If you want to drive a vehicle on public roads, you’ll need to register your car with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Motor Vehicle Comission (MVC) first.
The registration process can vary per state, but in general, you’ll probably need the following:
- Valid driver’s license
- Proof of insurance (usually an insurance card or printout detailing your coverage is sufficient)
- Car title or signed lease agreement
- Completed vehicle registration application form
- Payment to register
In some states, you may also need proof that your vehicle passed a safety inspection and/or smog test and an odometer disclosure.
Before you register your car, most states require you to purchase car insurance or be able to demonstrate financial responsibility in another way. However, there are some exceptions and the exact requirements can vary. Below, we’ll break down each state’s stance on registering cars without insurance.
Does your state require insurance to register your car?
Here are the states and territories where you need proof of insurance so you can finally answer the question: “Do you need insurance to register a car?”
|State or Territory||Do you need insurance to register a car?|
|Arizona||No, you can register without but must get insurance within 30 days of registering|
|Iowa||No, you can register without insurance but must have minimum liability coverage to operate the vehicle|
|Mississippi||No, you can register without insurance but must have minimum liability coverage to operate the vehicle|
|New Hampshire||No, insurance isn’t required to register and isn’t mandatory for most drivers, but it is strongly encouraged|
|North Dakota||No, you can register without insurance but must have minimum liability coverage to operate the vehicle|
|Tennessee||No, you can register without insurance but must have minimum liability coverage to operate the vehicle|
|Wisconsin||No, you can register without insurance but must have minimum liability coverage to operate the vehicle|
Not all states require insurance and registration at the same time
As you can see, you must have auto insurance before registering your car in most states and territories in the U.S.
However, some states, such as Arizona, Iowa, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin don’t require you to have auto insurance before registering a car — though most require you to purchase insurance if you plan on driving the vehicle. In some cases, you may be required to follow up with documentation (such as an insurance card or printout detailing your coverage) that proves you’re insured within a certain time period, such as 30 days, or your registration could be suspended.
Almost every state requires at least liability coverage, which covers damages to the other party’s vehicle and/or bodily injuries if you cause an accident. The minimum amount of coverage you need to purchase can vary per state, though, so it’s important to check with your state’s DMV before buying auto insurance and registering your vehicle.
While New Hampshire doesn’t require auto insurance, drivers from the Granite State who want to avoid purchasing a car insurance policy need to show “proof of financial responsibility” — or prove they’d be able to cover the cost of an accident if they cause one.
The bottom line
If you want to register and drive your car, you’ll usually need to purchase auto insurance first. But even if your state or region doesn’t require you to have auto insurance to register a car, having a car insurance policy with adequate coverage is a good idea to protect others — along with your finances, vehicles, and wellbeing.
Plus, it’s usually required if you eventually want to drive the vehicle — if you drive without insurance, you may be fined or sentenced to community service, your license may be suspended, your vehicle could be impounded, and you could even go to jail.
One good option is pay-per-mile auto insurance from Metromile. Drivers can save up to 47% a year on average, according to a 2018 survey of new customers who saved, without sacrificing their coverage or experience. See how much you can save with a free quote today.
Still not convinced? You can see if Metromile is right for you with the Ride Along™. Download the Metromile app from your favorite app store and drive as you usually do for about two weeks. (Make sure to keep your current insurance policy to keep your coverage during the trial.) After your Ride Along, you’ll see how much you could save based on your actual driving, and in some states, earn an additional discount of up to 15% off your initial quote for demonstrating safe driving during your trial.
Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.
* Average annual car insurance savings by new customers surveyed who saved with Metromile in 2018.