What is a California Car Registration?

In the state of California, all vehicles, boats, and vessels must be registered with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (CA DMV) to be able to operate them on California roadways, waterways, and trailways.

Step-by-Step California Car Registration Guide

California drivers who wish to register their vehicles, boats, and motorcycles can follow the steps listed below to do so.

Registering New and Used Cars in California

The California vehicle registration process differs depending on whether the vehicle was purchased from a private seller or a dealership.

You can also register your car online with us.

Purchasing a Car from a Dealership

California drivers that purchase a vehicle from a dealership have most of the registration paperwork taken care of by the dealership. Drivers in California will receive a temporary registration certificate that needs to be kept in the car until the official registration arrives in the mail from the CA DMV. California car dealerships may or may not issue license plates, so drivers need to inquire about license plates with the dealership.

Purchasing a Vehicle from a Private Seller

Drivers in California that purchase a vehicle from a private seller have 10 days to get it registered. Drivers can schedule an appointment online or call the CA DMV at (800) 777-0133 to schedule an appointment, or visit their local DMV office.

Required Documentation to Register a Vehicle in California

To register a vehicle in California, drivers must provide:

  • Vehicle title and odometer mileage if the vehicle is less than 20 years old. Drivers who misplaced their title must complete and submit an Application for a Duplicate or Paperless Title (Form REG 227)
  • The car seller must provide the driver with a valid smog certificate if the car exceeds 4 years old. Smog certificates in California are valid for 90 days after the vehicle passes inspection. Drivers need to make sure the smog certificate doesn’t expire before registering the vehicle. Smog certificates are not required if the previous owner obtained a passing smog certificate within 90 days of selling the vehicle.
  • Submit a completed Application for Title or Registration (Form REG 343)
  • Pay all applicable fees (see registration fees below)

Transitioning from a Non-Transferable Registration

Non-transferrable registrations are given to out-of-state vehicles that are registered in California. Proof of ownership, such as the vehicle’s title, is not required. California vehicles that have a non-transferable registration can’t be given a California vehicle title, transferred, or sold. Individuals who want to sell or buy a vehicle that has a non-transferable registration need to have the vehicle’s current registration converted to a transferable registration.

Individuals can convert their non-transferable California registration to a transferable registration by submitting specific documentation to their local California DMV office, such as:

  • The vehicle’s current non-transferable registration card
  • The last-issued title for the vehicle (California vehicle owners who do not have the vehicle’s title need to submit an Application for Duplicate or Paperless Title (Form REG 227). If the vehicle is originally titled in California, contact the CA DMV.
  • Individuals who are purchasing or registering a vehicle from a previous owner need to submit a Bill of Sale (Form REG 135) and an Application for Title or Registration (Form REG 343)
  • Vehicles that are less than 20 years old require an Odometer Disclosure Statement
  • If applicable, proof of a valid smog certificate
  • Vehicles that require a renewed registration within 75 days must have renewal fees paid in full
  • Payment for any other transfer fees and outstanding citations must be paid

New Residents of California

California residents who purchase a vehicle outside of California and bring it back California to be registered must follow the same guidelines as individuals who are new to California. New residents of California have 20 days to register their vehicle(s) at their local CA DMV after establishing residency.

Residency in California applies to all persons who:

  • Are employed in California
  • Claims tax exemptions for their home in California
  • Leases or rents an apartment or home
  • Apply for state documents, such as voter registration, driver’s license, etc.
  • Enrolls their dependents or themselves in any type of school, such as college, grade school, high school, etc.

These rules are not applicable to members of the military or military families who are residents of another state.

Once residency in California is established, California residents must visit their local California Department of Motor Vehicles and submit:

  • An Application for Title or Registration (Form REG 343) with the signatures of each owner and lienholder information if applicable
  • Commercial vehicles require a Declaration of Gross Vehicle Weight/Combined Gross Vehicle Weight (Form REG 4008) and trailers need to be registered using the Permanent Trailer Identification (PTI) Application Certification (Form REG 4017)
  • Proof of a valid vehicle insurance policy
  • Individuals who are transferring their title to California need their vehicle’s out-of-state title
    • This step is not required if individuals are also applying for a California state title at the same time, but the registration will still be non-transferable if drivers do not get a title.
  • Out-of-state registration
    • Drivers can use their registration renewal or a letter showing their registration from a DMV in the last state it was registered.
  • Weight certification, applicable
  • Smog and emissions certificate, if applicable (see California Vehicle Inspections)
  • Payment for taxes and fees (See

California Vehicle Inspections / Smog Test

Almost all vehicles in California are required to pass a smog (emissions) test/inspection every two years. Vehicles that are eight years old or younger in California are charged a smog abatement fee ($25) each year for the first eight years of registration instead of having a smog inspection performed.

