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California Vehicle Registration

California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Registration Requirements for Registration Renewal and Title Transfer

How do I register my car in California?

Although the Bureau of Automotive Repairs (BAR) is the enforcer and decision maker in terms of California's smog check program, ultimately your vehicle's smog check results are sent to and required by the California Department of Motor Vehicles in order to complete an initial California vehicle registration or to renew your vehicle's registration in California.

The following are requirements the California DMV has put in place in order to register the car, truck, van, SUV, RV or motorhome you plan on operating or driving on California public roadways.

Note: Initial California vehicle registration forms can be downloaded online, but a visit to the DMV will be required to complete the vehicle registration process. Your vehicle's registration renewal however can be fully completed online without visiting the DMV office.

STEP 1. How to Register a Vehicle in California and Get New Plates.

a1. California Vehicles - When you buy a car in California you must register and transfer the title into your name at your local DMV office within 10 days of the purchase date. The following form will be required in order to complete the California vehicle registration process through the California DMV. CA Registration Application download here.

a2. Out of State Vehicles - Whether you recently moved to California or bought a car from out of state, you must complete the California vehicle registration process by registering your vehicle with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Complete online and download the CA Registration Application here.

Do I Need a Bill of Sale? - In both of the above cases, a vehicle in the title transfer process will require a Bill of Sale between the seller and buyer, as well as a valid smog test. If you are purchasing a vehicle from either a used or new car dealership, they will prepare these vehicle registration documents for you.

Do I need a Smog Check? California vehicle registration laws require the seller of a vehicle to provide the buyer of the vehicle with a valid and passing Smog Check certification at the time of the sale or transfer in order to register a vehicle. Smog certifications obtained for the purpose of title transfer or vehicle sale, are good for 90 days from the date of issuance for DMV registration purposes.

For the purpose of vehicle title transfer you can have your vehicle smog checked at any type of smog check station. A smog test only center, regular smog check center also known as a test & repair station, or Gold Shield (CAP) smog test & repair station can perform the smog test required for initial California registration.

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A smog check is not required on a title or pink slip transfer or vehicle registration renewal if the vehicle's biennial smog certification was submitted to the DMV within 60 days prior to the transfer date.

Also, smog certifications for California vehicle registration or title transfer are not required for any motor vehicle that is 4 or less model years old.

Do I Need Auto Insurance? The California vehicle registration process can not be complete without auto insurance. Minimum 15/30/5 auto insurance is required. The first two numbers in 15/30/5 mean, in an accident each person injured can receive a maximum of up to 15,000 dollars with 30,000 dollars total allowed per accident to all parties involved. The last number refers to the total coverage per accident for property damage in California; in this case 5,000 dollars.

STEP 2. You have 10 Days to Register your New Vehicle. Department of Motor Vehicles transfer & CA DMV registration fees are due within 10 days of the vehicle sale or transfer date, or 10 days from the day you establish residency or employment in California. An exact amount of vehicle registration fees can only be calculated when you submit your application by mail or make an appointment at your Local DMV Office.

Registration penalties are assessed if payment is not received by the DMV within 30 days of the sale, or past 10 days of moving to California, or establishing employment. If multiple sales occur before the DMV is notified, a separate transfer fee is collected for each sale when the application for transfer is received by the Department of Motor Vehicle. Fees may include registration penalty.

STEP 3. Protect your Liability. Complete a Notice of Title Transfer and Release of Liability Form. The seller is responsible for reporting the change of ownership and registration to DMV within 5 days from the date of sale. After the DMV updates this information, you will be cleared from future liability on the vehicle. The purchaser is responsible for reporting the change of ownership to DMV within 10 days from the sale date.

California Vehicle Registration Renewal - Refer to your DMV paperwork. Locate the smog check and auto insurance requirement sections. Make sure you satisfy these requests before sending in your vehicle registration renewal payment. A smog check is due once every two years. Smog check results are electronically sent to the DMV by the smog station where your car was tested. It is not necessary to visit a DMV office to complete your car's registration renewal process. The entire process can be handled by mail or online.

Lost Vehicle Registration, Tags, or Stickers - If you have lost or misplaced your vehicle's registration or expiration stickers (tags), you will need to apply for duplicates. Complete the Application for Duplicate Registration Form.

Lost Vehicle Title - If you have lost or misplaced your vehicle's title (pink slip) you will need to apply for a duplicate. Download and complete the Application for Duplicate Title Form.

When filling out either of the registration or title applications above, do not forget to include:

  • Owner's full name.
  • Owner's current address.
  • Owner's driver license number.
  • Vehicle's license plate number.

Along with the Duplicate Title or Registration Forms, you will need to complete a Statement of Facts Form explaining what happened to the original title, tags, or registration.

Process by Mail or In Person - You may submit registration applications in person by making an appointment at your Local DMV Office, or by mailing in to:

Department of Motor Vehicles
P.O. Box 942869
Sacramento, CA 94269-0001

For questions or concerns you may contact the DMV at (800) 777-0133.

Copyrights © 2011 - SmogTips, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Patents Pending. California vehicle registration services can be obtained at any authorized AAA office, Department of Motor Vehicles branch office or private vehicle registration service contractor.
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