California Car Registration for New Cars: A How to Guide

January 27, 2012

California car registration can be a complex process especially if this is your first time. Fortunately, here is all the information for new car registration you need for the State of California.

How to Register Your New Car in California

Get the Right Paperwork
Paperwork for new car purchases at a dealer is usually done for you, but check to make sure the dealer registered and titled the vehicle accurately. Follow these two steps if you are new to California and purchased a new vehicle:

  1. You should complete and submit an Application for Title and Registration [PDF]. The name and address of the lien holder, a legal owner, should be included if applicable. Every registered owner must sign the application
  2. Get the Bill of Sale, a legal document that lists the vehicle identification number (VIN), license plate number and other information to provide proof of the sale. This document protects both the buyer and the seller

Get the Fees
First-time car registration fees include the State's Vehicle License Fee, use tax, and other small fees. The cost of California car registration has increased due to the California budget deficit. For example, the use tax alone may cost you thousands of dollars. The Vehicle License Fee also increased recently from 0.65 percent of the vehicle value to 1.15 percent. Be careful not to lose or destroy any paperwork, license plates, or registration stickers. There are also additional fees to replace these items.

Visit the DMV
Make an appointment at your nearest California Department of Motor Vehicles to register your vehicle. Nonresident vehicles will have to be inspected by a DMV employee, law enforcement officer, or licensed vehicle verifier. Specify that car needs a free inspection when you set up the appointment. Submit the paperwork and fee after the inspection is complete. You will need to order a license plate at this time. Your plates and stickers will be sent by mail. One sticker will be for the month and the other will be for the year. Regular license plate fees are usually around $17 to $20. Affix your stickers to the license plate once you receive them and keep the registration in your car.

Get a Tax Deduction
A portion of your annual Vehicle License fee may be deducted from your income tax. Locate the fee on your Vehicle Registration Renewal Notice or your Validated Registration Card. Find a tax attorney that can consult you on income tax and deductions. Other fees like for weight and county/district cannot be deducted.

Pay the fees and register your new car in California within 20 days of entry or residency. After you have accomplished registering your car, you will be fully prepared to hit the Golden State roads.

How to Renew Your Car Registration in California

In order to learn the details of how to renew your car registration in California it might be a good idea to visit to the official website of the California DMV and obtaining all the step by step instructions. However, for a quick guide to matters regarding registration renewals in California, this article will suffice to build a base.

It is mandatory to undertake the car registration renewal process once every year. Unlike some states where the renewal has to be done biannually, California makes it mandatory for a once-a-year renewal. The State of California makes it possible for its residents to go through the car registration renewal process in three ways in order to offer the highest degree of convenience and flexibility. Depending on whichever method suits your situation the best you can choose to renew your car registration by visiting an office in person, by going online or through the mail.

Renewing Your Registration via the Mail
In order to be able to renew your car registration in California through the mail you will need to use the Vehicle Registration Renewal Notice sent to you by the DMV. It is important to have the necessary information regarding your fees structure as well as the details of your car's smog check requirements. These details will be found in the Vehicle Registration Renewal Notice sent to you but in case you don't have the notice you will be required to call the number (800) 777-0133 and request the required information.

If your smog certificate has expired the state requires you to have a smog check and avail a new smog license. The DMV website will guide you through the different steps of the same to prepare you for the registration renewal. Once your paperwork is complete you need to mail your documents along with the fees payment (money order or a check) to the address: Department of Motor Vehicles, P.O. Box 942869, Sacramento, CA 94269-0001.

Renewing Your Registration in Person
If you choose to undertake your registration renewal in person and require having your car smog checked it is recommended to first pay the registration fees and then go in for a smog check as this way you can avoid the chances of being fined. After you have gotten the car smog certificate it is important to get all your papers in order. After you find out what the necessary documents are, take the same along to the nearest DMV office along with any one form of payment. This can include a debit card, a check, a money order or cash. In person transactions cannot be paid for using credit cards.

Renewing Your Registration Using Online Services
Once all your paperwork is in order you can choose to go online for your registration renewal. Car registration California fees online can be paid via credit or debit card and also through E-check payments.

Related Questions and Answers

Where do I get the Documents that are Required for Vehicle Registration?

Here is a simple list of documents required for vehicle registration in California. Forms for the DMV can be downloaded directly at the site here. You will need a bill of sale if you have purchased a second hand vehicle. If you have bought a new vehicle, ensure that you register it within ten days to avoid the penalties that are imposed. Smog check certifications are required, but you can get them from any smog check center, and they are valid for 90 days from the date of issue. Auto insurance papers are required. Get a Notice of Title Transfer and Release of Liability Form from the DMV website to protect yourself.

Does it Cost Money to Change the Name on a Vehicle's Registration?

    You can change name on vehicle registration of your car very easily. Get the correct form from your state DMV and fill it in with the right name of ownership. Submit the certificate of the title with the New Registered Owner section filled in. You might have to fill in the Statements of Facts form (REF256). You also might have to fill in a transfer of ownership form if you have been gifted the car by parents or relatives. There are no fees to make a name change, but you might have to pay when you are transferring ownership.

    How Much Does it Cost to Get CA DMV Custom Plates?

    You will have to get in touch with the California DMV to get CA dmv custom plates. You can choose plates that have graphic designs on them along with numbers and alphabet combinations to create custom plates. You will have to fill in forms at the DMV to get the personalized plates along with the specific combination that you are looking for. It takes about 8-12 weeks to get the plates and they will be mailed to your home. You can get additional information about the forms here at this link. Personalized plates will cost about $100 odd depending on the latest rules.

    How Much is it to Transfer a Car Title?

    If you are wondering how much is it to transfer a car title, you will have to check with the DMV of your state. Title transfer is the process by which you are transferring the ownership of the car to the new owner of the car. You have to inform the DMV within 10 days of selling the car. The transfer fee can range anywhere from $30-$400, and you might have to do the necessary paperwork by filling out the forms at the office. Check with the DMV of your state for the latest updated information and fees.

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