Zaneta Wood, Ed.S. has over 15 years of experience in research and technical writing bringing a keen understanding of data analysis and information synthesis to reach a wide variety of audiences. She studied adult education and instructional technology at Appalachian State University as well as technical and professional communication at East Carolina University. Zaneta has prepared technical p...

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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 insurance...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers Insurance CSR 4 Years

UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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Important facts to know...

  • Any car that is designed for use on public roads must be titled and registered in the owner’s state of residence
  • You have to pay the DMV a registration fee once per year and the dues renew on the same date each year
  • When your registration renews, you must pay the fee on time or your plates may be considered expired
  • If your registration expires, you legally aren’t supposed to drive the vehicle on public roads or you can be cited
  • When you have a loss in a car with expired plates, your insurer will still cover at least the third-party damages

You don’t really think about your vehicle registration on a day-to-day basis. It’s one of those things that is out of sight and out of mind once you pay the following:

  • registration
  • licensing
  • titling fees

Since you’re only billed once a year, it’s easy to overlook when you’re registration is actually due. As easy as the oversight is to make, there could be major consequences for paying your registration invoice late.

You are given a grace period to make your registration payment. In most states, paying late doesn’t land you in hot water right away but it will cost you in the form of a late fee. After being late for 30 days, your tags could expire.

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If you’re driving on expired tags for days or even weeks, here’s what some of the repercussions could be:

Why do you need to register vehicles each year?

Your vehicle registration is like your car’s identification card. When you’re legally classified as an adult, you have to carry an approved form of state-issued identification with you.

The law also requires all vehicle owners to register their vehicles and apply for identification through the DMV. The car’s identification is its license plates.

Not only does a car’s registration identify a vehicle, it also identifies the vehicle owner who is responsible for the car at all times.

Since law enforcement must be able to pinpoint the party who is legally liable for fees and damages when a car is cited or involved in an accident, the vehicle always has to have a valid registration. That requirement is in force when the car is:

  • driven
  • towed
  • parked on public property

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When do you pay your registration dues?

When you first purchase your vehicle, whether it’s from a dealer or a private seller, you need to apply for a registration in your name. If the car was already registered and titled, it could be as simple as transferring the documents into your own name.

Before the transfer of ownership documents are processed, you’ll have to pay a fee for the following:

  • Registration fee
  • License plate fee
  • One-time titling fee
  • State emissions fee
  • Highway Patrol fee
  • Fees assessed by the county
  • Fees for unpaid parking tickets and toll evasions

If everything has already been paid, you may have to simply pay a processing fee to put the tags in your name. You will then have a paid registration until the car’s initial renewal date which could be in a few months or in nearly a year.

If you’re buying from a dealer, the fees for your registration will be added to your purchase total.

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What happens when your registration is renewing?

If you renewed your vehicle in the state on April 1, 2017, you won’t be billed again to pay the next year’s dues on April 1, 2018. Most motor vehicle agencies will send out the renewal notice three months before the actual renewal date with the payment due on April 1.

You may have to smog your vehicle if your state has strict emissions testing requirements.

If you pay your fees on time by mail, by phone, in person, or online, you’ll receive your updated tags in the mail within two weeks. In the meantime, it will be on record that you have paid if an officer pulls you over. It’s when you pay late that you’ll have to start sweating a bit.

Your payment is to be paid and processed by the due date. If it’s not, your notice will show you how much of a fee you’ll be charged for paying late.

The fee usually isn’t too big if you pay 10 days late, but it can add up if you’re 60 days late. When you have failed to pay your registration for 30 days after the due date, it’s not uncommon for the DMV to send you out a notice that your tags have expired.

What are the penalties for driving with an expired registration?

Monetary fees aren’t the only types of penalties you’ll be assessed. Sometimes, the other penalties are a lot more expensive than the fees themselves. The consequences for having invalid tags while driving vary from state to state, but here are some of the common ones:

  • Suspension of registration
  • Suspension of driver’s license if driving a car with no registration
  • Requirement to file an SR-22
  • Requirement to tow the vehicle from the site where the vehicle is stopped
  • Assessment of impound, towing, and storage fees to get the vehicle back

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What if you have an accident with an expired registration?

You might think that driving your vehicle when you know that you don’t have tags is grounds for denying a claim. If that were the case, insurance companies could deny claims whenever you broke the law and then suffered a loss.

If your car insurance is valid and your registration isn’t, your insurer still has to pay for covered losses that you present to your agent.

Paying your insurance premiums isn’t enough to keep you in good standing with your insurer. If you’re guilty of letting your tags expire and you’re cited for it, it could impact your rates next renewal.

To the insurer, letting your tags expire is a risky decision that constitutes the need to charge more money.

You have to review your auto insurance policy to confirm you have the right coverage before filing any type of claim. If you don’t feel like you have enough coverage, get quotes for a broader policy.

The easiest way to compare coverage options and premiums is to use our online quoting tool. Enter your zip code below to get started.