California Driver Handbook - Administrative
Vehicle Registration Requirements
The following is a brief summary of California’s vehicle registration requirements. Visit the DMV’s website to obtain detailed information at www.dmv.ca.gov.
When you purchase a new or used vehicle from a licensed California dealer, the dealer collects use tax fees to register and title the vehicle. The use tax is forwarded to the Board of Equalization.
The transfer and registration fees and documents are submitted to DMV which gives you temporary operating authority. Usually within 6 to 8 weeks after the purchase date, you will receive a registration card, license plates, stickers, and a California Certificate of Title, as appropriate.
If the dealer participates in the Business Partner Automation (BPA) program, the dealer or their registration service will process DMV documents and issue the registration card, license plates, and stickers to the customer.
If you obtain or purchase a vehicle from a private party, you must transfer the ownership within 10 days. Submit the following to DMV:
- A properly endorsed and completed California Certificate of Title or Application for Duplicate or Paperless Title (REG 227) form.
- Smog certification, if required.
- Use tax payment, if required.
- Odometer Mileage Disclosure Statement, if applicable.
- Appropriate vehicle registration fees.
When you sell or transfer a vehicle, report it to DMV within 5 days. You can complete the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (REG 138) form online, download and mail the completed form, or call DMV at 1-800-777-0133 to request the form be mailed.
Vehicles registered in another state or foreign country must be registered in California within 20 days after you become a resident or get a job (refer here for information regarding additional residency criteria).
NOTE: If you are a California resident and acquire a new vehicle, truck, or motorcycle (this includes certain diesel-powered vehicles) from another state, ensure that it meets California smog laws; otherwise, it might not qualify to be registered here. DMV cannot accept an application to register the vehicle in California when the vehicle does not qualify for registration (CHSC §§43150–43156).
Nonresident military personnel and their spouses may operate their vehicles in California with their valid home state license plates or until the plates issued from the state of their last assigned duty station expire. They may renew the registration in their home state before it expires or register the vehicle in California.
The items needed to register any out-of-state vehicle are:
- Completed and signed Application for Title or Registration (REG 343) form.
- Verification of the vehicle completed by DMV, law enforcement agent, or an auto club employee.
- Out-of-state title and/or last issued out-of-state registration card, if the title is not submitted.
- Smog certification, if required.
- Weight certificate for commercial vehicles only.
- Appropriate vehicle registration fees and use tax, if applicable.
- Completed Odometer Mileage Disclosure Statement, if applicable.
If the vehicle is purchased from a dealer enrolled in the BPA program, the documentation may be submitted by the dealer to DMV.
Vehicle Theft Prevention Tips
In the United States, a vehicle is stolen an average of every 21 minutes. Vehicle theft results in costs to the victim and it increases insurance premiums. Also, vehicle thieves often use the stolen vehicles to commit other crimes. Vehicle thefts occur more often where large groups of cars are parked at any time of day for extended periods of time, such as shopping centers, colleges, sporting events, movie complexes, and large apartment complexes.
Here are some tips you can use to avoid becoming the victim of vehicle theft.
- Never leave:
- Your vehicle running and unattended, even to dash into a store.
- The keys in the ignition.
- Keys inside a locked garage or a hide-a-key box.
- Valuables such as purses, laptops, etc., in plain view even if your vehicle is locked. Place them out of sight.
- Personal ID documents, such as the vehicle title or credit cards in the vehicle.
- Roll up your windows and lock your vehicle even if it is parked in front of your house.
- Park in high-traffic, well-lighted areas whenever possible.
- Immediately report a stolen vehicle to the police.
- Install a mechanical device that locks the steering wheel, column, or brakes.
- Think about purchasing a vehicle theft tracking/security system, especially if you own one of the frequently-stolen model vehicles.
- When you must leave your key with a valet, attendant, or mechanic, only leave the ignition key.
- Copy your license plate and vehicle information on a card, and keep that information with you and not in the car. The police will need this information if your vehicle is stolen.