Smog Inspection Exemptions for California Drivers

Vehicles that are exempt from a California smog inspection (emissions test) are:

  • Vehicles that are less than four years old
  • Electric and hybrid vehicles
  • Gas vehicles that are model year 1975 and older
  • Diesel vehicles that are model year 1997 and older
  • Diesel vehicles that exceed 14,000 lbs in weight
  • Natural gas vehicles that exceed 14,000 lbs in weight
  • Motorcycles
  • Trailers

California Registration Fees

The state of California requires different fees when a vehicle is registered. CA drivers who are purchasing a vehicle from a dealership have the same fees included in the vehicle’s total price. Individuals who purchase a vehicle from a private seller must pay the fees directly to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

All California drivers must pay:

  • Registration – $60
  • California Highway Patrol (CHP) $27
  • Transportation Improvement Fee (TIF) (based on the vehicle’s value):
    • $0 – $4,999 – $27
    • $5,000 – $24,999 – $54
    • $25,000 – $34,999 – $107
    • $35,000 – $59,999 – 161
    • $60,000 – and up – $188

Vehicle Registration Late Fees

Vehicles need to be registered in California within 20 days of establishing residency or individuals will need to pay late fees, which are determined by the duration of the delinquency.

Individuals have 10 days to register their vehicle in California after they purchase it from a private seller or late fees must be paid.

Vehicle Registration Penalties in California:

  • Less than 1 year – $30
  • 1 to 2 years – $50
  • 2 years or more – $100

California Highway Patrol Fee Penalties for Original Registration:

  • Less than 1 year – $30
  • 1 to 2 years – $50
  • 2 years or more – $100

Other California vehicle fees vary depending on the vehicle. For an estimate for Vehicle License Fees (VLFs) check here and use the California VLF calculator.

Registering a Motorcycle in California

California residents who have purchased a moped, motorcycle, scooter, or other motor-driven cycle or have been given one of these motor-driven cycles, need to register it with the California DMV.

To register a motorcycle, CA residents need:

  • California certificate of Title (if you have a loan, the name and address of the lien holder need to be provided.)
  • Proof of a valid insurance policy (vehicle liability insurance policy, surety bonds of $35,000.00 from a company licensed to conduct business in California, or a DMV-issued self-insurance certificate).
  • A valid California motorcycle license
  • Payment for applicable fees

Unlike trucks and cars, motorcycles are not required to have a smog check before registration.

Motorized Scooters and Miniature Motorcycles

Miniature vehicles, such as pocket bikes and mini choppers, can’t be operated on public stress or registered with the CA DMV because they do not meet the Federal Safety Standards.

California residents can operate motorized scooters on public streets, and they do not need to be registered. CA residents who wish to operate a motorized scooter must be at least 16 years of age and have a valid permit or driver’s license. All riders are required to wear helmets.

Using Motorcycles off the Highway

Individuals who plan on using their motorcycle off public highways and roads need to register the cycle as an off-highway vehicle (OHV).

Planned Non-Operation

California residents who plan to only store their motorcycle and do not want to operate it during the next renewal year need to apply for a Planned Non-Operation (PNO) (Form REG 102).

Registering a California Motorcycle Purchased from a Dealership

Residents of CA who have purchased a motorcycle at a dealership have most or all of the registration paperwork completed by the dealership. A temporary registration certificate will be issued while the permanent registration documents are being processed. Individuals may or may not be issued permanent or temporary license plates.

Registering a California Motorcycle Purchased from a Private Seller

Motorcycles that are purchased from a private seller in California need to title and register the motorcycle in the name of the new owner within 10 days of purchasing it.

