New to California? Here's How to Register Your Vehicle

With so many things on your mind after moving to a new state, it can be easy to overlook a few tasks that might not seem pressing. Getting settled in your new home and adjusting to a new neighborhood, schools, jobs, and other important aspects of your daily life will certainly take precedence.

However, if you’ve just moved to California and brought your car with you, there are a few things you need to know.

Important Facts About Registering Your Vehicle in California

1.  Register Your Vehicle Within 20 Days of Moving to California
Like most states, California requires that you register your vehicle within a certain time frame if you’ve moved there permanently.  In California, you must register within 20 days, which is under three weeks.
That may seem like plenty of time but when you’re busy with a move and then adjusting to a new town, that 20 days will fly right by!

2.  California’s Smog Rules are Tough!
California is known for its forward-thinking environmental policies.  As a result of their clean air initiatives, there are some very strict smog rules in the state. To register your vehicle, you may need a smog certificate.

How do you know whether you’ll need one of these smog certificates?  Here’s a handy checklist of who needs one:
•Any gas-powered vehicle made in 1976 or later
•Motorcycles are exempt
•Any diesel-powered vehicle made in 1998 or later
•Newer diesel-powered vehicles and natural gas or propane-powered vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating under 14,001 pounds

More State of California smog rules can be found at the official DMV site at:  Get your smog certificate filled out by a garage certified as a smog inspector and bring the paper with you when you go to the DMV.

3.  You’ll need to have in hand certain documents.
The California DMV will need to see certain documents before they’ll register your car.  Some are always needed, while others may be needed.
For those registering a vehicle that’s anything except a car (for example, a large truck or a trailer), you will also need a weight certificate and possibly other documents.  Here are the docs you’ll always need, no matter who you are or what your vehicle might be:

Application.  The application for registration/title (available online).
Proof of ownership.  The out-of-state title is usually what’s used.
Verification of Vehicle. This is NOT to be filled out by you.  The only people who can fill this out are DMV employees, garages licensed by the DMV to verify vehicles, and so-called “peace officers” like California Highway Patrol, for example.
Smog Certificate.  Unless you drive a motorcycle or your car is very old, you’ll need one of these.

4.  Take these steps to register your vehicle in California:
1.Make an appointment with the DMV.  This can be done online.
2.For your appointment, show up at the DMV with your car.
3.Also, bring the documents listed above.
4.Don’t forget to bring money!

So that’s it: just be sure you get this done within 20 days of arrival in California.  And one more thing: if you’ve moved to a different state, you’ll want to re-examine your car insurance.  For starters, you’ll need a policy for California.  But don’t forget to shop around, since a new state might mean you also need a new carrier- you might even get a better deal!

To help you with comparison shopping for car insurance, we offer our handy tool at

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