Washington Car Registration (All You Need to Know)

Washington Car Registration

Getting a new vehicle is SO EXCITING!

And we bet you can’t wait to get behind the wheel and hit the streets.

But wait!

Before you do, you must ensure it’s registered in Washington State. 

The same is true if you are a new resident in the state and want to drive your out-of-state vehicle around. 

Well, we’re here to help. 

Today, we’re going to walk you through the Washington car registration process. 

We’ll also talk about registration renewal, car laws, and penalties. 

You won’t miss out on anything.

So welcome to your all-in-one guide to car registrations in Washington State!

Let’s dive in!

How to Register A Car in Washington

If you purchased a brand-new car from a dealer in Washington State, you don’t have to worry about registering it. That’s part and parcel of the service they provide.

However, things are different if:

  • It was from a private sale 
  • It was from an out-of-state dealer

That said, registering your car isn’t complicated. 

You can go through the entire process by doing the following:

  1. Ensure the vehicle complies with California’s emission standards. You didn’t read that wrong — this is under Washington’s Clean Car Law.
  1. Gather the following documents:
    1. A Vehicle Title Application Form
    2. A Vehicle/Vessel Bill of Sale (both you and the seller must sign it)
    3. The vehicle’s current Title
    4. Vehicle insurance, self-insurance, certificate of deposit, or liability bond (check the ‘car laws’ section below for more details).
    5. Odometer Disclosure Statement Form (if your car is a 2011 model or newer)
    6. Affidavit of Loss/Release of Interest (only if necessary)

You can find all forms here.

  1. Visit a vehicle licensing office and do the following:
    1. Show proof of identity
    2. Submit all the documents you prepared in the previous step
    3. Pay the required fee
NOTE: You can get the fee amount in advance by contacting a vehicle license office (see locations and contact details here)
  1. Get new license plates, except if any of the following situations apply:
    1. You’re taking a deceased spouse or domestic partner off the Title
    2. Your vehicle is from your spouse or domestic partner
    3. You inherited it from a family member
    4. A relative gave it as a gift
    5. It was part of a trust, and you are the beneficiary
  1. Wait for your Certificate of Title. It’ll arrive within eight to ten weeks.
NOTE: If you need it sooner, go to a Quick Title Office in Step 3 instead (click here for locations). However, you must pay an additional $85.50 on top of the registration fees.
  1. Add the vehicle to your License eXpress Account. You can get renewal notices from here and check if your information is updated.

And just like that, you’ve registered your car!

If you want more information, you can check out the WA DOL’s official website

How to Renew A Car Registration in Washington

Vehicle registration isn’t a one-time thing — you must renew your vehicle’s tabs annually.

Thankfully, you’re given 3 options to renew your car registration. 

  • Online
  • By Mail
  • In Person

Whichever route you want to use, it’s best to ensure you’ve paid any tickets or toll fees beforehand. 

Don’t forget to check your address on file through your License eXpress account too. 

You might also want to see if you have other possible requirements.

After that, you can start renewing…

How to Renew Your WA Car Registration Online

Imagine renewing your tabs without leaving the house — doesn’t that sound great?


However, before you start the process, let’s ensure you qualify for this method. 

Online renewal is possible if:

  • Your tabs aren’t expired (or expired less than 12 months ago)
  • You don’t need a DOT number (or you’ve had one for over a year)

If you qualify, here’s what you should do:

  1. Head over to the WA DOL Online Service page and select ‘Renew your vehicle registration’. 
  1. Provide the necessary information, including the following:
    1. Your plate, decal, or metal tag number
    2. Your last name or business name 


  1. The last four characters of your VIN
  1. Follow the online prompts and pay the required fee. You can pay with your bank account or credit card (credit cards have a 3% additional charge).
  1. Wait for your tabs to arrive in the mail within five days. You can also choose to pick them up at a vehicle licensing office

How to Renew Your WA Car Registration By Mail

You can only renew by mail if you receive a renewal notice from the Washington Department of Licensing.

