California car title

How To Register Your Car In California?

California is one of the most painful states to be in when it comes to vehicle registration. If you don’t get everything correct, they will send you home without mercy. So how do you make sure you can register your car in California?

Suppose you have just moved to the state, you need to turn in Form REG 343. This form will need to be signed by all owners of your vehicle. Be sure to include proof of active California insurance and a lienholder confirmation.

Below, we will dig into some additional information you may need to register your car in CA properly. We will also inform you on methods to ensure that you have a commercial vehicle or a non-resident.

How Does A New Resident Register A Car In California?

If you are a new resident, you will need to go through the CA first-time registration process. The process changes depending on whether you purchased a new car or are bringing in your vehicle from the previous state.

We also recommend that you check out this vehicle from the California DMV:


We will break it down below:

What Do I Do If I Bring In My Car From My Previous State?

If you have an out of state vehicle, you will need to complete a California title transfer form. You can request a copy by going to your local DMV. If you have a printer, you can also visit the California DMV website.

You will also need to bring in some proof of residency to get a new title and registration. The forms can be one of the following:

  • Lease agreement (for apartment owners)
  • Deed of house
  • Mortgage bill
  • Utility bill
  • Insurance papers

All copies of your residency also need to have your first and last name be within the past thirty days and have the address down you will use.

When bringing your old vehicle to the state of California, you will also need to include a smog check. If you have Google Maps, you can search your nearby area to see if you have a smog inspection station nearby. A smog check from another state will not be viable, as California has unique smog rules.

Can My Car Receive An Exception To California’s Smog Check Rule?

California does grant exemptions if you fall into one of the following categories:

  • You have an electric vehicle.
  • Your gasoline-powered vehicle is less than four-years-old.
  • You have a gas vehicle that weighs 14,000 lbs or more.
  • You have a diesel car that is 1997 or older.
  • You have a gasoline car, motorcycle, or trailer that is 1975 or older.

What If I Buy A New Car In The State Of California?

If you have a newly purchased vehicle in the state of California, you do not need a smog check. However, you will need a bill of sale or lienholder document identifying you as the vehicle owner. You will need to register your newly purchased vehicle within the first ten days of purchase, or you risk receiving a fine.

You will also need to turn in your old vehicle title, which you can do at any DMV field office. In some cases, dealerships will have the skills required to get this taken care of for you. Be sure to ask the dealership if they include that with their services.

Can You Register Your Vehicle There If You Don’t Live In California?

California requires you to be at least a part-time resident to register a vehicle there. As a result, you need to live there for some period out of the year to qualify for registration. What you need does not change regardless of you are living there or not living there.

What If You Purchase Your Car Through A Private Party?

Purchasing a used car means that you will need that smog check. Because CA requires the seller to have a passed smog check before selling the vehicle, they must make a sale within 90 days. If the other party does not have a smog inspection, do not purchase the car.

Remember that if your vehicle was made within the past four years, you do not need a smog check. The other party will also need a current copy of the title. The previous owner will need to fill out a Release Of Liability Form and a Notice of Title Transfer, which you can get at any local DMV branch.

What If They Don’t Have A Current Title?

The other party will need to apply for a paperless title using Form REG 227, which is the application for the new title. They are not able to sell the vehicle without transfer. If the title is with the lienholder, the other party will need to pay off the car to gain access.

How To Renew CA Registration

Once you have gone through the initial pain of being a new resident of California, you can renew your registration online. You need the following to renew your registration online:

  • Your license plate number
  • The last four digits of your VIN
  • The renewal notice you received from the DMV
  • A method of payment

The California DMV accepts payments via credit cards, debit cards, or ACH transfer.

How Much Does Registration Cost In CA?

Registration costs an average of $60 per vehicle, with an additional $8 for those who need a smog check. This number can vary a bit depending on your county. If you have a new vehicle, title transfers cost around $15. If you do this late, your fees are typically about $30.

If you have a newly purchased car, you will have to pay taxes on this vehicle. Typically, taxes are around 7% of your car’s purchase price, which is incredibly large compared to other states. California has some of the most expensive vehicle-based costs of any state.

What If You Are A Member Of The Military?

Military members who live or have their home base in California are subject to unique DMV requirements. In this section, we will explore those requirements.

Active Duty Non-Resident Military

Non-resident members of the military are not legally required to register their vehicles in California. Instead, they must keep up the registration in their original state, which will have a different set of rules. Active duty members are the only ones to receive this exception. Veterans are subject to standard guidelines. Non-resident military personnel also get an exception from paying their licensing fee, which they can receive by filling out form REG 5045.

Active Duty Resident Military

Military members who have their home base in California may register their vehicles in any state that they reside. However, they will be subject to the local insurance, registration, and licensing requirements of whatever state they live in. They may also choose to have their registration renewed in California if they prefer, but many military members take advantage of this exception to get reduced fees.

Both NATO and the national guard have the same requirements. The form for NATO members is REG 5046.

What Do I Do If I’ve Lost My Registration?

The California DMV allows you to fill out a form to replace plates, stickers, and documents. You can get a replacement of any of these by applying online. The replacement fee is typically around $20 but can be higher if you also need to replace license plates. You can also use the same form if you need to replace a title.

What Are Situations Where I Don’t Need To Register My Vehicle?

If you have your vehicle driving or parked on any California roadway, you are legally required to register your vehicle. However, if your car is permanently on your property, you can feasibly avoid having to pay your registration fees.

To do this, you will need to sign an affidavit of non-use, which informs the DMV that this vehicle no longer needs to be tracked in their insurance database. Once the form is complete, you can turn in the license plates and inform your insurance company to remove your vehicle from your policy.

If you still want physical damage coverage, many insurance policies will give you the option of placing it into storage. Ensure that you are not paying for liability as you do this.

Local ordinances may have different requirements. Check with your local DMV to see what you can do to turn in your California vehicle registration before assuming you can do so.


When using California’s vehicle registration service, it can be pretty easy for you to be overwhelmed. The best advice that we can give you comes from patience, as the state of California is incredibly picky when it comes to their process.

While it solves many insurance issues and non-registration of vehicles, it can be a frustrating experience for those who are just trying to get through their day.

This guide provides you with a strong basis to start. Almost any situation that comes up in CA is here. So use this guide and stay in contact with the DMV to ensure you get this handled.

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