How to Register a Vehicle in California


register car in california

The Golden State, with is dramatic coastal scenery, desert scenes and fantastic national parks is a terrific place to drive around. Beyond that, however, it’s also a state in which owning a car is quite essential. Cities like Los Angeles are spread over huge areas, making it necessary to drive to get to most places you need.

In today’s blog, we’re looking at how to register a vehicle in California. We’ll look at two key scenarios:

  • People who have bought a car in California
  • People bringing a car from out of state

All registration processes described below happen at your local DMV. To ensure that you get the registration done in time, we recommend you make an appointment there. You can do that using the DMV online booking system.

Registering a New Vehicle in California

The place where your entire registration will happen is at your local DMV, so the first thing to do would be to locate your nearest DMV and make arrangements to go there to get the process completed.

When buying a new car in California, the channel through which you buy it has some bearing on the registration process, too. We’ll deal with each of these individually:

Buying a Car from a Dealership

When you buy from new car dealerships, some steps in the process are handled for you, which makes things somewhat easier. The dealership is legally allowed to transfer titles and give you temporary registration until that you can use until your permanent registration stickers arrive. They’ll usually come in the mail. However, let’s imagine for a moment that your dealer for whatever reason does not offer this kind of registration, then here’s how you can register the vehicle yourself by visiting a DMV with the right documents.

For a New Vehicle

You need one form in particular: the Application for Title or Registration (REG 343), along with some other things:

  • The signature of the seller (as named on the Certificate of Title)
  • Your own signature on the Certificate of Title
  • Title transfer fee (used) or use/sales tax

For a Used Vehicle

If you are buying a used vehicle from local car dealerships, then you’ll need all of the additional things mentioned above, but instead of the Application for Title or Registration, you need an Application for Duplicate of Transfer of Title (REG 227).

Additional Documents

The following documents are a good idea to prepare and have, even if you ultimately don’t need them. It’s better to have them and not need them than the other way around, especially given the potentially long lines and “frustrating” service at the DMV.

Buying from a Private Seller

While there are other advantages to buying a car from a private seller, there are some difficulties as well. The convenience of the dealership is that they most often take all the necessary steps for you, even if it’s only getting you part of the way there. When buying privately, you will be responsible for every step of the process.

First of all, to take over a car from a private seller, you’ll need the following things:

  • The vehicle’s “pink slip” (title) signed by the seller (they sign on Line 1 of the title)
  • In the event that the seller is not the owner named on the title, then you need a Bill of Sale signed by the seller and whoever’s name is on the title
  • Official odometer record (for vehicles less than 10 years old)
  • A smog certification
  • Use tax and title transfer fees

Second, you need to understand the further rules and requirements.

1. Buyers have just 10 days after buying the vehicle to transfer ownership to themselves.

2. Sellers have 5 days after the sale to report the transfer of ownership to the DMV.

Registering an Out-of-State Car in California

If you are moving to California for work, study or any other reason and bringing your car from another state, then you also have to register. Fortunately, the process is quite similar to the registration process described above, but there are one or two additional things that you’ll need.

Please note that you have to register your car within 20 days of establishing your new residency in California.

Register on Time – Avoid Late Fees

There are a lot of additional and related fees when registering a car in California, you can find a complete list of these fees here, along with fee calculators so you can determine in advance how much you would have to pay on a new or existing car.

It’s important that you register on time, otherwise you could face penalty fees of between $30 and $100 depending on how overdue you are. It’s not terribly steep, in reality, but it’s best not to be on the wrong side of the automotive law when you’re registering a new vehicle in California.

Follow the guidelines mentioned above and you’ll be right on track!

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