If you do, follow the instructions on the notice to renew your vehicle’s registration.

Don’t worry if you didn’t receive a notice — remember, you have three options!

How to Renew Your WA Car Registration In Person

Option number 3 is renewing in person. 

If you’re not eligible for an online renewal or didn’t receive a renewal notice from the DOL, this is your best (and only) alternative.

Here are the steps:

  1. Prepare the following documents:
    1. Emissions Test Completion
    2. The renewal notice (if you received one) OR your current registration certificate
    3. A photo ID
    4. Proof of residence in Washington State
  1. Visit a vehicle license office and do the following:
    1. Submit the documents
    2. Pay the required fees
  1. Get your new tabs.

Washington Car Laws

Besides registration, there are other car laws in the state that every driver should know about. 

Let’s take a closer look at these five laws:

  • When to register
  • Title
  • Report of Sale
  • License Plates
  • Insurance

When to Register 

If you’re moving to Washington State, you must register your car within 30 days of transferring. 

Remember, you must first get a WA-issued driver’s license before you can register your car here. 

If you bought a vehicle in the state, then you’re given only 15 days to have it registered. 

If you go over the 30 or 15 days timeframe, you’ll have to pay a penalty fee. 


A Certificate of Title is a document proving ownership. 

It shows the registered and legal owners of a vehicle.

The WA DOL issues a Title to several vehicles, not only cars. These include mopeds, mobile homes, electric and off-road vehicles, campers, and trailers.

Keep yours in a safe place, but you don’t need to have it in your vehicle.

If you have a snowmobile, you must register it annually. However, you do not need a Title for it.

Remember, when you purchase a vehicle, you must transfer the ownership to you. It involves getting the current Title from all (previous) owners (it must be signed and dated).

However, if you purchased your car from a dealer, they’ll handle the transfer of ownership for you.

Report of Sale

If you’re selling your car, you must report the sale of your vehicle within five days of the transaction.

You can get the Report of Sale form from newer Certificates of Ownership (on the upper portion) or any vehicle licensing office. You can also download a copy here.

You can file it with the DOL through any of these channels:

Regardless of the channel, you must pay the $13.25 fee.

NOTE: Enclose a check payable to the Department of Licensing if filing by mail.

License Plate

Your vehicle must have registered license plates in the front and at the rear. 

Besides regular ones, there are three kinds of plate numbers available in Washington:


Your Washington vehicle doesn’t only need to be registered — you must also have it insured.

When purchasing auto insurance, ensure that your policy has at least the minimum limits for liability coverage:

  • $25,000 for bodily injury per individual
  • $50,000 for bodily injury per accident
  • $10,000 for property damage

Remember, these are the minimum car requirements in Washington. You can purchase other coverages (such as collision or comprehensive insurance) or increase your limits.

You can read more about it here. 

Vehicle Penalties in Washington

You may face several penalties if you don’t transfer your new vehicle’s ownership or have it registered or insured.

Let’s break that down.

On Transferring of Ownership:

  • Pay a $50 penalty if you transfer ownership on the 16th day (remember you’re only given 15 days)
  • Pay $2 per day for every day after the 16th day

On Registration:

  • Driving unregistered vehicles results in a fine of $529 (plus delinquent taxes and fees)
  • Impounding of your vehicle if its registration expired more than 45 days ago
  • Avoiding tax or vehicle license fees associated with registration by registering it in a different state (check table below):
OffenseJail TimeFines
FirstUp to 364 days$529 + $1,000 (plus delinquent taxes and fees)
SecondUp to 364 days$529 + $5,000 (plus delinquent taxes and fees)

On Insurance:

  • Driving without insurance results in a fine of at least $550

The Wrap Up

So that was all you needed to know about the Washington car registration. 

Now you know what has to be done. 

So go ahead and register your vehicle today!

If already registered, maybe it’s time to renew it…

And of course, always make sure you comply with the Washington car laws. 

Remember, understanding the state’s registration requirements and car laws is a sure way to avoid penalties and traffic violations.

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