Do you have a vehicle that you need to register with the state? Perhaps you just bought a car or maybe brought one from somewhere else. As you might expect, California has its own unique way of handling vehicle registrations. Do not get stressed, here are the normal procedures that successful registrants follow.

Visit the DMV

You must visit the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), in person, to register a car in California. Take the car title and current emission certification. The staff will also request proof of identification, such as a driving license.

Fill out the vehicle registration form supplied at the DMV. Last, but not least, have enough funds to pay the applicable registration fees.

Vehicles Bought Through Car Dealerships

The process is most simple for those who have purchased their cars through dealerships. Fortunately for them, the dealer will do all the paperwork. They also will have a temporary registration certificate to use until the real one arrives. Some dealers also supply license plates.

Private Party Purchases

Things are a bit more complex for those who purchase through a private party. The first thing to know is that you have only ten days to register the car before late fees begin to accumulate. It is always best to visit the DMV or schedule an appointment online as soon as possible.

At the DMV, you will need to have the vehicle title on hand. Be sure that this title clearly states the mileage for any car less than a decade old.

If for some reason you cannot obtain the title, complete Form Reg. 227 to request a new one. Also, take your emissions certification as well.

Then, the DMV will have you complete and turn in Form Reg. 343 and pay your fees.

Non-Resident Military Members

Service members and their families are exempt from having to register their cars. All they must do is carry proof of California automobile insurance and have valid license plates from another jurisdiction. The vehicle must be registered in the name of a family member.


Standard registration fee is $46, with an added $23 highway patrol fee.

If you fail to register a car within 20 days of obtaining residency, late fees become effective. Remember, the time to act is shorter for those who purchase a vehicle in a private sale. The time limit is only ten days for these owners

Late Registration Fees:

  • Less than a year = $30
  • Less than two years = $50
  • Two or more years= $100
  • Late CA Highway Patrol Fees:

  • Less than a year = $30
  • Less than two years = $50
  • Two or more years= $100
  • A Car Lien Registration

    You may have purchased a car sold at lien sale. These events occur when someone owes money for services rendered to a vehicle. For example, perhaps they had repairs done or their vehicle towed but failed to pay. The provider can sell the car to settle the debt.

    After buying a lien vehicle, you need to report to the DMV with the following items:

  • Registration Application (PDF) (REG 343)
  • Certification of the Lien Sale (REG 168A (PDF))
  • DMV record of the sale
  • Odometer Disclosure Statement (REG 262)
  • Smog Certification
  • Verification of Vehicle (REG 343 (PDF)), for out-of-state cars
  • Register Your Car Today

    You now understand the California car registration process. If you have a vehicle that needs to be registered do not waste any time. The clock begins immediately and late fees accrue as early as ten days.