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California car registration: Requirements and how to do it! 

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‘The Golden State has quickly become a major residential and business center for newcomers. So, are you planning to move to California? If you are planning to move to the state, there are two things you must do right away: get a driver’s license and a California car registration.  

When registering a car, each state has its own set of rules. Therefore, applying for car registration in California is not a straightforward process. The process usually takes around 10-20 days and is expensive. If you moved to California recently, you have 20 days to register your car after you moved there. Familiarizing yourself with the car registration process is one way by which you can speed up the process.  

So, how can you complete your California car registration? How much is the fee? When should you renew the registration? Here’s the info you must know! 

Save more while buying a California car insurance policy

Who should do car registration in California? 

The process is compulsory if you plan to drive. The following are typical situations where registering a car in the state may be necessary. 

  • You bought a new car. Many dealerships can handle the registration process. But if not, you’ll have to handle it yourself. 
  • If you purchase a car through a ‘private party purchase,’ the seller must notify the DMV of the sale within five days. And, you have ten days to transfer ownership. 
  • Did you recently move to the state? Then, you must update your car registration within 20 days of establishing residency.

How to do California car registration 

It’s crucial to gather all the required documents, seek professional guidance, and collect the necessary funds before beginning the car registration process. Moving to the state requires having a car because everyone commutes by personal vehicle. As a result, you will eventually need to register your car in the state.

Contacting and making an appointment with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is the initial step in California car registration. Here are the steps you should take for the registration process.  

What you need 

car registration in California
Image courtesy: Jerry “Woody” from Edmonton, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • You should submit an application for Title or Registration (REG 343) for new cars.  
  • For used cars or those registered outside of the state, you must complete and submit an Application for Duplicate or Transfer of Title (REG 227). 
  • Then provide necessary insurance proofs. The coverage should include $15,000 for a single person’s death or injury. Also, it must cover $30,000 for the death or injury of many people and $5,000 for property damage.
  • Certificate of Title having your and seller’s signature (if applicable). 
  • If required, payment for any transfer fee or use tax.  
  • Depending on the circumstance, the DMV may require additional documents.  

What more to provide if you buy the car from a private party 

You must provide these for completing the process if you buy the car from a private party.  

Your car should pass a smog test to complete the registration process. Except for El Dorado, Riverside, Placer, San Diego, San Bernardino, and Sonoma, other counties in California require smog inspections at least every two years. If your car is new and under six years old, you must pay a $20 smog fee for the first six years instead of a smog inspection certificate. 

How much is car registration in California? 

In addition to the California car registration fee, you’ll probably have to pay fees for the county, the California Highway Patrol (CHP), vehicle license, and transportation improvement. The California car registration cost might vary depending on many factors. According to the California DMV, car registration fees in California gets determined by the following factors.  

  • The purchase price or declared value of your car 
  • When you bought your car or when it first entered the state 
  • The city or the county where you live 
  • The city or county where you run your business 
  • Any unique license plates that may be on your car 
  • The number of axles your car may have, and its claimed unladed and gross vehicle weight 
  • Whether there is any toll evasion bail or unpaid parking violations 

Estimates for California car registration fee 

You can expect to pay these amounts for the process. 

  • Registration fee – $46 
  • California Highway Patrol (CHP) fee – $23 
  • Extra fee for late registration  (if required) 

How do I transfer my car registration to California? 

After establishing your residency here, you will have 20 days to register for California car registration with the DMV. You can schedule an appointment with the local DMV office in advance using their online appointment system to ensure that you take care of your registration quickly. To complete car registration in California, you must visit the DMV and submit the following.  

  • A filled out Title or Registration (REG 343) 
  • The car’s out-of-state title and registration 
  • Insurance proof 
  • A valid smog Certificate 
  • California car registration fee 

How to renew car registration in California 


You will get a notice from the DMV when it’s time for a car registration renewal in California. Expect to pay heavy penalties and fees if you don’t do your California car registration renewal on time. Confirm you have your license plate number, the last five digits of your VIN, a renewal notice, and payment details before renewing your car registration. Here is how you can do an online California car registration renewal.  

  • Log in to the official California DMV website. 
  • Then click on the ‘Online Registration Renewal’ link. 
  • Enter your license plate, the last five digits of your VIN, the renewal notification, and your payment information. 
  • You’ll receive a mail with your renewed registration. 

Also, you can mail in or do renewal in person at any DMV facility. However, you must visit the DMV office. You can expect to receive the renewed registration via mail within 3-4 weeks.  

What documents do I need to renew my car registration in California? 

For renewal, you must bring your renewal notification or current California car registration certificate, your current driver’s license, and payment for the renewal. In addition, provide court documents confirming that you’ve settled all outstanding charges related to your car if necessary. You may use cash, a cheque, a money order, a debit card, or an ATM card to pay for car registration renewal in California. 

How much does it cost for a California car registration renewal? 

You must pay many costs while renewing it. The type of car and its price, the county or city where you reside, the purchase date, and violations like unpaid parking or toll evasion decide the renewal cost you pay.  

Fee type Cost 
Registration $46 
CHP $28 
Car licensing  0.65% of the car’s value 
County charges $7-$47 
Smog Abatement  $25 

How often should you need to do a car registration renewal in California? 

The DMV mandates you to renew it yearly. Therefore, before the expiration of your car registration, you will get a renewal notice. Any renewal made after the expiration date will incur a late fee. It is calculated by adding a percentage of the car’s license fee, a late registration fee, and the late CHP fee.  

Is there a grace period for car registration in California? 

No. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) doesn’t offer any grace period for paying your yearly car registration costs. Instead, the DMV will impose penalties if you don’t pay your renewal payments on time.  

Is car registration tax deductible in California? 

Only the Vehicle License Fee (VLF) portion of the registration fee is tax deductible.  

Do I have to change my car registration if I move to California? 

Within 20 days after moving to the state, new residents must do the car registration. Additionally, you must register in person at your local DMV office. 

Can I drive my car while waiting for registration in California? 

Yes, you can. The temporary tags will identify you as the car owner. But ensure to have valid auto insurance when you drive.  

Can I junk a car with expired registration in California? 

Yes. The DMV requires documents when a car is bought, sold, traded, donated, or sold to a junkyard. Therefore, you can provide the VIN even if you lack a title. 

Do you have to renew your car registration every year in California? 

Yes. You must do a renewal every year. You’ll get a renewal notice from the DMV before your car registration expires. The renewal options will be on this notice, which often include renewing in person, by mail, phone, or online. 

Can you donate a car with expired registration in California? 

Yes, if you provide them with the required documents for car registration renewal.

Why is car registration so expensive in California? 

The major reason is that it considers many things, including license plates, weight certificates, and smog inspections. Therefore, the car registration fees are extremely expensive because it charges extra for each of these. 

Getting auto insurance in California  

So, are you done with the registration process? Always be mindful that you should possess valid car insurance to drive a car in the state. If not, be ready to get severe penalties. So, your challenge will be finding cheap auto insurance in the state.  

That’s where Way.com can help you. Use our website or app to get quotes from multiple insurers in the state, compare, and buy the cheapest one. So, why wait for more? Find an affordable California auto insurance quote via Way!  

Save more while buying a California car insurance policy

Here’s more info on top-rated airport parkingthe best parking spots in your city, affordable auto insurance, easy auto refinance, and high-quality car washes near you.


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