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The cost of car ownership goes beyond the purchase price and realizing that car registration is expensive in California compared to Virginia hit me hard.

Car ownership also entails maintenance costs, insurance premiums, and state taxes that you need to pay. When they are all combined, the total cost can be thousands of dollars depending on the state you live in.

Car registration is expensive in California because the fee includes a smog inspection, even if your vehicle doesn’t need this inspection. The registration also has charges like transportation improvement fee, license fee, district/country fee, and patrol fee.

A study done by Go Banking Rates discovered that the average extra cost of owning a car for three years in the U.S. stood at $11,227. The cost could go higher or be lower depending on the state. Our detailed guide covers the cost of car registration in California, what you need for car registration, and reasons why vehicle registration can be costly in this state.

With California updating the registration process and fee structure each year, we did our research and spoke to experienced vehicle registration experts to get detailed information on California’s car registration process.

Table of Contents

How Much is Car Registration in Caifornia?

Car registration in California involves several fees, and the specific amount will depend on various factors.

California car registration fees are based on:

  • Your type of vehicle
  • The vehicle’s purchase price
  • The county/city you live in
  • The county/city your business is in
  • The date your vehicle entered California or the date you purchased the vehicle
  • Special license plates
  • Declared  gross vehicle weight/number of axles your car has
  • If you have a toll evasion bail or unpaid parking violation

Additionally, you may incur extra fees if your vehicle is registered for on-highway use. Some of the fees include:

  • Vehicle license fee
  • Registration fee
  • California Highway Patrol
  • Country/district fee
  • Transportation improvement fee

As of 2022, the required car registration fees are:

  • State Highway Patrol Fee:  $27
  • Transportation Improvement Fee depending on the car value: $0-$188
  • Registration Fees: $60

California also has late car registration fees if you miss the mentioned deadlines. There’s a  deadline of 20 days for new residents and 10 days for private sales.

The amount of late fees charged increases with the delinquency duration.

You can incur a $30 late car registration penalty for less than a year deliquency.  The state also charges a $50 fee if its between one to two years. However, if you haven’t registered your car in two years, you can pay up to $100.

There’s also California Highway patrol late fee penalties. The amount is similar to that charges for late car registration.

Note that the amount you can pay for your car can vary as there’s are no  set fees. You can use the California VLF calculator to get an estimated based on your car type and other factors.

Who Should Register a Car in California

The vehicle’s legal operator needs to be register the car.. That means you can register the car if you got it from a private seller or you can have the dealership register it on your behalf.

Car dealerships in California have a vehicle registration service that handles the whole process.  Once you purchase a vehicle, you’ll get a temporary registration card that you can use until you receive a sticker and permanent card in the mail.

If you’re buying a used car, the dealership has 30 days for them to submit the application of registration from the date of the sale.  That must include any penalties and fees due to transfer of registration or the registration process itself.

However, a for a new car, the dealership has up to  20 days after the sale to submit the registration application.

The dealership also handles any penalties due to noncompliance.

Additionally,  if you’ve bought the car through a private sale, you have ten days from the sale date to register the car ro avoid a late fee penalty.  You should have the owner’s manual, certifications, and checks.

You’ll then need to register the car in a local DMV office and carry its registration renewal, smog certificate, application for the registration/title, and the fees for the certificate of itle. The registration is considered successful when residency has been established and proof displayed. You’ll also need to have paid all the taxes and fees for the registration to go through.

What Do You Need For Car Registration in California?

For you to be a legal driver in the state of California, you need to register your car whether you’re a California resident or you’ve relocated to this state.

The aim of car registration is to establish a link between the legal owner and a vehicle on the road.

California gives new residents up to 20 days to register their vehicle and pay the fees to the state’s DMV. Any late registration attracts a penalty in form of late fees in addition to standard registration fees.

Apart from purchasing a new car or recent relocation, there are other instances that may necessitate vehicle registration. These includes:

If you need to secure specialized license plates like those of disabled people

  • Purchasing a vehicle through private sale
  • Relocated to California with a vehicle that was registered in a different state previously
  • Transferring car title from one family member to another
  • Changing title from individual to an estate

To register a car in California, you’ll need:

  • A driver’s license
  • Vehicle title
  • Proof of Ownership
  • Application for registration
  • Method of payment
  • Valid smog inspection certificate
  • Verification ofvehicle form filled by an authorized DMV representative, vehicle verifier, or a law enforcement officer.

In other cases, the DMV may require additional documents like:

  • Bill of sale
  • Out-of-state registration
  • Odometer disclosure statement
  • Title release form
  • Vehicle weight certificate for commercial cars
  • Medicial certificatons for disabled applications
  • Statement of the deceased owner

Note that some DMV offices require you to make an appointment. It’s also possible to get  temporary certicate of registration if you can’t book an appointment timmediately.

Reasons Why Car Registration is Expensive in California?

Some of the factors that account for the high registration fees in California include:

1. The Car’s Value

You’ll have to incur a higher price if you drive an expensive vehicle. The higher your car value, the more the fee you’ll pay.

2. Insurance Company

The insurance company you choose can also afffect the registration fee.  Also, the authority charges a high registration fee if a reputable insurance compnay doesn’t insure the car.

3. Miscelleaneaous Factors

Car registration is expensive in California because the state takes into consideration different factors like license plates, smog inspections, weight certiicates, and other factors that all add up to the overall amount.

License Plates

A license plate accounts for about 0.65% of the car value. Additionally, there’s a fee charged for obtaining a license plate.

That’s because licensed plates need an updated registration sticker and the DMV insists on using the latest license plates and not the old ones.

It’s also possible to fill the special interest license plate application for you to get your preferred license plate. There are different options to choose from including military, collegiate, and more.

Smog Inspections

A smog test is a must have  if you’re in California.

For you to proceed with the registration, you’ll need pass the smog test.  The amount of smog inspection also adds up to the fee paid for car registration.

If your car hasn’t been in use for more than 6 years, you’ll need $20 and won’t have to go through smog inspections and checks.

Weight certifications

If you own a commercial vehicle or truck, you need to have its weight checked before you can proceed with registration.

There’s a limit of 10,000 pounds, which means that if your truck is past that weight, you;ll need to get a weight certification. .

Is Proof of Insurance Required to Register a Car in California?

Yes, In California, you need to have the evidence of financial responsibility and this means California car insurance is a necessity whether you’re operating the vehicle or have it parked.

There;s a minimum coverage  amount of $15,000 for liability insurance for the death or injury of a person. There’also a $30,000 limit for the death or injury of more than one individual, and up to $5,000 in property damage.

Why Is Car Registration So Expensive In California?

About The Author

Charles Redding

Charles Redding

I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.

Read More About Charles Redding