How to Register and Insure Your Vehicle

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Joel Ohman
Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: Nov 11, 2016

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Here's what you need to know...

  • Before operating your motor vehicle, you must purchase insurance coverage
  • You must also register your vehicle with the state in which you live
  • Operating a motor vehicle on any public road without proper registration and insurance is illegal
  • The only exception to this rule applies to farm vehicles that may need to move from one piece of land to the next

Owning your first car can indeed be an exciting venture. But simply making a purchase is not enough to allow you to start driving.

You first have to procure insurance for your car, as well as register it with the state. Doing these things can be somewhat time-consuming, but both are usually easy tasks.

Outside of the farm exception, you are risking serious penalties, and possibly even jail time, if you’re caught driving a vehicle without correct registration and insurance.

When it’s time to find insurance on that new car, you can shop for car insurance quotes online by entering your ZIP code above.

Which comes first registration or insurance?

Man writing notes next to computer

Just about every state requires that drivers carry a minimum amount of liability insurance on any vehicle they register.

In states that don’t require a traditional insurance policy, drivers must still file a form attesting to the fact that they have the financial resources to qualify as self-insured.

In either case, this must be done before your vehicle can be registered. You’ll need to take with you a copy of your insurance certificate when you go to the DMV to register the car.

If you allow your coverage to lapse, you may also be required to surrender your registration in some states. In order to get your registration back you will have to once again procure auto insurance and provide a certificate of proof.

In some states, driving without insurance can mean hefty fines, a one-year suspension of your driver’s license, and significantly higher insurance rates for at least a couple of years.

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Once I have my insurance, what do I do?

Most states require that first-time registrations be done in person at a local branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

You will need to take with you all appropriate paperwork including sales receipt, registration application, proof of insurance, and anything else your state might require.

If you’re not sure what you’ll need, contact your local DMV branch before your visit.

Be aware that some states require drivers to prove their residency through a utility bill or some other piece of mail with the correct address on it.

At your local DMV office, workers will examine your paperwork to make sure everything is in order. If it is, they will then print your registration, give you license plates, and collect the registration fee.

In states where license plates stay with a vehicle for its lifetime, you’ll only receive new plates if you’ve purchased a car from out of state or from a dealer that does not provide plates. All other vehicles in those states will simply be provided with a new registration card.

How long do I have to register my vehicle?


Laws differ between the states regarding many aspects of motor vehicle ownership, usage, and registration. When it comes to time limits for registration, some states have them while others don’t.

For example, in the state of California you must register your vehicle within ten days of the date of purchase. Failing to do so will result in late fees being assessed when you eventually do decide to register it.

New York, on the other hand, has no time limit for vehicle registrations following a purchase.

If you’re talking about moving into a new state rather than purchasing a new vehicle, things are a bit different.

Almost every state has a specific time limit after which you are required to register your vehicle in that state.

Using California as an example again, you are considered a state resident after 30 days of uninterrupted time in California. You must register your out-of-state vehicle with the California DMV immediately upon reaching the 30-day requirement.

There are other states whose time limits are very similar to California. On the other hand, there are others with time limits that are much more forgiving. In a couple of southern states, for example, residency requirements don’t kick in for 60 or 90 days.

This gives you more time to register your vehicle in the new state. Rest assured, however, that if you live in a new state long enough to establish residency, and you don’t change your registration, you could be fined if you’re ever pulled over for a violation.

Whether you’re moving to a new state or staying where you are, you can find reliable online car insurance quotes by entering your ZIP code in the box below.

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