What You Need to Do to Register a Car in California

How to register car in California | Metromile

Whether you’re buying a new set of wheels in California or moving to the Golden State with the car you have, you’re going to need to register your vehicle with the state of California. 

In this brief guide, learn how to register a car in California and the next steps you need to take.

Why it’s important to register a car in California?

In order to drive legally, you need your driver’s license, auto insurance, as well as car registration. When you get pulled over, the officer typically asks for your license and registration. Put simply, car registration is non-negotiable and something you need to do if you want to drive in California

Many states have their own laws regarding car registration. In California, you must register your vehicle to be in good, legal standing while on the road. 

When you register your car, you are tying yourself to the specific vehicle and location. When you register your vehicle, you will need to pay a registration fee.

How much does it cost to register a car in California?

In California, you’ll likely pay the vehicle registration fee, plus a California Highway Patrol (CHP) fee, vehicle license fee, county fee, as well transportation improvement fee. 

If you’re wondering how much to register a car in California, it can depend on various factors. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), your registration fees are determined by:

  • Your vehicle type (e.g., auto, motorcycle, etc.)
  • Your vehicle’s purchase price or declared value
  • When you purchased your vehicle or the date your vehicle entered California
  • The city and/or county you live in
  • The city and/or county your business is based in
  • The unladen or declared gross vehicle weight and the number of axles your vehicle may have
  • Any special license plates your vehicle may have
  • Whether you have any unpaid parking violations or toll evasion bail

The California DMV has useful calculators to evaluate what your prospective costs might be. Use the following tools to see how much it might cost you to register a car in California:

Used fee calculator (if you buy a used vehicle that is new to you)

Who should register a car in California?

Car registration is mandatory. If you plan to drive a vehicle in California, you’re going to want to register the car in California. 

Some common scenarios that might require you to register a car in California include:

  • You bought a new car. Many dealerships can take on the registration responsibilities, but you’ll need to do it yourself if not. 
  • You buy a car from someone else in a “private party purchase.” In this case, you’ll have 10 days to transfer ownership, and the seller will need to report the sale to the DMV within five days of the sale. 
  • If you moved from another state to California, you’ll need to update your vehicle registration within 20 days of establishing residency in the state.

Everything you might need to register your car in California

Here is what you need to register a car in California if you bought a new car recently or moved to California: 

If you end up buying a car from a private party, you may also need:

Proof of insurance requirements in California

California drivers need to have proof of car insurance and keep it in their car at all times. You’ll want to keep your insurance handy in your car, as you’ll need it if you get pulled over, get in a car accident, and when you renew your vehicle registration. 

According to the California DMV, proof of financial responsibility (most often car insurance) is required for all cars in California, whether you’re driving or even if the car is just parked. 

You can’t just have any car insurance. The California DMV requires specific coverage. In the state of California, your minimum liability insurance needs to cover: 

  • $5,000 for property damage
  • $15,000 for cases of injury or death to one person
  • $30,000 for cases of injury or death to more than a single person 

You must have liability insurance and not just comprehensive or collision coverage. 
You can personalize your auto insurance coverage with Metromile. Many California drivers select higher limits or add additional coverage for extra peace of mind and to help protect their vehicle, finances, and wellbeing.

The bottom line

If you just bought a car in California or arrived (welcome!), you’ll need to register your vehicle with the DMV. To drive or own a car in California, you’ll also need to ensure you have the right auto insurance coverage to be a safe and responsible driver. 

Many drivers in California choose Metromile and save money with pay-per-mile auto insurance.

You can download the Metromile app from your favorite app store to see if pay-as-you-go auto insurance is right for you. Ride Along™ is a free trial that will show you an accurate rate and how much you might save with Metromile. Rates start at $23 per month plus a few cents for each mile you drive.

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.