicle registration in California?

You can renew your registration online, by mail, or in person at a DMV office. You can also look up fees and estimate your registration costs online.

Is insurance required to register a vehicle in California?

Yes, insurance (a.k.a. financial responsibility) is required to register a vehicle in California.

What is the penalty for driving an unregistered vehicle in California?

Driving an unregistered vehicle in California is considered an infraction and can cost you up to $280, plus court fees. You can even be fined if you’re parked in a public lot.

How long do I have to transfer my vehicle title after buying/selling a vehicle in California?

In California, you are given 10 days to fully transfer your vehicle title. The penalty for late title transfers will cost you $15.

Last Verified:
Aug 21, 2023