When it comes to complicated transactions like titling and registering vehicles, the help of an eTags representative can be very useful.

The California vehicle registration process, like what is required in most other states, requires the right documents and forms be provided to the registrar:

  • Vehicle title that shows you are the current owner of the vehicle
  • A completed Application for Registration
  • A Smog certificate issued by a an approved station
  • Proof of minimum liability insurance or higher
  • Picture ID such as a driver license or ID card
  • Payment of the registration fee, a California Highway Patrol fee, and taxes.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles provides a vehicle registration fee calculator online to help residents determine fees for new vehicles, used vehicles and nonresident vehicles. After all documents have been processed and signed, a California DMV employee will physical inspect your vehicle and verify the VIN number. You will then receive registration stickers, license plates and a California registration certificate.

Smog Inspections for California Vehicle Registration Purposes

Most vehicles require smog inspections before they can be registered. Vehicles that are exempt from inspections are:

  • Gasoline powered vehicles that are from 1975 or older
  • 1997 or older diesel powered vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight rating (GVWr) of 14,000 lbs or more
  • Electric vehicles
  • A Natural gas powered vehicle with a GVWr of 14,000 lbs or more
  • Motorcycles, mopeds, and other 2-wheeled vehicles

Smog certifications must be renewed every two years. However, the following California counties require smog inspections in specified zip code areas only: San Diego, San Bernardino, El Dorado, Placer, Riverside and Sonoma.

Residency Requirements for Registering Vehicles

To be considered a California resident, you must "be present" in the state of California on more than a transient or temporary basis for six months or more in a 12-month period. Evidence of California residency for the purpose of vehicle registration can include the following:

  • Place of business or employment location
  • Address used in voter registration
  • Schools attended by dependents
  • Leasing or renting of a residence in California
  • Possessing a valid California driver's license at the time of registration
  • Payment of tuition (resident) to a California college or university

Only one of these criteria need met to be considered a California resident. However, these residency and registration rules do not apply to military members and their families.

Registering a Vehicle Purchased from a Private Individual

California residents buying a vehicle from an individual instead of a dealer have 10 days to register the vehicle before a late charge is applied to the registration fee. In addition to providing odometer information on vehicles less 10 years old, you also need to present a valid smog certificate if the vehicle purchased is more than four years old. However, smog certificates on privately purchased vehicles are not required if the prior owner had renewed the vehicle's registration with 90 days of selling the vehicle and had the registration renewed for two years.

Non-Transferable Registrations to Transferable Registrations

The DMV issues non-transferable registrations to vehicles owners who choose to maintain their title with the state where it was issued or last transferred to. To sell or buy vehicles with non-transferable registrations, owners must convert their non-transferable registration to a transferable registration by submitting the following documents to their local DMV office:

  • The last-issued title to the vehicle (if none exists, owners may submit Form REG 227 if the vehicle was known to be originally titled in the state of California)
  • The current registration
  • Odometer disclosure statement (for cars less than 10 years old)
  • Smog certificate, if necessary
  • Payment for any outstanding citations, transfer fees or renewal fees, if the registration on the vehicle needs renewed in 30 days