Getting auto insurance is one of the first steps to take when buying a new car. But what about registering your vehicle – do you need to do that before getting insurance coverage?
The short answer is no. You do not need to register your car before getting insurance on it. However, there are some important things to keep in mind regarding registration and insurance.
Can You Get Insurance on an Unregistered Car?
In most states, insurance companies do not require your car to be registered in order to issue a policy. So you can get insurance coverage on a brand new vehicle before registering it with the DMV.
This is useful when you purchase a new car from a dealership. The dealer will not let you drive off the lot unless you can show proof of insurance. But registering the car with the DMV can take some time. So you need to get insurance first.
The same goes if you purchase a used car from a private seller. You can obtain insurance coverage right away, before taking steps to register the vehicle.
So in the majority of cases, yes you can get car insurance before registering your vehicle. The insurance company just needs basic information like the VIN, make and model. Registration can come later.
When Do You Need to Register a New Car?
Just because you can get insurance without registration doesn’t mean you should wait too long to register. There are a few important reasons to register a newly purchased vehicle right away:
It’s the law – All states require you to register vehicles within a certain time frame of taking ownership. Even if you can drive off the lot with just insurance, you need to complete the registration process very soon.
Avoid penalties – Driving an unregistered vehicle can result in hefty fines, and even impoundment of the vehicle in some areas. Take care of registration to avoid legal issues.
Coverage proof – While insurance does not require registration, the DMV will want proof of insurance before they fully register the car. So get insurance first, then provide proof when you register.
Drive legally – An unregistered car cannot be legally driven on public roads. Get the registration completed so you can drive your new vehicle freely and legally.
Sell the car later – No one will want to buy a used car that isn’t registered. Take care of this upfront for a smooth sale down the road.
So while you don’t need to register a new car before getting insurance, make every effort to complete the registration process soon after purchasing the vehicle.
Where Can You Register a Car Without Insurance?
As mentioned above, most states do require you to have insurance in order to complete the vehicle registration process. But there are some exceptions.
The following states allow you to register a car without showing proof of insurance:
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
However, that does not mean you can legally drive an uninsured vehicle in these states. All but New Hampshire do require insurance to drive on public roads. It just means you can initially register the car without insurance.
But avoiding insurance is risky even in these states. An uninsured driver who causes an accident can be liable for extensive financial damages. Plus driving without insurance can result in fines, license suspension and other issues.
So it’s wise to get insurance coverage on any registered vehicle you plan to drive.
How to Get Proof of Insurance
If you need to provide insurance verification for the vehicle registration process, getting proof of coverage is easy.
Start by contacting your insurance company and letting them know you need official proof of insurance. In many cases they can immediately email you an official document.
If that is not possible, here are some other ways to get proof of active insurance:
Insurance ID Card – This small card provides important policy details. Your insurer sends it by mail when you start a new policy.
Policy Declarations Page – This page from your full policy outlines coverages, vehicles and other details. It can often substitute for an ID card.
Electronic Insurance Card – Many insurers offer digital insurance cards you can access from an app and show proof from your phone.
Printout from Insurer Website – You can often log into your provider’s website and print something showing your coverage.
Temporary Evidence – Your agent can usually provide a temporary evidence of insurance document if you need proof right away.
Just reach out to your insurance company and ask what they can provide as official proof of active insurance. They will be familiar with providing documentation for registration purposes.
What If Your Insurance Lapses After Registration?
Letting your insurance lapse after you’ve registered a car is risky. Without active insurance, your registration is not technically valid.
Driving an uninsured registered vehicle can result in the same penalties as driving an unregistered uninsured car. Fines, license suspension and other problems can occur.
If you have a gap in insurance coverage, here are some things you can do:
Reinstate the Same Policy – Contact your prior insurer and see if they can restart your policy. This is often the easiest option.
Find New Insurance – Shop around for quotes if needed to get a new policy. Look for the best rate and coverage options.
Notify the DMV – Let the DMV know you temporarily do not have insurance coverage on a registered vehicle. Provide the new policy proof when you have it.
Do Not Drive – Absolutely do not drive the registered vehicle until you have active insurance coverage again.
Pay Higher Premiums – A gap in insurance will likely lead to higher rates when starting a new policy. This downside can last a few years.
Maintaining continuous auto insurance coverage on registered vehicles is critically important. Work quickly to reinstate a policy if yours lapses to avoid legal and financial problems.
Can You Register a Car at Any Address?
When registering a vehicle, you must use the physical address where it is primarily kept. This is important for a few reasons:
Insurance rates – Your garaging address and regular driving routes impact your insurance premiums. Rates need to accurately reflect where you drive.
Legal ownership – Registering at an inaccurate address could be interpreted as concealing legal ownership of the car.
DMV services – Vehicle-related notices and reminders are mailed to the registered address. You need to receive these.
Local laws – Regulations like emissions testing depend on your registration address. You must comply with laws based on where the car is kept.
So you cannot list just any location when registering your vehicle. It must be the accurate address where you store and use the car the majority of the time. Contact the DMV immediately to update the address if this changes.
How Long Can You Drive an Unregistered Car?
Once you purchase a vehicle, you should complete the registration process as soon as reasonably possible. Laws vary, but most states allow only brief operation of a newly acquired unregistered vehicle.
For example, these are the time limits to register and get license plates in some states:
California – 10 days
Texas – 30 days
Florida – 30 days
Ohio – 30 days
New York – 30 days
Illinois – 30 days
Pennsylvania – 20 days
Check your local laws for specifics. But you can see there is typically only about a month at most before penalties start applying to an unregistered vehicle.
The best practice is to start the registration process immediately when buying a new car. Take care of this essential step right away.
How to Register a Car in Your State
The vehicle registration process is fairly straightforward. Follow these general steps:
Gather paperwork – Have your driver’s license, bill of sale, title, and insurance verification ready.
Visit the DMV – Make an appointment if required or just stop into your local DMV office.
Fill out the forms – You will need to provide vehicle details and personal contact information.
Show required documentation – Proof of insurance, ID, and ownership documents are typically required.
Pay fees – There is usually both a registration fee and smaller title fee to pay. The total is generally under $100.
Get plates – Your license plates will either be issued immediately or arrive in the mail within a few weeks.
Get registration card – This card shows your registration expiration date and should be kept in the vehicle.
Some states allow you to skip the DMV trip and renew registrations online. But for first-time registrations, an in-person visit is usually required.
What Happens If You Don’t Register a Car?
Failing to properly register your vehicle can lead to some costly penalties:
Fines – Fines for an unregistered vehicle are typically $100-$500, sometimes more. Fines accrue the longer a car goes unregistered.
Suspended registration – Your registration privileges can be suspended for repeat offenses, making future registrations more difficult.
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