California car registration

General RequirementsCar-Registration

First time Registration of a vehicle in your name is necessary if you recently purchased the vehicle, recently moved to California or changed ownership of a vehicle

If you’ve purchased a used vehicle registered in California or an out-of-state vehicle, you must register the car within 10 days of the purchase date to avoid late fees.
If you received a car as a gift, you must also register it within 10 days to avoid any penalties. If the car you purchased is new to California you have 20 days since the date of entry or residency to register.

Get InsuranceCar-Registration

To legally operate a car in California or park it on any road in the state, you must be able to show proof of financial responsibility (insurance)

Prepare the PaperworkCar-Registration

If you purchased the vehicle from a dealer, the required paperwork is normally taken care of for you. It is best to ensure that the dealer has registered the titled the vehicle appropriately.

If you are registering an out-of-state vehicle or you are new to California:
You will need to complete an Application for Title or Registration.
Have the most recent out-of-state title and a copy of the last registration (only necessary if you are not changing ownership)

For newly purchased cars, you will need the bill of sale. If the care is less than 10 years old and Odometer Disclosure Statement with signatures of the buyer and seller is required.
A smog certification is required unless the car is new, already registered in another state or federally certified.

Calculate the FeesCar-Registration

Be prepared prior to going to the DMV office by knowing what fees you will be required to pay.

The first time the car is registered, you might pay significantly more than what youll pay when it comes time to renew. Typically state vehicle license fees, use tax and a variety of smaller fees are included the first time around.

If you lose or destroy any paperwork, license plates, or registration stickers, you may apply for duplicates by paying replacement fees.

Go to the DMVCar-Registration

Once all your paperwork is in order, make an appointment at the nearest DMV office to register the vehicle in person.
A vehicle inspection for nonresident vehicles may be required so allow extra time.
Once the vehicle passes inspection, youll submit the above paperwork and fees. At this time youll order your license plates.

For new vehicle and vehicles new to the state plates and stickers will be sent to you in the mail once the dealer submits your paperwork.
There is a $17 fee for regular license plates, $18 for reflector plates.

For used car, previously registered in California, no new plate will be issued. New stickers will be provided to affix to the old plates.

Affix Your StickersCar-Registration


Once you receive your stickers by mail or in person at the DMV (one for the month and one for the year), just follow the instructions provided to properly affix the stickers to the license plate.

Get a Tax DeductionCar-Registration

You can deduct a portion of the registration fees called the annual Vehicle License Fee from your income tax. Check with your tax preparer for more information.

Safely Get on Your WayCar-Registration

Once you successfully register your car, youll be ready to hit the California roads. Just be sure you do so safely