vehicle registration number

Know Your Car’s ID — Vehicle Registration Number Basics

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

No matter which state you live in, I don’t advise you to drive an unregistered car on a public road. If you don’t want to get into trouble, you have to go to your local DMV and certify your vehicle once a year.

After paying the included fees, you’ll get your registration certificate for the following year. Additionally, if it’s your first registration, you’ll also get a set of license plates for your car, which will feature your vehicle registration number.

I’m sorry to say, but this is where the story gets more complicated. For one, the state you’re in could drastically change the process involved with vehicle registration. On top of that, moving from state to state can turn out to be incredibly stressful, but more on that later.

Anyway, if you want to buy a car (especially a used one) or move to another state, I suggest you pay close attention when reading this article. The more you know, the less likely you are to make a costly mistake.

How to Get a Vehicle Registration Number

Let’s begin with the registration process itself. No matter which state you live in or if you bought your car used or new, vehicle registration requires the following items:

  • Proof of vehicle ownership
  • Completed vehicle registration form
  • Proof of insurance (Tip: Use a car insurance comparison site to get the best insurance deals.)
  • The registration fee
  • Proof of identity

Safety and Emissions Test

About half the states require the vehicle to pass an annual safety and emissions test. If you live in such a state, I recommend you check the lights, brakes, tires, horn, and all the windows and seat belts.

In case the inspectors find any of these malfunctioning, I guarantee that your vehicle will fail the test. Fortunately, almost all of these parts tend to be cheap and easily fixed. And even if you do fail the test, you will most likely get a grace period to fix the car.

As for the emissions part of the test, you should only be concerned if you made any modifications to the car’s exhaust. Besides that, the only thing left to present is a clean vehicle title, if applicable.

Of course, you could apply for a title and registration at the same time. In addition, if you haven’t already paid the sales tax on your new car, you’re obliged to do so when you register it.

Fees, Titles, and Additional Info

Depending on your state of residence, the registration fee will either be a flat rate, or it could vary based on specific vehicle characteristics. It also depends on the vehicle’s age, value, weight, or any combination of those.

After successful registration, you’ll get a license plate (or two), and a registration certificate. If you have special needs, you can get disability license plates. In addition, you can get vanity plates in most states. Keep in mind — your vehicle registration number won’t be shown on vanity plates. So I recommend you get a duplicate certificate at the DMV and keep it somewhere safe.

Where Can I Find My Vehicle Registration Number?

As I previously mentioned, you can usually find your vehicle registration number on your license plates. In addition, you can look it up in the vehicle’s registration certificate. Since most people keep their registration certificate in the car, I recommended you ask for a duplicate at the DMV. That way, you can keep a copy at home in case of an emergency.

If you have vanity plates, I advise you to keep your registration certificate with you. You might need it for pay-by-plate parking, which I hear is becoming more and more popular across the United States. Moreover, you might need the vehicle registration number when purchasing an EZPass.

What Other Identification Numbers Does My Car Have?

Aside from the vehicle registration number, your car has two additional ID numbers. The first and the most important one is the VIN. The VIN, or Vehicle Identification Number, is explicitly tied to the vehicle, regardless of the owner and registration.

You can use the VIN to look into the ownership and service history of your vehicle. On the other hand, the authorities can use the VIN to quickly recognize a stolen vehicle or a vehicle with mismatched plates.

The other important number for your car is the title number. The title basically serves as the car’s ownership card. It links the VIN to the vehicle registration number, and it also identifies the vehicle’s order. Naturally, the DMV issues a new Certificate of Title each time the vehicle changes ownership.

To summarize, there are three primary identifying numbers for each vehicle. The VIN identifies the vehicle itself. They stamp it in at the factory, and it remains the same throughout the vehicle’s life. Then you have the title number.

It shows the vehicle’s owner, and it changes every time the owner of the vehicle changes. Finally, we get to the vehicle registration number or the license plate number. You get a new one each time you register the car with a state, or you can change it yourself if you have the need.


As I said, the vehicle registration number can put you in quite a tight spot if you’re not entirely aware of the rules and regulations. So make sure you’re acquainted with them before buying a vehicle. If you know the drill, the registration process is more likely to go smoothly.