Vehicle form

Rules for registering your car varies from state to state.

Whether you’re in the market for a new car or a used one, be sure to budget the necessary time – and cost – to register it with the state. You’ll want to accomplish this as soon as possible, as it’s illegal to drive an unregistered vehicle on public roads.

If you’re buying a new car or truck, the dealer will likely take care of the process for you. But if you’re getting a vehicle from a private seller, or simply want to avoid paying a dealer’s “doc fee,” you’ll have to register it yourself. Depending on where you live this could mean a trip to the local Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Revenue, Motor Vehicle Division or Secretary of State’s office.

Every state has its own requirements for registering and licensing a vehicle. It’s always best to check the proper authority’s website in advance so you come to the office prepared with all the necessary paperwork and can cover all applicable taxes and fees.

You’ll need to bring the vehicle’s title that’s been signed over to you as the purchaser. If you’re buying a new car or truck, you’ll receive a document called a statement of origin. If the car is being financed and the lender is holding the title, you may be required to bring the loan documents and perhaps the bill of sale.

You may need to bring a valid driver’s license and/or other documents (like a utility bill) to show proof of residence, as well as proof of insurance – most states require liability coverage at mandated minimum levels. Depending on where you live, if the vehicle is more than a few years old you may have to prove that it’s passed an emissions test and maybe even a safety check.

You’ll be required to pay a title transfer fee and purchase license plates. Realize that this could amount to several hundred dollars. You may also have to pay state and local sales taxes on the transaction if you bought the vehicle from a private seller, subject to certain exceptions.

Keep a copy of the vehicle’s registration form and insurance card in the car’s glove compartment in case you need to show proof to law enforcement, but always leave the title at home for added security.

If the title was lost or otherwise destroyed, you’ll usually still be able to register the vehicle, though this is a more difficult process. You’ll have to fill out a form, pay a separate fee and provide pertinent information. This will likely include the car or truck’s VIN (vehicle identification number – it’s on the dashboard on the driver’s side at the windshield), odometer reading and the bill of sale.

If you don’t have a title and can’t get in touch with the former owner (say, you received a car from a deceased relative), you may have to purchase a surety bond and apply for what’s called a bonded title. A surety bond is a legal instrument that makes you financially responsible for ownership of the vehicle. You may have to produce a statement detailing how you came into possession of the vehicle, along with any other evidence that will help prove that you are, in fact, its current owner.

However, be aware that you may not be able to obtain a new title and registration if the car or truck has been salvaged, stolen, or is involved in an active legal proceeding.

© CTW Features