A former insurance producer, Laura understands that education is key when it comes to buying insurance. She has happily dedicated many hours to helping her clients understand how the insurance marketplace works so they can find the best car, home, and life insurance products for their needs.

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Written by Laura Berry
Former Insurance Agent Laura Berry

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, mainly in the insuranc...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers Insurance CSR 4 Years Leslie Kasperowicz

UPDATED: Apr 29, 2022

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Here's what you need to know...

  • If you live in a state with mandatory auto insurance laws, you’re required by law to carry continuous coverage from the moment that a vehicle is registered in your name
  • Whether or not you’re required to provide proof of insurance at the time you apply for your registration will depend on the rules set by the state motor vehicle agency
  • Most agencies don’t ask for proof of insurance when you’re applying for a license plate even when insurance is considered mandatory
  • Just because you aren’t required to furnish proof of insurance documents to get your plates doesn’t mean that you don’t have to comply with the law
  • If you fail to purchase at least a minimum amount of insurance as set by the state law, you could face serious penalties that may include fines, court appearances, community service and jail time

Nobody enjoys going to their local motor vehicle agency. Whether you’re going to change your address or you need to register your vehicle in a new state, it’s typically not an experience that the average person enjoys. Even so, when you need license plates, avoiding the Department of Motor Vehicles isn’t really possible. One way to make your experience all the more enjoyable is to ensure that you’re prepared and that you have all of the documentation you need to finish your transaction and get in and out quickly. Compare car insurance rates now by using our FREE tool above!

When you’re applying for your license plates for the first time or you’re switching your registration to your new state of residence, there’s a checklist of items you should bring with you. If you’ve put off buying insurance, just know that doing this could delay your mission to get your plates. Here are the most common rules pertaining to insurance when you’re registering a car:

What are your state’s minimum coverage requirements?

Insurance isn’t mandatory in every state. In some states, there are financial responsibility laws and in others, there are mandatory insurance laws. It’s up to you to research the auto insurance requirements before you even make an appointment to get license plates on your car.

In most states, you’re required to have liability insurance (bodily injury liability coverage and property damage liability coverage) only, but some states also require personal injury protection or uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.

You must have the right limits and the right mandatory types of coverage from an insurance carrier licensed to do business in the state to comply with the law.

A financial responsibility law doesn’t necessarily mean that insurance is mandatory. Instead, it means that a vehicle owner must prove that they are capable of paying for the damages that they are responsible for when they’re driving. When you have auto insurance coverage, your insurance company will pay for the damages associated with an accident. If you wish to prove financial responsibility instead, you are basically pledging to pay for these damages yourself.

States with this type of insurance law may accept other types of proof to satisfy the requirement. Some alternative ways that you can comply with financial responsibility legislation include:

  • File a cash deposit with the Department of Motor Vehicles
  • File a surety bond with the Department of Motor Vehicles
  • File a certificate of self-insurance with the agency
  • Purchase liability auto insurance through a state-licensed auto insurance company

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What is a compulsory insurance law?

A compulsory insurance law is one that states that you must have auto insurance. There’s no alternative way to comply with state laws if you live in a state with mandatory insurance legislation. In this case, you must carry a minimum amount of coverage to pay for third-party damages and even possibly for your own medical bills. Here are some of the most common requirements that are mandated by the state:

  • Bodily Injury
  • Property Damage
  • Uninsured Motorist Protection
  • Medical Payments

What if you live in a no-fault state?

A majority of states operate under a tort insurance system, where fault is used to determine which insurance policy will pay for damages after a loss. While fault-based systems are common, there are still 12 states that use no-fault systems to settle auto insurance claims for bodily injury. States with no-fault insurance laws include:

  • Florida
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Kentucky
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Utah
  • North Dakota
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Pennsylvania

In these states, you’re required to purchase Personal Injury Protection coverage. This coverage pays for your own medical bills and other reasonable rehabilitation costs. The actual amount of coverage that’s required depends on the state that you live in. Many no-fault states still require Property Damage Liability coverage.

When do you need to register your car?

It’s your duty to register your vehicle and apply for license plates within a timely manner when you take ownership of a car or when you become a resident in a new state. Every state has their own rules, but in most cases you have between 10 and 30 days to go to the agency and register the vehicle. Luckily, when you’re buying a vehicle from a dealer the dealer will typically handle registering the car for you.

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What do you need to bring when you go to register your car?

You can schedule an appointment with your local department of transportation but if you don’t have the right paperwork, you’ll be turned away and left to brave the office again another day. Here are the most popular items that you should get together before your scheduled appointment comes:

  • Valid license or identification card
  • License plate application
  • Proof of ownership
  • Certificate of inspection
  • Proof of financed or leased vehicle
  • Proof of residency
  • Tag and title fee
  • Prior state’s registration
  • Proof of insurance

What about states with electronic insurance verification?

While bringing your insurance card can’t hurt, there’s still a chance that you’ll be issued your tags. Many states have adopted electronic verification systems to catch uninsured drivers the moment their policies lapse.

Since these systems check the status of a car’s insurance by using the VIN, the agency can see if you have active coverage.

This is why you best be sure you have coverage before you go to the agency to avoid penalties.

What are the penalties for no insurance?

If you are lucky enough to register your vehicle with insurance, you won’t get away with violating the law for long. If you get caught driving on public roads without coverage by law enforcement, you’ll face serious consequences. And since states can see the status of your policy, you can get caught even if you’re not driving around. If you can’t prove you have coverage, some of the penalties you’ll face include:

  • Fine
  • License or plate suspension
  • Imprisonment
  • Court appearance
  • Community service
  • Vehicle impoundment
  • SR-22 insurance requirement

Auto insurance is expensive, but it can be much more expensive to get caught driving without it. There are fees and fines associated with all of the penalties on this list, and an SR-22 insurance requirement will raise your auto insurance rates, likely for years to come. Don’t risk it.

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What’s the bottom line?

If you need to get your plates and you don’t have insurance, it’s time to shop around. You can make your mission to save money easiest by using an online insurance comparison tool. Once you’ve compared the premiums, you can find the right insurance provider, secure a policy, print out your ID cards, and take them to the agency. Enter your zip code in our FREE

tool below to compare car insurance rates right now!