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California Vehicle Registration

The Bureau of Automotive Repairs (BAR) oversees California's smog check program, and provides vehicle smog check results electronically to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. A smog check is required to complete an initial vehicle registration in California. During California registration renewal a smog check is required biennially.

The following are requirements the DMV has put in place to register a car, truck, van, SUV, motorhome, or motorcycle in California and operate legally on California public roadways.

How do I renew my DMV registration?

Your vehicle's registration renewal can be performed online, in-person, or by mail. Refer to your DMV renewal notice. Ensure you have complied with any smog check or auto insurance requirements before choosing an option below. A smog check is due once every two years. Results are electronically sent to the Bureau of Automotive Repairs by the smog station which inspects your vehicle.

Option 1. Renew by Mail - Slowest method to renew your registration, but fine if you're not pressed for time. Renewal by mail is free. Ensure you send in your payment in a timely manner and receive your new tags and registration card before the current registration expires. The turn-around time for mail-in registration renewals is 6-8 weeks.

Option 2. Use DMV Website - Renewing your car registration on the DMV website offers a quick way to pay your renewal fees and takes a little less time to get your new stickers and registration card. The turn-around time for online registration renewal on the DMV website is 2-4 weeks. The DMV website will not allow you to renew your registration online if your vehicle is due for a smog check and you have either not yet completed it or your vehicle has failed the inspection. If this applies to you, you can pay your renewal fees by visiting a local DMV field office.

Option 3. Renew In-Person - Visiting a DMV field office is the most time consuming vehicle registration option.

Which Type Should I Choose?


A faster in-person method is choosing a local BPA provider. Private businesses known as BPA Providers (Business Partner Automation) offer DMV service without long lines. These California licensed facilities issue official DMV forms, license plates, registration cards, stickers and tags on-the-spot and rarely have a wait time. Visiting a DMV office, even with an appointment, can be very time consuming. Choosing a local registration service provider on the other hand can get you in & out fast.

Car Title Transfer and First-Time California Registration

a1. California Vehicles - When you buy a car in California you must register and transfer the title into your name within 10 days of the purchase date. If you plan on completing your vehicle's title transfer at a local DMV office, the following form will be required. You may also choose to transfer your vehicle's title online in which case they will handle all the paperwork for you, or you may visit a local registration service office for on-the-spot. Your vehicle's old title must be turned in to the DMV either by mail or in person in order to complete the title transfer process.

a2. Out of State Vehicles - Whether you moved a vehicle to California or bought a car from outside the state, you must complete the California title transfer process and register your vehicle with the DMV. If you plan on completing your vehicle's title transfer and registration at a local DMV office, the following form will be required. You may choose to register your vehicle's title online in which case they will handle the paperwork for you, or you may visit a local registration service office for on-the-spot service. Your vehicle's old title must be turned in to the DMV either by mail or in-person to complete the title transfer process.

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 certificate 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.

For the purpose of vehicle title transfer you can obtain a smog check at any type of smog test center which includes: test only centers, test & repair centers, or STAR smog stations. Either of these shops can perform the smog test required for initial California registration or title transfer.

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 90 days prior to the transfer date.

Smog Exempt - Smog certifications for California vehicle registration or title transfer are not required for any motor vehicle that is 4 or less model years old, except if the vehicle is being brought in from out-of-state.

Not Smog Exempt - Out of state vehicles requiring initial California registration, regardless or vehicle year model, are required to undergo a smog inspection in order to receive a new California title, license plates, and stickers.

Do I need auto insurance? As with all U.S. states, California requires valid auto insurance prior to car registration. Minimum 15/30/5 auto insurance is required. The first two numbers (15/30) covers each person injured in an accident up to 15,000 dollars, with 30,000 dollars total allowed per accident to all parties involved. The last number refer to the total coverage per accident for property damage in California. These are the minimum California requirements.

How much time do I have? Department of Motor Vehicles title transfer and registration fees are due within 10 days of the vehicle sale or purchase date, or 10 days from the day you establish residency or employment in California. An exact amount of fees can calculated when you submit your application to the DMV, visit a local BPA provider, or process online.

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 penalties.

Release your liability. Complete a Notice of Title Transfer and Release of Liability Form. As a seller you are responsible for reporting the change of ownership to DMV within 5 days from the date of sale. After the DMV updates this information you will be cleared from future liability arising from the vehicle's use. The purchaser is also responsible for reporting the change of ownership to DMV. They have a 10 day window to report the transfer from the purchase date.

Lost Vehicle Registration, Tags, or Stickers - If you have lost or misplaced your vehicle's registration or need replacement stickers, registration card, or license plates you will need to apply for DMV duplicates. Download this form: Application for Replacement Plates, Stickers, Documents.

Lost Vehicle Title - If you have lost or misplaced your vehicle's title (pink slip) you will need to apply for a DMV duplicate.

When filling out the DMV replacement form 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 Application for Replacement Plates, Stickers, Documents form you will need to complete a Statement of Facts explaining why you need a replacement title, tags, registration card or license plates.

Process by Mail - You may submit registration documents in-person at a local DMV branch office, with or without an appointment, or by mailing 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.