How to Register a Vehicle

The reason there’s so much congestion on roads is that there are nearly 273.5 million vehicles in the U.S. That’s an increase of more than 50 million in the last 30 years. Every one of the vehicles on the road has something in common: it can be tracked by state officials, as can each driver, through the licensing, vehicle registration, and insurance process. Some vehicle registration information is publicly available, like VIN numbers, while looking up license plates is not; driver’s license history information is selectively released.

Steps to Register a Vehicle

Obtaining a Driver’s License

Before committing to a vehicle purchase, an individual should have a driver’s license. This requires knowing the laws of the state as well as general motor vehicle operation standards such as stopping at hexagonal red signs and yielding at triangular signs, how to navigate a roundabout, and what times of day headlights are required.
Insurance rates may be lower for those who attend driver’s education classes. These classes help an individual prepare for a driving examination, but one may get a driver’s license without attending classes. Each state has requirements for a driver’s license that may require a written as well as a road test.
States manage the driver’s licensing and vehicle registration process for residents and businesses located within their jurisdictions, usually requiring registration renewal every other year (usually done by mail unless there are outstanding fees to be paid) and driver’s license renewals about every four years. The licensing process varies a little from one place to the next, and requires proper identification, such as a birth certificate or passport.

Purchasing a Vehicle

Unless a vehicle is brand-new from a dealership, it pays to do some research on a car. Do a VIN check for a vehicle history report to determine if the car has been totaled, or if it perhaps had been ruined in a flood. Some states balk at registering salvaged vehicles and that process, which includes inspection by a designated official, is challenging. Before buying a used car have a qualified mechanic look it over for defects and potential future issues.
There are a variety of ways a vehicle may be owned, from business-owned to co-owned to individually owned. The type of ownership doesn’t affect the need for a vehicle to be insured and registered before it can be operated on the road.

Vehicle Registration

In order to operate a vehicle on the road, an automobile must be registered and have license plates attached. The state department of motor vehicles office will require the vehicle’s title in order to complete the process. The title is the official document of ownership and should be signed over from the person or dealership that the car was purchased from at the time of sale. If there is a loan on the vehicle, the bank that controls the loan will hold the title until the vehicle is paid for.
Each vehicle has a unique 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) that is recorded on the title, a practice that was started in 1954 but became a requirement for every vehicle in 1981. The VIN serves several important purposes, including:
allowing a potential owner to trace recall repairs;
matching records for the purpose of registration;
recording milestones in vehicle history, such as recording major damage like a flood or accident that resulted in a “total loss” write-off, and
denoting the body style, year made, and country where the vehicle was manufactured.
Some states, like Florida, require certification of the VIN number and odometer reading (mileage) before a vehicle can be registered. 
The certificate of registration issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles is the official document that is usually kept in the vehicle for purposes of identification to police. Some states require that the original document be kept handy while others allow a copy or permit a driver to produce the document later.
The Department of Motor Vehicles provides license plates for each auto-registered at the time of registration. The plates should be attached only to the vehicle that they were assigned to.

Vehicle Insurance

vehicle registration

Insurance is a requirement for registration in every state except for New Hampshire and Virginia. In those states an alternative process may be used. Proof of insurance should be acquired before going to the state Department of Motor Vehicles for registration
It is possible to purchase a vehicle and register it without having a driver’s license but that is one of many factors that could increase the insurance rates on the vehicle. Insurance cost is based on a number of criteria, from the driver’s age and experience to the vehicle’s age, the location where it will be parked, and how many miles will be driven per year. A driver’s previous record including accidents and moving violations are factored into the cost of auto insurance as well.

Taxes and Fees

Sales tax is required to be paid in most states for the purchase of a vehicle. In many locations, the sales tax is collected at the Department of Motor Vehicles when a car is registered, and it’s based on the price that was paid for the vehicle. If a vehicle is purchased from a dealership, sales tax is often paid directly to the state by the dealer.
Other motor vehicle fees are likely to be levied by municipalities for each car registered there. In Florida, there may be a local tax in addition to state taxes collected on a car purchase; in Massachusetts, towns collect excise taxes based on vehicle value; additional use taxes may also be incurred if a vehicle is purchased out of state.