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

Operating a vehicle without insurance and registration is illegal. Most states require insurance prior to registering a vehicle, and auto insurance companies don't enforce vehicle registration laws, but driving unregistered affects your driving record, which will drive up your rates, and you could even have your car impounded. Compare insurance rates to save.

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Mathew B. Sims is Editor-in-Chief and has authored, edited, and contributed to several books. He has been working in the insurance industry ensuring content is accurate for consumers who are searching for the best policies and rates...

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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...

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Reviewed byDaniel Walker
Licensed Insurance Agent

UPDATED: Jul 4, 2020

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Things to remember...

  • When you go to buy a car, you may have to show the dealer that you have proof of insurance before you get to take it away
  • 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
  • Using an app to manage your auto insurance policy can be a good way to provide proof of coverage

Can you get insurance without registration? Yes. Can you get registration 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.

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 car 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, otherwise you are at the mercy of their selection of preferred companies.

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Adding Another Vehicle to Your Car Insurance Policy

You can add another vehicle to your current car insurance policy without a hassle by 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 to be lined up for proof of insurance for the new car. Read here if you need insurance to test drive a 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 car insurance policy is very exotic or is a modified car, then you may be looking at paying significantly higher rates for your auto insurance premium.

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 premium for car insurance coverage.

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Buying a Car Without Current Insurance

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 take your new car away from the dealer’s lot.

Paying your car insurance premium 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 car 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 car insurance.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that just because you got the lowest quote possible on car 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.

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

Car Insurance for an Unregistered Car

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 to be driven on public roads are 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 car 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 car 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 car 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 car insurance coverage.

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

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.

The Last Word on Car Registration and Getting Car Insurance

When you go to 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 car insurance on a car that is not yet officially registered under your name at the state DMV.

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.

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Do I need proof of insurance to register a car?

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

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.

Proof of insurance can also be dependent on the method in 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.

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.

Start comparing car insurance rates now by using our FREE tool above!

DMV Registration Requirements

Different DMVs require different forms for registering your vehicle.

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.

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 or new to you vehicle.

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Registration Requirements for a Vehicle Purchased at a Dealership

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 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 lot.

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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 off 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.

Registering 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.

Start comparing auto insurance rates now by entering your zip code in our FREE tool below!

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Is auto insurance valid 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 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. Compare car insurance quotes right here by entering your zip code above!

What is the purpose of a 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.

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

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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
  • pay the fee

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.

What happens if you don’t pay 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 premiums 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.

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If your registration is suspended is your insurance still valid?

Normally speaking, your expired registration wouldn’t affect your car 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 premiums.

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 a deal. Enter your zip code below to compare quotes today!

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 registered and insured by law.

  • Car 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 require getting new registration and insurance coverage for the new state.

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

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

DMV works with the police in various police and authorities to identify the people with a suspended or an expired registration of the plates.

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Car Registration in a Different State

A 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 go for several years before renewal.

The requirements for vehicle registration are different in various insurance companies following their differences in underwriting their insurance policies.

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

Why register your vehicle?

Some insurance companies require you to provide car registration details while purchasing their policies. Registration of vehicles is a general requirement of both the state and some insurance companies.

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 the project cars or the ones on storage. Mandatory registration rules are in some states and not in all of them.
  • Proof that the car has been in the state for ten months – an insurance company would only insure a car that has been in the state for at least ten months. Car registration documents would play a major role in identifying the same.

Insurance Coverage or Car Registration

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

You need to produce a 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.

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

Traffic laws treat the two cases differently where the penalties for driving an expired registration go high with the increase on the lapse period since the registration expired.

In some states, the drivers have a maximum period of three months to renew their registration after which DMV revokes the 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 vehicle expects you to register your vehicle at the respective county within 30 days.

Insurance Coverage for Unregistered Cars/ Those without Proof of Insurance

Car insurance and registration are two different entities. An insurance cover 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 were covered but not registered, the insurance company pays for the claims though the legal authorities that 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 would be staying.

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

The students visiting a different state for studies use their parent’s cars, which have the registration in their names. In this case, the parents may arrange to transfer the registration and insurance details to their children in different ways including:

  • The state allows 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 the primary drivers.
  • 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 to have in case nothing is tying the parents to the car.

Several instances may lead to the suspension of your vehicle due to car 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 car registrations include cancellation of car insurance policy, failure to provide proof of insurance coverage upon request, and fraudulent insurance policy.

To get the best car insurance covers at affordable rates, get as many online quotes as you can and make comparisons. Use our free rate tool today to find the best price for the coverage you need.



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