You’ve done it—you’ve finally managed to pass your driving test and you’re now a licensed driver who’s cleared to hit the road. However, before you can start driving regularly, you need to have a car you can drive, and one of the things that determines if a car is road-worthy is registration. Every car that drives on public roads needs to be registered, which means supplying the state with your information as the person responsible for the vehicle and paying your registration taxes and fees.
If you’ve never done this before, then this blog is for you: here are some helpful tips for how to register your vehicle as a teen or first-time driver.
(Editor’s Note: This blog, originally published in 2014, has been modified in November of 2019 to include updated information about the process. Please note that every state’s registration process is different; different departments will have different names, and different residents will be required to go through different processes and pay different fees in order to register a vehicle. Make sure you check with your local authorities to figure out exactly where you need to go and what you need to have in order to make your registration process smoother.)
Get a Title in Your Name
The first step to registering a vehicle is to have legal proof that you own and are responsible for it. When you purchase your vehicle, you should receive a proof of ownership form (most common when you purchase a car from a dealer using a loan), or the vehicle’s title that you’ll sign and take to your local motor vehicle regulation department during the registration process.
Get Needed Inspections Done
There’s a good chance your vehicle will probably need to have at least one inspection done before you can register it in your name. In most states, you’ll need to have your car tested for emissions levels. Most of the time, this can be done through one of dozens of local businesses that are licensed by your state to conduct these tests and report results to local regulators. In some states, such as Texas, you’re required to get a safety inspection for your vehicle, which is similar to a smog check but looks at everything from your brakes to your lights to make sure your vehicle is safe to operate. In some cases, the results of these tests can be sent to regulators electronically. In others, you may have to take a physical copy of your passed inspection to a local office to complete your registration.
Before You Go
Once you purchase a vehicle, you generally have a grace period to go to your local governing body to register the vehicle. Generally, the grace period is around 30 days, but in some cases it can be as little as three to five business days. Make sure you look this up before completing your purchase so you know how long you have to take care of your registration process.
We strongly advise looking up your local governing body office online and seeing if you can make an appointment for your service or take care of part of your service online. Most vehicle bureaus across the country have invested heavily in online systems that allow them to process more requests faster. You should be able to find out exactly what forms or documentation you’ll need and bring them all with you. In most cases you’ll need at least the following:
A vehicle registration form
Your signed vehicle title or proof of purchase/ownership
Any inspection results or certificates
A valid driver’s license (if you still have a temporary paper license, you may need another form of a valid photo ID)
Proof of residency (usually some piece of official mail in your name with your current address listed on it)
Proof of insurance for your vehicle
Going to Your Local Office
If you have the ability to make an appointment for your local office, make sure you still arrive early. We recommend at least 15 minutes early. Generally, registration shouldn’t take more than around 10 minutes to complete, so long as you’ve filled out all of the necessary forms correctly ahead of time.
When your registration is complete, one of several things could happen. Some states give you your new license plates on the spot. Others give you a temporary license that you must affix to your old license plates until your new ones arrive in the mail. Others don’t give you either, but instead give you a new proof of registration that you must keep with your vehicle until you get your new plates. If you need a new title printed in your name, this will most likely arrive in the mail within two to three weeks.
You may also receive a registration sticker right away. Your agent should give you instructions on how to properly affix that sticker to your vehicle. Make sure you place it in the correct spot; improperly placed stickers could lead to a pesky fix-it ticket and a fine.
Renewing Your Registration
Your registration will generally need to be renewed every year, usually before the end of the month listed on your registration sticker. We recommend paying your renewal fee well before your registration expires so it always remains current. Many states allow you to pay your renewal online and your new sticker will show up in the mail within a week or two along with your new proof of registration.
If you ever lose your sticker, your proof of registration, or your license plates, contact our local governing office and inform them right away. You may have to purchase a new sticker or new plates, but that’s a small price to pay when you consider what someone could do with your stolen plates that you’d be held responsible for.
Whether you’re looking for a safety inspection or you’re in a state that requires a state or emission inspection, your local Christian Brothers Automotive can help! Give us a call and schedule your appointment today.
*Editor’s Note: This blog was modified in Nov. 2019 to include updated and accurate information.
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