What Happens After You Buy a Car: Steps to Registration and Ownership

Buying a car can be both an exciting and daunting experience. After months of research, you have finally chosen the perfect car for your needs, but before you cruise around town in style, there is still more work to be done – registration and ownership. Many first-time buyers need to learn what must happen once they’ve made their purchase and are left feeling overwhelmed by the needed paperwork. Here, we’ll answer all your questions and provide step-by-step guidance on how to properly register your shiny new vehicle.

Steps to Registration and Ownership after buying a car

1. VIN Verification

This is a crucial procedure where a certified professional, known as a VIN verifier, cross-checks your car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) against state and national databases to ensure that it hasn’t been altered, stolen, or involved in any fraudulent activities. Not only does this step protect consumers, but it also helps maintain the integrity of the automotive industry. For those located in Southern California, there are reliable options for this service. Consider contacting a VIN verifier in Riverside County to verify your VIN appropriately. With a VIN verification certificate, you are ready to move on to the next step.

2. Vehicle Insurance

Its main purpose is to financially protect against damage or injury from accidents, including liability from incidents in a vehicle. Different policies cover various risks, such as collision (your car accidents), liability (your legal responsibility to others), and comprehensive (damage from fire, theft, or natural disasters). Familiarize yourself with these policy types and choose the one that suits your needs.

Steps to Registration and Ownership after buying a car

Vehicle insurance costs vary depending on the driver’s age, driving record, and car model. To get the best rate, compare quotes from different companies. Some providers offer discounts for bundling car insurance with other types or maintaining a clean driving record.

3. California Vehicle Registration

Once you have secured your car insurance, the next step is to register your vehicle with the state of California. This can be done online or in person at a local DMV office. You will need to bring the following documents:

  • Your proof of insurance (your auto policy declarations page)
  • A completed Application for Title or Registration (Form- The out-of-state registration, title, or nonresident certificate (if applicable)
  • Smog check certification
  • A valid driver’s license 

4. Obtain Vehicle Title

Getting the vehicle title, the “pink slip,” is a crucial step in establishing car ownership. The title includes the vehicle’s VIN, year, make, and model, along with the legal owner’s name and address. When purchasing a new car from a dealership, they usually handle the paperwork and submit the title application to the state DMV on your behalf.

When buying a used car, especially in a private sale, ensure the current owner transfers the title to you. Both parties should sign and date the title, and a notary may be required, depending on your state’s laws. Submit the signed title, application for a new title, and the required fee to your local DMV. Keep a copy of the signed title until you receive the new one from the DMV.

5. Get Your License Plates

The final step in the car registration is getting your license plates. Depending on your state, you can order these online or pick them up at your local DMV office. If buying a specialty plate, such as for veterans or organizations, an additional cost may be involved. Be sure to check with your DMV before deciding about license plates.

With your license plates in hand, you are all set to drive on the roads safely. After registering and owning a car, it’s highly recommended that you keep up with maintenance and service appointments to ensure your vehicle is always running properly. Taking good care of your car will extend its lifespan and help save money on costly repairs.

6. Payment of Sales Tax

Sales tax on a vehicle purchase is crucial and imposed by state and local authorities. It’s based on the vehicle’s purchase price. California’s sales tax rate varies (7.25% to 10.50%) based on the city or county. When buying from a dealership, they usually collect and submit the tax to the state’s revenue department on your behalf.

When buying a car from a private seller, you must calculate and pay the sales tax directly during vehicle registration. Consider this extra cost when budgeting for your car, as it can significantly raise the final price. Consult the California Department of Motor Vehicles or a tax professional for specific tax obligations related to your purchase.

Remember that you may also need to purchase additional car insurance coverage for your new car, as most basic policies will not cover the full value of a newly purchased vehicle. Additionally, check if any special state-specific taxes or fees must be paid when registering a new car (e.g., sales tax) and factor those into your budget. Following all these steps will ensure you are properly registered and legally entitled to drive your car.