California Vehicle Registration (A Complete 2024 Guide)

California Vehicle Registration (A Complete Guide)

Before you can drive your new vehicle, you gotta do some paperwork first!

That’s right, you gotta register it.

And don’t worry. 

We’re here to answer all your California vehicle registration questions in this complete 2024 guide. 

Here, we’ll talk about:

We won’t miss out on any detail. 

So let’s get started straight away! 

How to Register Your Vehicle in California

The process and requirements for registering your vehicle will depend on how you purchased it.

For instance, if you purchased your car from a licensed dealer, they will handle the paperwork for you. 

But if you purchased your car from a private-party — let’s just say the registration process won’t be as easy. 

Don’t worry, we’ll go over each situation in detail.

Registering A Dealer-Purchased Car

Most dealerships in California will settle the registration process for you. While they are doing that, you will be provided with a temporary registration certificate. The processing time usually takes around 20-30 days. 

Some dealers, but not all, can even issue license plates.

But what if your dealership doesn’t do it for you?

Assuming you’ve recently bought a brand new car from a licensed dealer, here’s what you’ll need to register the vehicle yourself:

You will have to pay a visit to your nearest CA DMV office in order to submit these requirements.

Registering A Privately-Bought Vehicle

If you purchased your vehicle from a private party, you’ll have to register it within 10 days. 

Past that and you’ll have to pay penalty fees. 

Here are the documents you need to submit to the DMV:

  • A filled out REG 227 form
  • Certificate of title with the signature of the seller
  • Smog certification (if vehicle is over 4 years old)
  • Odometer mileage statement
  • Bill of sale
  • Payment for applicable fees
  • Valid ID
  • VIN verification
  • Proof of insurance

Registering An Out-of-State Vehicle

Now, what if you’re a new California resident who just moved in from out of state?

You have 20 days to fulfill your registration upon the date of officially settling in. 

For out-of-state vehicles owned by new California residents, here are the requirements:

  • A filled out Application for Title or Registration form (Form REG 343)
  • Vehicle’s out-of-state title
  • Proof of insurance
  • Smog certification (if vehicle is over 4 years old)
  • Payment for applicable fees
  • VIN verification
  • Valid ID

Registering A Motorcycle

Motorcycle registrations undergo the same process as car registrations. You need to pay a visit to the DMV office and submit the following requirements: 

How to Renew Your Vehicle Registration in California 

Okay, what if you’re renewing your vehicle registration in California?

Thanks to the official CA DMV NOW kiosks, you can renew your registration within minutes. 

You can find the nearest DMV NOW kiosk here.

To use the kiosk, you’ll need your renewal notice in hand. 

Note: renewal notices are sent by the DMV when it’s time to renew your vehicle registration. 

From there, simply follow the instructions from the kiosk, scan your renewal notice barcode, and settle the payment — you’ll get your sticker printed in seconds.

Another easy way to renew your registration is by doing it online through the CA DMV website

To renew online, you have to provide the last 5 digits of your VIN and proof of insurance. You won’t be eligible for a renewal if you don’t have these two. 

You’ll also need a bank account or checking account to settle the payment. 

One downside to renewing online is you have to wait a few weeks before you can get a hold of your sticker. 

Lastly, you can settle your vehicle renewal if you have an AAA membership. With this, you can avoid long lines in the DMV office and get your sticker immediately. 

Vehicle Registration Penalties in California

You will face penalties if:

  • You do not register your car in California
  • You are caught driving an unregistered vehicle 
  • You are late to transfer your car title 
  • Your car registration has expired 

Let’s expound on these penalties. 

Penalty for Not Registering Your Car in California

Registering your vehicle in California is a legal requirement. Failure to do so will incur fees. See table below:

If registration is late…Penalty
One year or less40% of license fee + weight fee due for that year (if any)
More than one to two years80% of license fee + weight fee due for that year (if any)
More than two years160% of license fee + weight fee due for that year (if any)

Penalty for Driving Without Registration in California

Driving in an unregistered vehicle is considered an infraction and can cost you up to $280, plus court fees. 

You can be fined even if you’re parked in a public lot. 

Penalty for Late Title Transfer in California

You are given 10 days to fully transfer your vehicle title. The penalty for late title transfers will cost you $15.

Penalty for Expired Registration in California

Driving or parking on public roads with an expired tag is a correctable violation that will cost you a minimum of $25, plus multipliers. 


As you can see, registering your vehicle in California is really not that complicated. You just need to know what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. 

And with this complete 2024 guide to California vehicle registrations, you now know all that. 

So make sure you register your vehicle so you don’t need to pay any fees. 

And for the succeeding years, make sure you take the steps to renew it. 

Just make sure you have all the documents ready and you’re good to go. 

Good luck! 

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