Insuring and registering your vehicle can be costly and time consuming. Yet when you consider the potential legal and financial consequences of driving without valid registration or insurance, it’s easy to see why you want to complete these steps in the right order. Here are the main reasons to get insurance before you register your car.

In this article:

Why do I need insurance to register my car?

The two main reasons you need insurance before you register your car are:

  1. It is legally required in most states.
  2. Doing so gives you financial protection if you are involved in an accident before you register the vehicle.

Legal requirements

Almost every state requires you to insure your vehicle with an in-state policy, unless you can demonstrate financial responsibility through alternative means, such as a bond. Most states require you to show proof of insurance when you register your vehicle and renew your registration. States that don’t require proof of insurance at registration usually still require you to carry proof of insurance in your car.

Financial protection

You are financially responsible for your vehicle and any damage you or anyone else driving it might cause from the moment you take ownership. This includes while you drive to the DMV after you have purchased the vehicle or moved to a new state.

Where do I need proof of insurance to register my car?

Although most states require you to provide proof of insurance to register your vehicle or renew its registration, here are examples of states where the process is different:

  • New Hampshire does not have a statewide car insurance mandate. However, certain individuals, including those convicted of driving while intoxicated or multiple traffic violations, need to maintain a proof-of-insurance (SR-22) filing with the state to reinstate a suspended registration.
  • Mississippi, North Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin require registered vehicles to be insured, but you only need to provide proof of insurance to law enforcement in certain situations, such as traffic stops and at accident scenes.
  • Several areas across Alaska are exempt from the state’s vehicle registration and insurance requirements. In areas where registration and insurance are required, a motorist must provide proof of insurance to a peace officer or Department of Public Safety employee on demand.
  • Arizona and California require proof of insurance within 30 days of registering your vehicle.
  • Virginia requires you to certify that your vehicle is insured or pay a $500 uninsured motor vehicle fee to register your vehicle and renew the registration each year.

Since this list is not exhaustive, it’s best to check for additional information with your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV) or vehicle registration agency.

Electronic insurance verification

Arizona, California and Virginia are among more than two dozen states that use electronic monitoring systems to verify the insurance status of registered vehicles. These systems typically enable a state’s DMV to compare its vehicle records to customer databases provided by insurance companies.

When a state’s system detects a vehicle with a canceled or lapsed policy, it usually sends out a request for proof of new insurance coverage to the vehicle’s owner. Vehicle owners who fail to respond can face penalties for violating their state’s car insurance law.

In other states with electronic monitoring, including Alabama and Arkansas, your registration or renewal may be delayed or denied if the state can’t find your insurance records in its system, unless you provide printed or electronic proof of insurance when you register.

In other states with electronic monitoring, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, you need to show proof of insurance when you initially register your vehicle in person. You can renew your registration online, provided your insurance records remain valid in the state’s verification system.

Do I need insurance to register my car in a new state?

Since insurance regulations and requirements vary by state, it is best to obtain a new insurance policy as soon as possible after you move to a new state.

You’ll want to keep your existing policy in place until you get a new one. However, since your existing policy might not provide enough coverage or the right type of coverage for your new state, you don’t want to wait too long to make the change.

For example, if you only have liability coverage when you move to a no-fault insurance state, you’ll need a policy that includes personal injury protection, which covers medical treatment of injuries suffered in a car accident, regardless of fault.

Even if you plan to stick with the same insurance company, such as State Farm, Allstate or Progressive, after you move, you’ll still need to get a new policy issued by an agent licensed in your new state.

Most states require you to register your vehicle and get a driver’s license within a specified period of establishing your residency, usually 30 to 90 days. You can usually get car insurance before then.

Which documents do I need to register a car?

You can renew your vehicle registration online in most states, but many require you to submit your initial registration documents in person. In many states, auto dealers can submit your registration and title documents to the DMV for you. Though the process varies from state to state, you usually need to provide the following documents to register and title your vehicle:

  • Proof of identity (ID) and residency: Some states require you to get an in-state driver’s license before you register a vehicle.
  • Proof of insurance: The specific requirement varies by state.
  • Existing title and registration: If you purchased a vehicle from an individual, you’ll need the title signed over to you, and usually a bill of sale. If you moved to a new state, the vehicle’s most recent title and registration will usually suffice. If your lender or another lienholder has the vehicle’s title, you might need to submit an additional form to get your title reissued in your new state.
  • Lease agreement: Often required for leased vehicles.
  • Application forms: Most states require you to provide relevant information on separate forms for your title and registration. The forms are usually available online.
  • Emissions testing: In states that require an emissions test, you’ll usually need to complete the inspection before you register the vehicle, unless your vehicle is exempt.
  • Other statements and certifications: Florida is among the states that require an inspection of your vehicle identification number (VIN), and many states require an odometer certification or statement when you apply to get your title reissued. New Hampshire requires a safety inspection for all vehicles. You’ll want to check your state’s DMV website ahead of time to make sure you have everything you need.

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