Registering an out of state car in California can be a daunting task. There are many steps that must be completed before your vehicle will be on the road and registered with the California DMV. i’ve dealt with thousands of customers that have recently moved from other states into California officially establishing residency . Many of them comment that their previous state was so much easier and cheaper to register vehicles. Introducing a car into the California system requires a few extra steps that are not required in many states. Becoming a California resident requires you to register your Car with the California DMV. California has a few requirements before your vehicle can be “legal” to operate on California roads. This post will outline these necessary steps to help new residents get started.
If your vehicle fails to get a valid smog certificate then the California Department of Motor Vehicles will issue you a temporary registration with a temporary operating permit (TOP – seen below)
The California Department of Motor Vehicles has its reputation for being difficult to deal with – this is true – however, it has solutions for most problems that consumers face. If you’re bringing in a non resident vehicle that is still being financed the likeliness of you having the title is very slim (there are some states that give registered owners the title even when the vehicle isn’t paid off). For this scenario the DMV has an option called Golden-Rod. This option allows you to register your vehicle in the California DMV with just the registration card from the other state. Unfortunately a purchase agreement from a dealership is not a valid proof of ownership.
Determining the fees to register your vehicle is very easy. First and foremost, make sure to register your out of state car within 20 days or you will incur late fees. Avoid late fees as much as possible, because they are very avoidable. You do not need to have all of your inspections completed to pay the fees, this is why it is important to initiate the process to register your out of state car. Registration fees are impacted by a few key things:
There are fees that ALL current and new residents pay that are fees that are collected by the Department of Motor Vehicles and distributed to another California Department. To get an accurate calculation of your fees, you can do the following to determine:
A commercial vehicle that operate above 10,001lbs have special rules. A company car that operates at 10,001lbs or more must also register their vehicle with the DMV’s MCP unit and obtain a motor carrier permit. In addition, The weight of your vehicle is what determines how much you pay when it comes to commercial Vehicle registration fees. It’s important to clarify: if the vehicle is used to generate revenue, then it is commercial. So for example, if you have a 2021 Toyota Prius that is used to transport people for a fee, this vehicle use will be considered commercial and that vehicle will pay weight fees when you register the vehicle. However, if it is a heavy 2021 Chevy Suburban that is used by a foreman to visit job sites, this vehicle will not be charged weight fees. Another thing that determines whether or not a vehicle will be a commercial vehicle is if the car has carrying capacity, regardless if the vehicle will be used for commercial purposes only – such as this Chevy El Camino.
There are scenarios in which your non resident vehicle is ineligible for Vehicle registration in California. Some of these scenarios are “fixable” and some are not. Many of the reasons that a vehicle cannot be registered in California has to do with emissions. It is very important to understand, THERE IS A DISTINCTION BETWEEN A CAR THAT CAN PASS SMOG, AND A VEHICLE THAT IS EMISSIONS COMPLIANT. When i first learned this, it took me a while to understand, but basically, a vehicle can pass smog and still be non compliant with emissions.
Importing a vehicle into California requires a lot of due diligence and homework. I will keep this section brief, as it requires its own page just to talk about it. Many times to register an imported vehicle the eligibility is determined by the model year. Also, the verification of the vehicle can only be done by CHP officers. One thing that i have determined is that when it comes to California, any vehicle can be imported, as long as it meets emissions requirements. It’s all about emissions. Making a vehicle emissions compliant may cost you thousands – more than the vehicle itself – and it sometimes the effort and cost is too much and not worth it. A vehicle passing smog check is not enough, it must emissions compliant and go through the BAR. Please click here to read more.
Listed below are the places where you can register your vehicle and get the stickers, registration card and plates.: