Auto Insurance & Registration: Does your car need to be registered to get auto insurance?

Your car doesn’t need to be registered to get auto insurance, but most states require proof of insurance to register a vehicle. Auto insurance companies don't enforce registration laws, but driving unregistered affects your driving record, which will drive up your car insurance rates. Average rates can be around $79.58/mo but compare auto insurance quotes online to save.

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Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insuranc...

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Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years (BBB A+). He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like and Safeco. He reviews content, ensuring that ex...

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent Daniel Walker

UPDATED: Apr 13, 2022

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Things to remember...

  • When you go to buy a car, you may have to show the dealer you have proof of insurance before you can drive it home.
  • The vehicle will not yet be officially registered when you purchase it from the dealer because you have to file various forms with the state in order to show that you are the new owner of the car.
  • When you buy a car from the dealer, the dealer will assist you with the required paperwork to get your car registered with the DMV of your state.
  • Almost every state department of motor vehicles (DMV) in the U.S. requires vehicle owners to show that they have valid insurance lined up before they are even allowed to officially register the car.
  • If you drive an unregistered car and are pulled over, you may face penalties under state law, but having coverage from your insurance company is a separate matter.

Wondering how long you have after a car is registered to get insurance? Does your car need to be registered to get auto insurance? The answer is that the insurance should be taken care of first.

Can you get insurance without registration? Yes.

But can you register a car without insurance? Typically, no.

The typical process of getting a new vehicle involves picking it out from a dealership, signing for it, showing proof of insurance for the car, and then taking it to get registered at your state DMV.

So, does my car need to be registered to get insurance? As mentioned above, it is usually the other way around. When you first buy a car it will not yet be registered under your name, but you will list the car on your insurance policy in order to get coverage.

Once you have insurance coverage for the car, you can take care of the registration of your vehicle with the state DMV, which will require proof of adequate auto insurance in advance.

TIP: If you buy auto insurance at the dealership you could pay more. Make sure to comparison shop rates ahead of time prior to visiting the dealership to find cheap auto insurance. Otherwise, you are at the mercy of their selection of preferred companies.

Enter your ZIP code for the best auto insurance rates in your area before you register your car.

Does auto insurance coverage or car registration come first?

After buying a new car, most people have a problem deciding on whether to get insurance coverage or their car registration first. The DMV ties the two together to reduce the number of uninsured drivers using the roads.

You need to produce proof of insurance during registration, either in the form of a printout or an insurance card. You may opt to go for a temporary insurance card in case there is urgency in the car registration.

Driving an unregistered vehicle as well as driving a car with an expired registration is illegal in the United States.

In some states, the drivers have a maximum period of three months to renew their registration after which the DMV revokes ownership of the plate number. Some states allow up to 15 days registering a used/new car from the date of purchase in your residential state.

On moving to another state, the department of motor vehicles expects you to register your vehicle within your respective county within 30 days.

Do you need proof of insurance to register your vehicle at the DMV?

One of the most convenient aspects of buying a car at a dealership is that they file all of the DMV paperwork for you.

You’ll get your temporary plates at the lot and the DMV will mail you tags within the next few weeks. The fees that are due are then added to the amount you finance or your final sales price.

Before you can drive off with the new car, the dealer will probably ask you for proof of insurance. If you’re paying cash for the vehicle, you’re only required by law to show that you have liability insurance and all other mandatory coverages in the state.

When you’re financing the car, you’ll also be asked to show evidence that you have full coverage.

When you buy a car from a private party, you’ll have to do the legwork on your own. You’ll have to go to the DMV and do the following:

  • Fill out applications
  • Provide documents, including vehicle inspection paperwork if needed
  • Pay the registration fee
  • Get your license plate

Having all of the documents that the DMV agent needs to process your request is a must. In some states, you do have to show a valid auto insurance ID card when you’re registering a car for the first time.

Wondering how to register and insure a car? As mentioned above, how to get auto insurance starts with finding an insurance company that meets your needs and sign up for a policy. Then comes the registration process.

Forty-eight out of 50 states have minimum liability requirements that you must meet to register and drive your car.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, 13 percent of drivers are uninsured. Driving without auto insurance could result in fines up to $5,000.

  • Most states require insurance prior to registering a vehicle.
  • Operating a vehicle without a minimum amount of insurance is illegal.
  • An insurance comparison tool can help you quickly find insurance for your new vehicle.

There are many different types of auto insurance that will fit your state’s minimum requirements and cover all of your needs.

If you have recently purchased a vehicle from a dealer or a private individual, you will need proof of insurance in order to register the vehicle with your local DMV in most states.

In many cases, you can get instant proof of auto insurance in order to do this.

Proof of insurance can also be dependent on the method by which you register your vehicle. Registering in-person almost always means that you will need to show proof of insurance to the DMV employee handling your registration.

Can you register a car online?

Registering your new car online may not require entering proof of insurance, but you should still use a comparison tool to find and purchase an insurance policy prior to driving the vehicle.

What happens if you have proof of auto insurance but no registration?

Auto insurance and registration are two different entities. Insurance coverage is a contract between you and your insurance provider while the department of motor vehicles governs the car registration process.

If you are involved in an accident where you are covered but not registered, the insurance company will pay for the claims but authorities may also give you a ticket for driving an unregistered vehicle.

Students and workers in other states also require car registrations in the state that they are staying.

Can you get auto insurance for an unregistered car?

You may be wondering what happens if you don’t do your insurance and registration on the same day. This can depend on when you plan to start driving your vehicle.

If you have been driving a car that is not registered with your state DMV, you may face some trouble with state penalties. States require that cars driven on public roads must be registered with the state DMV and insured.

You are also required to maintain current registration under your state law and have all of the proper tags on your vehicle at all times that it is driven on public roads.

Failure to comply with these laws could result in your driver’s license being suspended or revoked along with some hefty fines.

Even though this is a requirement of the state, it is not enforced by your car insurance company.

That is to say, the auto insurance company will insure a car as long as you are the owner of it and will provide coverage for any claims involving that car pursuant to the terms of your auto insurance policy agreement.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you are pulled over and cited for not having the required vehicle registration, this could end up with you paying more for your auto insurance in the future.

This is because the offense would end up on your driving record, which is something that all car insurance companies consider when deciding how much to charge you for your auto insurance coverage.

For that reason alone, complying with all state laws in regard to registering your vehicle is highly recommended.

Can you drive an unregistered car to get it registered? Well, when you buy your car from an established dealer, they are able to help you out with this process most times.

Make sure that you keep a copy of your current vehicle registration in the car at all times when you are driving.

Some wonder, “do I have to register a car that I don’t drive?” It is a good idea to have any vehicle that you own registered.

In the section below, we answer the question, “what happens if your car is not registered?”

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Can you add another vehicle to your auto insurance policy?

You can add another vehicle to your current auto insurance policy without the hassle of letting your insurance agent know that you are planning on buying a car.

You can even call your agent while you are at the dealership to get everything you need lined up for proof of insurance for the new car.

It is always better to involve your agent sooner rather than later in a new car purchase so that there is no unexpected lapse in your car insurance coverage.

If the car you are seeking to add to your current auto insurance policy is very exotic or is a modified car, then you may be looking at paying significantly higher rates for your auto insurance.

These types of cars present more of a risk for the insurance company in the event that you have to file a claim, so you end up absorbing some of this risk for the insurance company by paying a markedly higher rate for auto insurance coverage.

For average car rates based on state, check out the chart below.

Average Annual Auto Insurance Rates by State
StateAverage Annual Auto Insurance Rates
District of Columbia$4,439.24
North Carolina$3,393.11
North Dakota$4,165.84
New Hampshire$3,151.77
New Jersey$5,515.21
New Mexico$3,463.64
New York$4,289.88
Rhode Island$5,003.36
South Carolina$3,781.14
South Dakota$3,982.27
West Virginia$2,595.36
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Based on the chart’s data, Michigan has some of the highest rates in the country.

Can you buy a car without current auto insurance?

Can you register your car without insurance? While you can get insurance without registration, if you are buying a car and do not have current auto insurance, then you will need to make arrangements to get it before you are able to drive your new car off the dealer’s lot.

Paying your auto insurance is a cost associated with purchasing a car, so if you can get information on policy options in advance of making your purchase, it will make it even easier for you to budget your monthly car payments.

Because auto insurance is a legal requirement, most dealers will not finalize the sale of the car until you can show some form of valid proof of auto insurance.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that just because you got the lowest quote possible on auto insurance that you are getting the best option for you. There are many other things to think about in addition to cost when choosing a policy.

For example, you need to make sure that the insurance company has a reputation for being a solid company and is financially stable enough for you to depend on it. The best auto insurance companies have good customer satisfaction ratings as well as a good track record.

You do not want to find yourself in a situation down the line where you have made all the required payments and are left without coverage for an accident or claim.

What are DMV registration requirements?

Different DMVs require different forms for registering your vehicle, so you may be wondering things like, “do I need a paper copy of my insurance card to register a car?” The answer is “sometimes.”

For example, Nevada requires an insurance card, an Electronic Dealer Report of Sale or the title, a valid emissions inspection, an application for the registration, and a method of payment.

If the state does require insurance prior to registering a vehicle, you will need your insurance card or proof of insurance along with the other requirements.

For states that do not require proof of insurance prior to registration or proof of insurance while registering online, like Indiana, you will need the title for the vehicle, your driver’s license, and a method of payment for the registration fees.

Why register your vehicle?

Some insurance companies require you to provide car registration details while purchasing their policies.

Some of the reasons why insurance companies require you to be registered include:

  • Insurable interest- They want to ensure that the owners would suffer some losses if there were damages or theft of their car.
  • It is a legal requirement- Some states require registration of all cars except for project cars or ones in storage. Mandatory registration rules are in some states but not in all of them.
  • Proof that the car has been in the state for 10 months- An insurance company would only insure a car that has been in the state for at least 10 months.

Registration of vehicles is a general requirement of both the state and some insurance companies.

Is there proof of insurance time limits?

If the state did not require proof of insurance when you registered your vehicle or you registered your vehicle online, you have between 30 and 45 days to provide the DMV with proof of your insurance policy.

If you fail to provide proof of insurance, your vehicle registration and driver’s license could be suspended.

To avoid fines, penalties, and the suspension of your driver’s license, you can use an insurance comparison quote tool to quickly locate a policy for your new vehicle.

What are the registration requirements for a vehicle purchased at a dealership?

Can you drive an unregistered car to get it registered? Well, when you purchase a vehicle from a dealership, the dealership will usually handle title and registration requirements for you, and they will give you a temporary plate that is typically valid for 30 days.

In this instance, you would not need to go to the DMV to title or register the car.

However, you will need to plate the car prior to the expiration of the temporary license plate. It is also in your best interest to acquire insurance before you drive the car off the dealer’s lot.

If you are caught driving a vehicle without insurance, you could be forced to pay fines and your vehicle registration could be canceled. Some states, like Missouri, will even suspend your driver’s license.

To avoid negative consequences, you can use an insurance comparison tool to find and purchase an auto insurance policy prior to driving the vehicle off the dealer’s lot.

What are the registration requirements for a vehicle purchased from an individual?

If you purchase a vehicle from a private individual, you will need to title and register the vehicle yourself. In general, the DMV will need proof that you are the owner of the car.

In most states, this can be accomplished by providing the bill of sale and/or the original title showing where the previous owner signed the vehicle over to you.

You will need proof of the purchase price and you will need to show proof of insurance.

Proof of insurance can be acquired by using a comparison tool to find and purchase an insurance policy.

Once you have your policy, you should be able to print out proof of your insurance purchase.

To ensure you have all of the documents required to register your vehicle, you should check with your local DMV.

Can you register a vehicle on behalf of the car owner?

Some states, like New York, will allow you to register a vehicle on behalf of the owner. In these states, you will need to show your driver’s license as well as the license of the owner of the vehicle.

The DMV will need to see the title of the vehicle, proof of the sale, and proof of insurance. The person registering the vehicle will also need to fill out all the applicable forms.

When you purchase a new car, it is in your best interest to purchase insurance prior to driving the car whether or not the state you reside in requires proof of insurance when registering the vehicle.

Most insurance agents will provide you with an insurance policy as long as you have the required information for the vehicle, including the VIN, make, model, and year.

To help you acquire your new insurance policy, you should find an insurance comparison tool so that you can compare multiple policies from various insurance providers at the same time.

Can you get auto insurance on a car you don’t own?

There are a variety of reasons you may want to insure a car you don’t own. Perhaps you are borrowing a friend’s car or renting a car. Beyond this, you may be wondering, can I insure a car not registered to me? 

In some cases, like borrowing a car from a friend, you may already be covered, either your own normal car insurance or the owner’s policy. Also, sometimes rental cars are already covered under your policy.

If you still want to add insurance on a car you don’t own, you can take out a non-owner policy. This will allow you to have the peace of mind that you have the coverage you want.

Keep in mind that not all states will allow you to insure a car you don’t know. It will depend on where you live.

Another option would be for the car owner to add your name to the title. This would allow you to either be added to the current car insurance policy or take one out yourself.

Whatever the reason, you may want to add insurance to make sure you are covered.

Is auto insurance valid with expired registration?

Are you wondering, “can I get insurance with expired registration?” Your auto insurance will work normally even if your vehicle registration expires. However, your car may be impounded, resulting in $1,000 or more in fees to recover it.

  • You must purchase auto insurance to satisfy vehicle registration requirements through your state.
  • In some states, you must show that you have auto insurance issued before you’ll be given permanent license plates.
  • Many states have now enacted an electronic verification system so that coverage can be verified in real-time.
  • If you fail to pay your registration fees on time or by the end of the grace period, your registration will be suspended.
  • If you drive without registration, you could be pulled over and your car could be impounded.

You can’t just purchase a vehicle and then drive it all over the city without first taking care of business. As soon as you become a vehicle owner, you’re going to take on the burden of having to title and register the vehicle.

All personal autos have to be titled to be operated on public roads. To register your vehicle and title it, you’ll have to fill out paperwork at your local motor vehicle agency.

If you don’t register the vehicle in your name, there would be no way for law enforcement or state agencies to identify who the legal owner of the vehicle is. In most states, you’re given just 10 days to put the car in your own name after you’ve purchased a car.

If you let your registration expire at any time while you own the vehicle, it could put you at financial risk.

You must have insurance for your new vehicle as well.

What is the purpose of vehicle registration?

When you become the legal owner of a vehicle, the car has to be registered in your name. The entire purpose of the registration is to associate the VIN of a vehicle with a specific individual or entity.

Some cars are only registered to one person and others are registered to multiple parties. It all depends on how ownership is shared.

It’s the person who’s tied to the registration that is responsible for paying for toll fines, parking tickets, and damage caused by the vehicle.

The registered owner must also provide evidence of insurance and satisfy all insurance laws in the state. Anytime laws are broken or there is a penalty, it’s the legal owner who must pay.

How much does it cost to register your vehicle?

Registration fees and other taxes vary from state to state. You could pay less than $100 to register an older vehicle or hundreds of dollars to register high-value vehicles.

The money that you pay goes to all of the following:

  • Local government
  • Highway Patrol
  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • State highways
  • Air resources
  • State agencies
  • State General Fund

You can typically calculate what your registration fee will be on your official DMV website by entering your license plate number and VIN.

What happens if you don’t pay for your registration?

You have to pay your initial year right away to activate your tags. After that, you’re going to be billed once every year to pay your registration dues.

If you don’t pay by the due date, you are usually given an extra 10 days to submit your payment. You may have a grace period but that doesn’t mean that you can legally drive your car. Consider your registration suspended until you’ve made your payment to renew.

Non-payment of your registration dues isn’t the only reason that your registration can be suspended.

Another reason that you could be left with suspended tags is that you’ve let your auto insurance lapse. When your insurance lapses, you’re not complying with the law.

Failing to pay your insurance rates could easily leave you with no plates.

What happens when your tags are suspended?

You never want to get caught driving without plates.

If you take a drive and you risk it, you could be more than just pulled over and warned.

In many states, officers are required by law to tow any cars with suspended registrations to the impound yard. If the car is impounded, you have to pay not just a towing fee, but a large impound fee as well.

If your registration is suspended, is your auto insurance still valid?

Normally speaking, your expired registration wouldn’t affect your auto insurance coverage. While it is against the law to drive without tags, it’s also against the law to speed or run a stop sign, but your insurance will still be valid if these actions resulted in an accident.

If you file an auto insurance claim for having an accident while you’re driving a car with suspended plates, the insurer will take the claim. In most cases, they will pay out if it’s a third-party or even a first-party claim for damage to your car.

You have to be sure to keep your insurance payments up to date so that your insurance doesn’t lapse, too.

Having a ticket for driving without valid tags could affect your insurance. The surcharge for the violation isn’t huge, but it’s big enough to inflate your rates.

If you’re not happy with your insurance rates, get instant quotes today using our online quoting tool. This tool gives you the power to find the best deal.

What happens with my auto insurance if I can’t find my registration?

Can’t find your registration? You can easily have your registration replaced if it is lost by visiting your DMV. All states require all vehicles to be registered and insured by law.

  • Auto insurance coverage is a general requirement while registering your vehicle in most states.
  • Most states give a maximum of 15 days from the date of purchase to register your car.
  • If you move to another state for more than a few months (either as a worker or a student), you will be required to get new registration and insurance coverage for the new state.

Most of the states in the U.S. require you to provide proof of insurance and registration as well as a driver’s license upon request.

Therefore, you may have a big problem driving if you do not have proof of vehicle registration. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has information on all registered vehicles in their database and can quickly retrieve them when the need arises.

The DMV works with the police and other authorities to identify people with suspended or expired registrations.

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Can you register a car in a different state?

Proof of auto insurance coverage during vehicle registration varies from one state to another. Some states require car owners to renew their vehicle registration yearly while others allow for several years before renewal.

The requirements for vehicle registration vary in different states, and insurance companies must follow these differences when underwriting their insurance policies.

Some states do not recognize insurance coverage from another state; therefore, you will be required to acquire a different one upon arrival.

You will need to go to the DMV to learn how to register a car in your state.

What happens if you are working or studying in a different state?

If you are working in a different state, own a home in another state, or staying in a different state for more than a few months, you become its resident.

Therefore, the DMV requires you to get insurance and registration in that state within a stipulated period depending on where you are visiting.

Students visiting a different state for studies may use their parents’ cars, which are registered in their names. In this case, the parents may arrange to transfer the registration and insurance details to their children in different ways such as:

  • The state allows the registration of both the parents and the children where the parents are the primary owners. In this case, the parents remain as the primary policyholders and the children the secondary ones.
  • The state may allow the registration to stay on the parents regardless of the place of residence. The insurance companies include the children as the listed drivers and the parents as the primary drivers.
  • The DMV registers both the parents and the children with the student now as the primary driver and registered owner.
  • Parents can transfer ownership to the children as a gift or sale, and they become the sole owners of the vehicles. In this case, they will also be the only policyholders. It is the simplest option in case nothing is tying the parents to the car.

Several instances may lead to the suspension of your vehicle due to auto insurance-related problems, failure to pay taxes, and parking tickets, among others.

Therefore, it is important to follow the set traffic laws to avoid penalties and risk losing your plate number.

Insurance-related problems that would lead to suspension of your car registration include cancellation of auto insurance policy, failure to provide proof of insurance coverage upon request, and fraudulent insurance policy.

What’s the last word on car registration and getting auto insurance?

Does insurance or registration come first? Well, when you buy a car, you will not have it registered until the necessary paperwork is filed with your state DMV.

However, you will be required by the dealer to show some proof of auto insurance before you drive it off the lot.

Therefore, you are able to get auto insurance on a car that is not yet officially registered under your name at the state DMV.

How long do I have to register my car? You should act quickly to get your car registered with the state DMV so that you are in compliance with state laws and do not risk getting a fine if you are pulled over without having the proper tags and registration.

If you have offenses, such as driving without registering your vehicle, you could end up having higher rates for insurance in the future.

So, can I get insurance without my car being registered? Do you need auto insurance to register a car? The answer to both is “yes,” as insurance should be taken care of before registration.

Can I get my car registered without insurance? In most cases, the answer is “no.” So when wondering if you should get insurance or registration first, the answer is always insurance. This will allow you to avoid any fees or legal issues down the line.

To get the best auto insurance coverage at affordable rates, get as many online quotes as you can and make comparisons. Enter your ZIP code to find the best auto insurance quotes for the coverage you need before you register your car.

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