What Is a Car Registration, How Much Does It Cost and How to Get One? 

A car registration is permission from state authorities to drive your vehicle on public roads. When your vehicle is registered, you receive license plates with a unique set of letters and numbers that identify it for law enforcement and other records.

A benefit of vehicle registration is protection by police: if your vehicle is stolen or damaged by someone else’s negligence, it can be identified and will be returned to you. If police discover an unauthorized person driving your car, they will confiscate the vehicle and arrest the person for theft.

Car Registration Importance

Vehicles without license plates are not allowed on public roads, and license plates are only given to people who register their cars. Registration records are also linked to Carfax reports so that there’s a record of ownership that can be used to determine if a vehicle might be flood-damaged, totaled, or exposed to other extreme conditions that would impact its lifespan.

Legal Compliance

It’s legal to own an unregistered vehicle but it’s not legal to drive one on public roads. One of the requirements for vehicle registration is auto insurance which protects passengers and other drivers in case of an accident. Maintaining a clean driving record can help keep your insurance rates lower, making it easier to comply with state insurance requirements.

To qualify for a car registration, a person must purchase auto insurance according to state minimum standards (some states require more insurance than others), and the vehicle registration and insurancemust be kept up to date. The owner must present the title and proof that taxes have been paid before receiving a completed registration and license plate.

The car registration document, provided by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, usually includes a stamp that proves the car is insured. Without such a stamp or other proof of insurance, vehicle registration may not be valid.

Ensuring Road Safety

Vehicle registration helps keep roads safe by requiring cars to meet minimum safety standards set for all “street legal” cars. This means there are safety belts, working windshield wipers, headlights, and taillights, among other things. Most states require some sort of vehicle inspection to ensure each car meets basic safety and exhaust emissions standards. A clean driving record reflects adherence to road safety rules, further contributing to a safer driving environment.

Car Registration

The cost of auto insurance is an enticement to road safety as well:

  • Tickets for speeding or unsafe driving often cause insurance rates to rise through a process of “points” that are tracked by the driver’s license.
  • Too many tickets for moving violations may result in a suspended license, which means the driver is not allowed on the road.
  • Young drivers pay high insurance rates because they’re the most likely to have accidents.
  • Drivers with poor records of accidents and moving violations may have their driver’s licenses suspended or revoked.

Facilitating Efficient Taxation

Car registrations are a way of collecting sales taxes on car sales. Registration is not complete until sales taxes are paid. States use vehicle registrations to fund employees of the DMV as well as to pay for road maintenance and some law enforcement. By limiting the period of registration to one or two years, the state reaps funds every time a renewal is due. Drivers are more likely to pay this tax voluntarily than they are to pay other taxes – if they don’t renew their vehicle registration, they lose independence because they won’t be able to drive.

Preventing Theft

License plates are unique to the vehicle they are on. If a car is stolen, police can track it down through the license plate number, which is recorded every time the car is driven by law enforcement cameras or vehicles. Plates can be removed, but the license plate number on the registration is linked with the vehicle’s VIN (Vehicle Information Number), which is stamped on the chassis, inside door frames, and in the corner of the windshield. A few sophisticated thieves may “chop” a vehicle into pieces, obscuring the VIN number and making it more difficult to track down a stolen vehicle.

Benefits of Car Registration

Car registration protects the owner against theft and unauthorized use of the vehicle. If someone takes a car without permission, the owner has the right to call law enforcement and ask for help recovering the car. Similarly, the public benefits from auto registrations because they come with requirements for maintenance and safety that protect everyone on the road.

Providing Proof of Ownership

Before registering a vehicle, a person must present the car title to the DMV as additional proof that they’re the legitimate owner. An auto registration record shows the owner’s name and address, as well as the name of the owner’s insurance company.

If the registration information does not match the license of the person driving the vehicle when police stop them, police are likely to investigate further to find out if the driver was authorized to have the car. This sort of stop also prompts law enforcement to investigate the driver for any outstanding warrants and may result in a search of the vehicle for contraband such as unregistered guns or drugs.

Access to Insurance Coverage

Owning a vehicle does not automatically provide insurance coverage, which is purchased separately. However, once a car owner has insurance on their vehicle, an insurance company is likely to extend offers for other types of insurance, including renter’s insurance or boat insurance.

Vehicle Identification

A car registration is a part of a system of vehicle identification that can be traced through all owners. Registrations are linked to car VIN numbers, which are unique identifiers stamped on the car’s chassis during manufacturing. This information is provided to repair shops and future owners through CarFax reports, which can show:

  • how many miles were driven per year on average,
  • whether a car was in a major accident,
  • how many owners have had the car and their locations, and
  • whether the vehicle was declared a total wreck by an insurance company. 

Contributing to Traffic Management

Toll roads, which require payment for use, may track vehicles through fees collected. Although this is separate from registration, it is data used by planners who extrapolate the future volume of traffic and other transportation options available. Toll roads are increasingly used by cities to ease congestion during peak hours.

Car Registration

How Much Does Car Registration Cost?

Each state sets its own car registration cost and added fees. Some states have a basic vehicle registration fee plus additional costs for the weight of the vehicle. Note that registering new vehicles or electric vehicles can cost more, and annual renewal fees are lower than the initial car registration fee. Many states base the initial registration fee for a new car on its Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). However, if you are asking how much is vehicle registration, you can check car registration fees by states online.

How to Get Registration for a Car?

To register a car, check your state’s department of motor vehicles website or visit a DMV walk-in center for information. Most require proof of insurance before the vehicle registration can be processed. In that case, your insurance company will provide the documentation you need before going to the DMV. 

New Vehicle Registration

When you purchase a new car, the dealership is likely to handle registration for you. That incurs an additional fee for tax, title, and licensing, but the paperwork will all be handled by a professional, and you’ll be free to drive away from the dealer in your new car.


Registering a vehicle is a straightforward requirement for all who want to use public roads. Once you have an insurance policy in place, the paperwork can be taken to the DMV to complete the process. The DMV provides license plates. After registration, it’s up to the owner to keep track of renewal dates. If your insurance lapses, it may invalidate your vehicle registration.


Should You Keep Your Registration in Your Car?

Keeping the car registration in the vehicle is expected in most states, if it is not required. If police stop you for speeding or running a red light, they want a quick way to confirm that you’re driving the car legally, and the registration usually provides that information.

How to Check My Vehicle Registration Status?

The Department of Motor Vehicles in your state probably allows you to check your registration status on the website by entering the license plate number. You may also have a sticker on the corner of your license plate that shows when it expires or a sticker or stamp on your registration form that shows the expiration date.

How Do I Get a Copy of My Vehicle Registration?

If you lose your registration, you may request a duplicate from the state DMV where your vehicle is registered. In addition, you may be able to get a duplicate from your insurance company.