App version: 0.1.0

Registering a Car Without a License: What You Need to Know

Can You Register a Car Without a License?
Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman

Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman

Updated February 21, 2022
Share this article:
Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
Registering your car at a state or local motor vehicle agency is a duty you can perform without a driver’s license. All 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have vehicle registration requirements, but none of them require a driver’s license as a condition of registration.If your driver’s license has been confiscated, suspended, or revoked, or if you’ve never had a driver’s license to begin with, you may still purchase a vehicle and register it with the appropriate government agency where you reside. Below we provide details on how to register your vehicle in the United States.

What Is a Car Registration?

A car registration is a credential, certificate, or document that a car owner receives upon registering the vehicle with a government department of motor vehicles. The car registration may be valid for one year or multiple years before expiring. Car owners may renew their registration as needed.As mentioned earlier, all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have car registration requirements. A car registration would generally identify the make and model of a car, the vehicle identification number, the license plate tag number, and the name and home address of the vehicle’s current owner.

Why Do You Need to Register a Car?

Car owners need to register their vehicles with the appropriate government agency to comply with the law. As mentioned above, all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have car registration requirements. The car registration may be valid for one year or multiple years before expiring.All states and the District of Columbia generally require every vehicle operated on public highways to be registered. Car owners may renew their registration as needed. Some states require vehicles to pass a safety inspection and emissions test before you can renew your vehicle registration.Driving without registration can result in traffic citations and fines. Some states may allow you to drive up to five working days after your registration expires without penalty. Driving without registration in some states can result in traffic fines up to $200.

What You Need to Register a Car

You need proof of your identity to register a car. Such proof could include a U.S. passport or state ID. A department of motor vehicles generally charges a registration fee, so you need cash or a credit card to pay any necessary taxes and fees as part of the registration process.Most states require you to buy auto insurance before you can register a car. New Hampshire has no mandatory car insurance law, and Virginia allows car owners to operate uninsured vehicles upon paying a special fee, but every other state requires a minimum level of car insurance covering personal liability for property damage and bodily injury.Car owners may also need to complete an application for a certificate of title to register a vehicle for the first time. You may need the unique vehicle identification number, also known as your VIN number, to renew a registration.Some states may require you to present a manufacturer’s statement of origin and an original itemized invoice from the car dealership where you’ve purchased the vehicle to register a vehicle for the first time. Registering a vehicle for the first time may also require you to present a signed lease agreement if the vehicle is a leased vehicle.

Can You Register a Car Without a License?

As mentioned earlier, you can register a car without a driver’s license. A driver’s license is only required to legally operate a motor vehicle on public roads, but you do not need a driver’s license to register your vehicle.You may need a suitable form of photo identification to register your vehicle, but your photo ID doesn’t need to be a driver’s license. A U.S. passport, for example, can serve as suitable proof of identity.You can register a vehicle for the first time and renew your vehicle’s registration without holding a valid driver’s license. You may buy a new or used car and register it with the appropriate motor vehicle agency even if that agency had revoked your driving privileges for traffic violations.

How Long Does It Take to Register a Car?

You can register a car in one business day. Some states may require the initial registration to take place in person when titling the vehicle at a local service center. The registration process could take an hour or less depending on how busy the service center may be.States generally allow car registration renewals to take place online. Renewing a registration online may take several minutes.

How Much Does It Cost to Register a Car?

Each state has its own fee structure for registering a car. Some states may charge over $200 for the initial registration fee, while other states may charge less than $20 in car registration fees. Registering large vehicles may cost more than registering small vehicles under 3,500 pounds.Registration fees are just one of the costs of owning a vehicle. If you have a car loan and are seeking to lower your costs, you may explore if and when to refinance a vehicle and evaluate the pros and cons of auto refinancing.When evaluating the cost to refinance a vehicle, some states may require you to re-register your car if and when you refinance.

Can You Register a Car Online?

Some states may allow you to register a car online without making any trips to the department of motor vehicles. Nevada, for example, allows you to go online to register cars bought from a Nevada dealer.Other states may require the initial registration to be conducted in person. States generally allow car registration renewals to be done online when you need to renew an expiring certificate of registration.

Can You Transfer Your Registration to a New Car? 

You may transfer your registration to a new car if your state allows it. A transfer of registration occurs when a vehicle owner takes a vehicle off the road and transfers its license plates and registration over to another vehicle.Transferring an existing registration to a new car can be more cost-effective than ordering new license plates when registering your car. If you trade in or sell your vehicle, you may be allowed to transfer the registration and vehicle plates to another vehicle you own.

When Do You Need a Vehicle Registration Certificate? 

You need a vehicle registration certificate whenever you operate a vehicle on public roads in any of the U.S. states or the District of Columbia. All states generally require your certificate of registration to be carried in your motor vehicle at all times when it is being operated on a public highway.A few states and the District of Columbia allow their registered drivers to carry electronic proof of vehicle registration as an alternative to carrying a physical credential. These drivers may carry electronic proof of registration on a cellphone.

3 Auto Loan Refinance Tips

  • Refinancing your auto loan could lead to lower monthly car payments and more money in your budget. Lantern by SoFi can help you find the right auto loan refinancing for you.
  • Shortening the term of your auto loan may increase your monthly payments, but you’ll likely pay less in interest over the life of the loan.
  • Generally, the newer your car, the lower the refi interest rate. This is because younger cars typically have a higher value than old or used cars—and the car serves as collateral for the loan.

Photo credit: iStock/Michael Burrell
The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.SOLC0122035

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I process vehicle registration?
How much is car registration?

About the Author

Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman

Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman

Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman writes about personal loans, auto loans, student loans, and other personal finance topics for Lantern. He’s the recipient of more than 10 journalism awards and currently serves as a New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists board member. An alumnus of the Philadelphia-based Temple University, Abdur-Rahman is a strong advocate of the First Amendment and freedom of speech.
Share this article: