What Is Vehicle Registration?

It’s that thing you need to legally drive your car.

A technician changes a rear license plate on a red car.
Depositphotos

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Everybody needs six things to legally drive your cars around: registration, a driver’s license, a title, a license plate, and insurance. The license is your ID and certification for driving, the title is the car’s ID, and the registration ties the person to the car in a specific place. They annoyingly all cost you money, but you are required to have them all, and there’s no way around it.

Still, anything involving the bureau of motor vehicles (BMV) can be intimidating and confusing. We’re here to untangle the mess and get you and your car legally on the road. Dive into The Drive’s guide to vehicle registration below.

What Is a Motor Vehicle Registration? 

Every state in the United States of America requires you to register your car with the government before you can legally drive it—*shakes fist at the man*. The registration creates a link between you and the car. You are registered to the car and the car is registered to the location. You’re connected, for better or worse.

What’s the Point of Vehicle Registration? 

In short, money and information. Not only does it raise money for the government, but it also creates a reference point for various uses, including legal matters.

What Is a Vehicle Title?

A vehicle’s title is proof of the person’s ownership of the vehicle. When somebody sells a vehicle, they sign the title over to the new owner.

Everything You Need To Get Your Registration

The process for getting a car registration is slightly different in every state, but these are the general requirements you will need to get your car registered.

Title

Never complete a car purchase without taking possession of a title on which the previous owner declared you are the new owner.

Identification

A driver’s license, passport, or state ID should work.

Bill Of Sale

In addition to the title, a bill of sale keeps things official, legal, and organized. Bill of sale templates can be found and downloaded online. For example, here’s New York’s.

Emissions Test

Select states require specific environmental checks, such as smog checks in California or emissions testing in Illinois, before you can register or re-register a car. Sometimes it’s every year, other times, it’s every two years. Some states, such as Arkansas and Florida, do not require emissions testing. Check with your local authorities for what you need. We have provided direct links to every state below.

Proof Of Insurance

You and your car must be insured before you can legally register your car. Why? Because you’re inherently creating risk by driving a 3,000-7,000-pound vehicle around, and you need to protect yourself and others in the chance of an accident.

Method Of Payment

Car registration and plates make money for the government. The government typically accepts check or credit card.

On a bamboo wood floor, a Michigan license plate sits on top of a California license plate.
Depositphotos

Every car needs license plates.

Links To Every State’s Online Registration Information

We love you so much we brought together every state’s online registration information! You’re welcome. 

FAQs About Vehicle Registration

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q. Do I Need To Keep the Registration In the Car?

A. Yes, absolutely. The first thing an officer asks for after pulling you over is your license and registration. You better have it.

Q. What’s the Difference Between Registration and Title?

A. The title ties the vehicle to a person. The registration ties the vehicle to a place.

Q. Is Vehicle Number and Registration Number the Same?

A. Nope! Your vehicle number, which is normally called the vehicle identification number (VIN), is given to the vehicle from the manufacturer during production. 

Q. What Is the Odometer Reading?

A. The odometer measures the distance a vehicle travels. In the United States, this is measured in miles, while other foreign countries use kilometers. An odometer reading is a required record for vehicle transfer.

Q. Who Owns a Car When Two Names Are On the Title?

A.  A co-owned vehicle means exactly what it suggests. Both people on the title are part legal owners of that vehicle.