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How to Renew Car Registration

Follow these five steps to renew your vehicle registration:

  1. Fill out and sign your renewal notice or application.
  2. Include both your driver’s license number and license plate number.
  3. Pay your registration renewal fee.
  4. Pass a vehicle inspection. Some states also require a smog check or emissions test.
  5. Submit the appropriate forms and payment to the appropriate state agency.  

These steps must be completed before the current vehicle registration expires. The overseeing agency varies by state. Contact your state government to determine where to turn in paperwork: the department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the Secretary of State (SOS), the Department of Revenue (DOR) or Motor Vehicle Division (MVD).

Renewal Notices and Fees

Although the basics remain the same, some paperwork required to renew car registration varies by state.

Renewal Notice or Application

Most states mail a renewal notice just before the car’s renewal period begins. However, in states like Alabama, counties may not be required to send notices. In these instances, vehicle owners are required to proactively fill out and submit an application for renewal.

Renewal cycles vary by state as well. In Missouri, registration may be renewed annually or every other year, and it is due in the same month as your last renewal. On the other hand, Kansas renewal cycles are based on the first letter of your last name. Check with the appropriate agency in your state to determine when registration renewal is due.

Registration Renewal Fees

Most states require a flat fee every one to two years. The fee may be the same regardless of car or truck type, or it may be based on weight or horsepower.

Vehicle Inspection, Smog Check, and Emissions Tests

Vehicle inspections check for safe operating conditions. A certified inspection station will check multiple safety features, including but not limited to:

  • Seatbelts
  • Windshield and window visibility
  • Brake lights and system
  • Turn signals
  • Horn
  • Rearview mirrors
  • Tires and wheels
  • Bumpers
  • Airbags

Smog checks and emissions tests are used to reduce air pollution in high-risk areas. The inspection station will visually and mechanically detect whether emissions from your vehicle fall below approved standards.

Inspections are required in most cases; emissions regulations may only apply in certain states or counties. Failing any of these inspections means the vehicle must be repaired and reinspected before its registration is eligible for renewal.

Additional Requirements

Some states tie delinquent revenue payments to car registration renewal. For example, Connecticut requires that parking tickets or taxes be taken care of prior to license plate renewal.

Where to Renew Car Registration

The agency in charge varies by state. Call your state capitol to determine whether you should contact the DMV, DOR, Secretary of State, or MVD. Depending upon the state you live in, registration renewal may be completed in person, via mail, or online. Some states offer phone renewal service as well.

In Person

State or county officials may have satellite offices set up to handle in-person licensing and renewal transactions. Check with the appropriate agency in your state to determine where the nearest office is located.

By Mail

Mail requirements also vary by state. As a general rule, you will need the same documentation required for an in-person visit. In most cases, you must mail original documents for your renewal to be valid, although a photocopy of your driver’s license may be sufficient to prove identity. You must include a check or money order for the renewal fee.

Online

To renew your car registration online, have all necessary documents available. Be aware that some states may not offer online registration renewal; those that do offer it may have stricter requirements. Additional fees may also apply. Have a debit or credit card handy to pay associated fees.

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