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Register Out of State Car

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. We’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.


The team at Quick Auto Tags will help you navigate the process.  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.

Which inspections will i need to perform on my motor vehicle?

  • Smog / emissions testing: California and “smog testing” go hand in hand. California does not mess around – your vehicle has to pass emissions. Due to recent developments, depending on your vehicle, smogging a car is a very quick and cheap thing to do now! It takes between 5 – 10 minutes and runs between $30 and $55 depending on where you go. Some companies charge even cheaper than that.
  • Weight master certificate: Commercial vehicles (anything with carrying capacity that may be used for commercial use) will require a weight certificate from a certified weight master! California charges weight fees for commercial vehicles – the heavier your vehicle is, the more you will pay. The estimated cost is $11 at most weigh stations. Most truck stops are certified weight masters and can issue the weight certificate for you, so finding a place to do it won’t be difficult. 
  • VIN verification: This inspection is performed by a DMV employee, the CHP or a licensed private VIN verifier. A VIN verifier’s job is to be the DMV’s eyes – what they do is confirm the vehicle identification number and compare it to the vehicle’s title. In addition to the vehicle identification number, a VIN verifier confirms if it is a commercial vehicle or a standard automobile, basically determining if the vehicle will be used for business purposes or for personal use. Because it is impractical for the DMV to do every vehicle’s vin inspection physically themselves, they rely on the proper completion of the REG 31 form. This form tells them everything they need to know to properly key in the fields that are necessary to register your vehicle correctly. Now as you may already know, we can help you do this for a fee, however, the CHP and the DMV employee completes this for free, and if you are a member of AAA you will be able to get one there as well. But if you want things done quickly and time is YOUR PRIORITY – give us a call. The estimated cost is around $25 if you bring the vehicle to us, and we provide a mobile service to you is available.
  • An out of state title: you’ll need this to establish that you are the owner, or you obtained ownership of this vehicle, so that you can title it here. However, if you don’t have a title, you can still REGISTER (not title) your car in California, you will have what is called a Golden-Rod Title.
  • Click here to read more on locating public scales

What if my vehicle doesn't pass the smog inspection?

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)

temporary operating permit california dmv

What if I don't have a title because i'm still paying the car off?

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.

How much does it cost to register my out of state car?

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:

  • The motive of power (gas, electric, diesel)
  • The value or purchase price of your your vehicle to calculate sales tax
  • Note on sales tax: if you purchased your car from a state that does not collect taxes, California state requires that you pay those taxes. If you purchased your vehicle more than 1 year ago, you are exempt from paying these taxes. There are other tax exemptions, such as a family transfer or gift, that would allow you to avoid paying those taxes.
  • The city and zip code where you are located.
  • In the case of commercial vehicles the weight also has a major impact on fees.

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:

What documents are required to register a commercial vehicle in California?

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.


My Vehicle is not Eligible for California Vehicle Registration, why?

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.

  • Just because your state accepted a vehicle does not mean California will. A classic example of this is the Land Rover Defender that are imported from other countries. These are grey-market vehicles that other states may accept with no problem, but that the California DMV may have greater requirements of to register. In some cases the vehicle may not even be eligible for registration or titling in California. Another great example is the Japanese version of the Nissan Skyline.
  • If you don’t have an emissions label stating that it is California compliant and your car has less than 7,600 miles you will NOT be able to register it here. So make sure your ride has at least 7,600 miles if that label is missing!
  • Just because your car was purchased brand new in another state – it still has to go through inspections in California.
  • Your vehicle cannot pass smog check

What Will I Get Once I Register the Car in California?

  • Stickers
  • California Vehicle Registration
  • New license plates
  • Vehicle’s title (if not a golden-rod)
register out of state vehicle california dmv

What Else do I need to know about operating my car and California law?

  • You are required to have car insurance on your vehicle at all times, except when the vehicle is in non-operational status. Any vehicle that doesn’t have car insurance is in violation of California law. Proof of insurance must be carried in the vehicle at all times.
  • You must display both plates in the front and back of your vehicle. Some people do not want to mount their plate to the front bumper, so law enforcement allows you to put it on your dashboard.
  • DMV offers special permits/decals for vehicles that are hybrid or fully electric

Importing a Vehicle into California

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.

Where Can I Register My Vehicle?

Listed below are the places where you can register your vehicle and get the stickers, registration card and plates.:

  • The Department of Motor Vehicles Government Agency (make sure to make an appointment)
  • AAA Auto Club (you must be a member)
  • A private licensed company like Quick Auto Tags or anyone licensed by the DMV to do this. (click here to locate one local to you)
quick auto tags in riverside

Quick Auto Tags

Quick Auto Tags 5586 Mission Blvd Ste B Riverside, CA 92509
Tel: (951)409-9091