Once an appointment is made at the local CA DMV office, California residents need to bring:

  • The signed over motorcycle title (If the motorcycle title can’t be found, an Application for Duplicate or Paperless Title (Form REG 227) needs to be completed with the seller and submitted in place of the original title).
  • An Odometer Disclosure Statement if the motorcycle is less than 10 years old. (The odometer reading can be included on the motorcycle’s title or a Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form (Form REG 262) can be completed. This form is also available at a local CA DMV or by mail.
  • Payment for the base registration fee ($60) in addition to all other applicable fees and taxes.

Individuals have 30 days of the purchase date to pay all transfer fees.

California Motorcycle Registration Exemptions

Individuals who live and drive in California, but are not California residents, such as members of the military, may be exempt from registering their motorcycle but are still required to maintain their current registration in their official state of residence. Click here for more information regarding non-resident military vehicle exemptions.

California Motorcycle Registration Fees

The fees that are due for motorcycles registered in California depend on the value, purchase date, and county or city of residence of operation.

The base fees the California Department of Motor Vehicles charge include:

  • Registration fee – $60
  • California Highway Patrol (CHP) fee – $27
  • Vehicle license fee – 0.65% of the motorcycle’s value
  • County/district fees – $1-$19 each (based on location)
  • Use tax – 7.5% to 10.25%, depending on the county

The same fees apply for individuals who purchased their motorcycle from a private seller.

Registering a Boat in California

Residents of California that own a vessel for touring the water, such as yachts and motorboats, must register them with the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Boats That Require a California Registration

Boats that require a California registration include:

  • Sail-powered vessels that exceed 8 ft.
  • All water vessels that are motor-powered

Commercial vessels that weigh at least 5 tons OR measure at least 30 ft. long must be registered with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Questions or concerns regarding boat registration can be addressed by the CA DMV at (800) 777-0133.

Boat Registration Exemptions in California

The California DMV does not require a boat registration for:

  • Houseboats
  • Seaplanes
  • Watercraft guided by mechanical devices that keep the vessel on a permanently fixed course
  • Vessels that are propelled by paddles or cars
  • Non-motorized sailboats that do not exceed 8 ft.
  • Sailboards
  • A ship’s lifeboat (not excluding dinghies)
  • Vessels that are currently registered in a different state and used primarily outside of California
  • Vessels brought to California for racing purposes
  • Water vessels documented by the U.S. Coast Guard

Registering a Boat in California In-Person or by Mail

The CA DMV allows California residents to register their boat in-person at a local DMV or by mail.

Individuals who recently moved to California with a vessel that is registered in a different state have 120 days of their arrival to register their boat with the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Required Documents

California residents need to provide these items to register their boat:

  • A completed Application for Registration Number, Certificate of Ownership, and Certificate of Number for an Undocumented Vessel (Form BOAT 101)
  • Proof of ownership documentation, including:
    • Out-of-state title
    • Bill of Sale
    • A conditional sales contract marked “paid” (can be the original document or a copy, but the document must be countersigned, and the purchaser’s name all names of the lien holder must be included).
  • Vessels that are valued at $2,000 or more require the bond
  • Payment for all applicable registration fees

Residents of CA who wish to register their boat by mail can send the above documentation to:

Department of Motor Vehicles
P.O. Box 942869
Sacramento, CA 94269

California Boat Registration Fees

The associated fees for registering a boat with the California DMV are as follows:


  • Application submitted in:
  • Even-numbered year: $37
  • Odd-numbered year – $65


  • Application submitted in:
  • Even-numbered year: $65
  • Odd-numbered year: $93

Other Fees Regardless of Residency

  • Registration renewal fee – $20
    • (Due every 2 years on odd-numbered years due by December 31st)
  • Transfer fee – $15
  • Duplicate registration fee – $15

More information regarding boat registration fees and vessels that are exempt, visit the CA DMV.

Qualifications to Operate a Boat in California

The state of California does not require individuals to have a boater license to operate a boat. However, children younger than 16 can’t operate a boat that has more than 15 HP unless it’s a sailboat that is shorter than 30ft. Children must be supervised at all times.

Children who are ages 12 to 15 years old can operate boats that have over 15 HP and sailboats exceeding 30ft as long as they are supervised by someone 18 years of age or older.

Accepted Forms of Payment

The California Department of Motor Vehicles accepts:

  • Cashier’s check
  • Check
  • Money Order
  • Cash (excluding payments sent by mail)
  • Debit/Credit Card (additional service fee applies)

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