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California Car Registration Fees in 2021

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Whether you’re a lifelong resident or a new transplant to the state, keeping up on California car registration requirements (and their associated fees) can be an outright challenge.

Each year California seems to update something about the process, paperwork, deadlines, and fee structure to keep it’s residents on its toes.

In this guide, we’ll take you through a comprehensive overview of California Car Registration Fees for 2021, what vehicle registration really is, why you need it, and how to go about registering a car in California.

So grab a coffee or your beverage of choice (and perhaps a notepad), and let’s dive right in…

Registering a Vehicle in California

Driving on California roadways is a privilege, and one that the state expects you to pay for. In addition to California car insurance mandates, owners of cars within the state must also pay car registration and title fees.

A Word on Vehicle Type

Registering a vehicle in California is based on the type of registration. This car registration fees in californiaguide will focus on registration for cars, but just be aware that there are separate unique registrations required for: motorcycles, custom-built cars, special vehicles and off-highway vehicles.

Where or How you Purchased the Vehicle Also Matters

The process for registering your vehicle and paying the registration fee varies based on how you purchased the vehicle (or rather where or through whom). For example, handling the registration process varies depending on:

  • If you purchased the car from a private party (i.e. Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, ad in the paper, etc.)
  • If you purchased the car from a licensed dealership

As if that wasn’t complicated enough, in California there is a separate process for converting a ‘non-transferable’ registration one that is ‘transferable’.

No matter your situation or circumstance, if you are considered a ‘resident’ of California, you are required by state law to register your vehicle with the Department of Motor Vehicles, also known as the DMV.

How California Determines Residency (and who owes registration fees)

For the purposes of car registration and fees, the state defines a resident as anyone who:

  • Is employed by a company within the state
  • Has a home in the state which they claim a tax exemption for
  • Leases or rents an apartment or home within the state
  • Applies for any state-issued documents such as voter registration or a driver’s license
  • Enrolls a dependent in school within the state (including universities)

California Vehicle Registration Process and Fees Overview

As a New Resident of the State

As a New Resident in the state, you have no more than 20-days to registercalifornia car registration fees your vehicle with the state’s DMV. Failure to do so will result in additional late fees in addition to the standard registration fee(s).

Process Overview:

  • Fill out Form REG 343 (Application for Title or Registration)
  • Have available your vehicle’s current registration and title from your former state
  • Have available proof of current insurance
  • Obtain a valid smog and emissions certificate (if required for your vehicle)
  • Pay the required fees (more on this later)

As part of this process, a DMV representative will complete your car’s VIN inspection. Presuming there aren’t any hiccups, you will be issued a registration card, plates and stickers for your car.

NOTE: Commercial vehicles require a “declaration of gross vehicle weight/combined gross vehicle weight as per form REG 4008.

If You Purchased Your Car from a Dealership

Those who purchase a vehicle from a California-based dealership have it the easiest. In the majority of cases, the dealership will offer concierge service, handling the registration paperwork and process for you from start to finish.

Not only that, they will provide you with a ‘temporary certificate of registration’ to have on hand until your official proof of registration arrives from the DMV.

If You Purchased Your Car from a Private Party

Private party sales are more popular than ever before. With the emergence of fees for car registrationFacebook marketplace and other third-party platforms for sales, more individuals are turning to digital classified ads (or even newspaper ads) for cars being sold by a private party.

However, buying from a private party can be a bit more challenging when it comes to registration.

From the date of the purchase, California gives you just a short 10 days to get your act together and register your car with the CA DMV. Failure to do so within that window of time will result in late fees that can really add up.

But the short window of time to do this isn’t the only inconvenience; your initial registration on the car must be completed IN PERSON.

To do this, follow these steps:

  • Schedule an appointment here
  • Complete form REG 343 (application for title or registration)
  • Have the vehicle’s title handy
  • If the car is less than 10 years old, note the odometer reading
  • If the car is over 4 years old, you’ll need a valid smog and emissions certificate
  • Payment of associated registration fees (more on this below)

TIP: If the seller is unable to locate the title for your car, you can file for a Duplicate or Paperless Title using Form REG 227 TIP: The seller is required to provide you with a valid smog certificate

Car Registration Fees in CA

The state imposes several fees associated with the registration of your car. The exact fees you’ll owe vary based on a number of factors.

REQUIRED CAR REGISTRATION FEES:

  • Registration Fee: $60
  • Transportation Improvement Fee (TIF): varies based on the value of your car, and can be as little as $0 and the way up to $188
  • State Highway Patrol (CHP) Fee: $27

Late Car Registration Fees

If you miss the aforementioned deadlines (20 days for new residents, 10 days for private sales), you’ll be subject to late fees that increase with the duration of the delinquency.

Vehicle Registration Late Fee Penalties:

  • $30 if less than 1-year delinquent
  • $50 if between 1-2 years delinquent
  • $100 if more than 2 years delinquent

California Highway Patrol Late Fee Penalties:

  • $30 if less than 1-year delinquent
  • $50 if between 1-2 years delinquent
  • $100 if more than 2 years delinquent

How Does California Calculate Registration Fees for your Car?

What you can expect to pay for YOUR car varies, which makes it difficult toregistration fees by car type plan for the type of fees you’ll be subject to. Luckily, the state provides a calculator called the “California VLF Calculator” that can help you get a more accurate estimate based on your situation.

How Your Fees Are Determined:

  • Type of vehicle
  • Vehicle’s declared value or purchase price
  • The date your car entered the state
  • The date your car was purchased in the state
  • The county you live in
  • The city you live in
  • The gross vehicle weight (GVW)
  • Number of axels your car has
  • Special license plate (if applicable)
  • Any unpaid toll evasions or parking violations on record

Final Thoughts On California Car Registration Fees in 2021

Whether you’ve recently moved or are a lifelong resident of the state, keeping informed about the changing policies, fees and procedures for car registration is something everyone in California has to contend with. Each year (2021 included), the state makes updates to its policies. Sometimes these are as simple as increased fees, but in other cases, they can be major changes that can have a big impact on your life or wallet if you’re not paying attention. We hope you found this guide helpful, and remember, fees may change based on state laws, so always check back in for updates such as How to Sell a Car in California or California Car Seat Laws.

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