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What is a Vehicle Registration Fee?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A vehicle registration fee is a fee which is typically paid annually to a department of transportation or motor vehicles. This fee gives you the right to drive a particular vehicle, which may be inspected for safety and emissions compliance before a registration will be approved, depending on where you live. These fees support maintenance of public roads. The amount of a vehicle registration fee varies, depending on what type of vehicle you are registering, where you are registering it, and whether or not it has been registered before. You are also usually expected to renew the registration when you move to a different state, province, or country, and failure to do so will result in very expensive fines.

As a general rule, failure to pay the vehicle registration fee can result in a stiff fine. Law enforcement authorities such as police typically have the right to check on vehicle registration, and they may issue tickets which require drivers to correct the problem. Most departments of transit have scaled fees which penalize people depending on the length of time that the registration has been allowed to lapse, with very high fees for cars which have been left unregistered for a year or more.

In addition to allowing you to drive a particular vehicle, proof of vehicle registration may be required to purchase car insurance. Insurance companies do this to ensure that you are in compliance with the basic rules of the road, and to make sure that they know who owns the vehicle. People who drive leased vehicles may or may not have to pay the registration; it is a good idea to check on this when signing a contract for a long term car lease.

People other than the registered owner are allowed to drive a vehicle, as the vehicle registration fee applies to the vehicle, not the driver. As a general rule, anyone driving a vehicle must present proof of a valid license to drive that vehicle, and in some regions insurance is also required. If you are driving a car which is not registered in your name, it is a good idea to have the registration readily available, and to be able to explain the situation to law enforcement.

Many regions have scaled vehicle registration fees which depend on the value of a vehicle and its type. In some cases, a penalty for vehicles which are not fuel efficient is also built into the vehicle registration fee, making it cheaper to register something like a hybrid vehicle as compared to an SUV. It is also possible to file a “non-operable” registration, which means that a vehicle will not be driven. Failure to file a non-operable registration can result in significant fees if you decide to drive the vehicle again later, and you will also be fined for driving a vehicle with a non-operable registration.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WikiMotors researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Rundocuri — On Apr 10, 2014

@ocelot60- That is a good idea for a beginning driver. Too many young people are so excited to get their licenses for the first time that they may forget that vehicle ownership is quite a major responsibility.

In addition to being a serious matter, owning a vehicle is also costly. When a young driver begins paying some of the costs involved like the auto registration fee, he or she will be more likely to value the privilege of driving.

By Ocelot60 — On Apr 09, 2014

A great way to begin teaching the responsibility of owning a vehicle to your child when he becomes a first-time driver is to make him pay for the vehicle registration fee. This will teach him about some of the costs involved with owning and operating an automobile.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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