What’s the difference between a vehicle’s registration and title?

The difference between a vehicle's registration and title is that, while a title expresses direct ownership of the vehicle, a vehicle's registration proves that you've paid taxes on your car to your state. Learn why it's essential to have both vehicle registration and title documents.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Written by Rachel Bodine
Insurance Feature Writer Rachel Bodine

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 CSR for 4 Years Leslie Kasperowicz

UPDATED: Jun 6, 2022

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What You Should Know

  • The vehicle title and registration are different
  • The vehicle title is proof of ownership
  • The vehicle registration is proof a vehicle has been registered with the state

You may have heard two terms related to your vehicle: vehicle registration and vehicle title. Is there a difference between the two? Yes, they are two different documents.

Today, we’re explaining everything you need to know about the difference between a vehicle’s registration and title. Read on to learn more for help with understanding auto insurance laws and why the registration and title matter.

To save on auto insurance rates before you read on about the difference between title and registration, use our free tool above.

What is a car title vs. registration?

Car registration documents and car titles are different documents. The car title is proof of ownership of the vehicle; it lists the owners, co-owners, or company that legally owns the vehicle. If you have a loan on the vehicle, you may receive the title to keep once that loan is paid off.

On the other hand, car registration documents verify that a vehicle has been registered with appropriate state authorities – like the DMV; by registering your vehicle with your state DMV, you can receive a license plate, sticker, and other proof of registration.

Let’s look closer at the difference between vehicle registration vs. title.

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What is a vehicle’s title?

motor vehicle title is a legal form that lists the legal owner of the vehicle. The legal owner could be a person or a business. There could be a single owner or multiple co-owners.

Some people call a vehicle’s title a pink slip. In some states, the certificate of title comes on a pink slip of paper.

Whatever color it is, the vehicle’s title shows who legally owns the vehicle. So what are the different types of vehicle titles? Every title will have an indicator that tells you what condition a vehicle is in, which is especially important to pay attention to when buying a used vehicle.

  • Clean Title. It means a car has never been in an accident.
  • Clear. A car that was once damaged but was repaired well enough to pass inspection.
  • Salvage Title. Vehicles that have been stolen or severely damaged.
  • Bonded. When a security bond is bought as security for disputes of ownership.
  • Reconstructed. Salvage title vehicles that have been repaired enough to pass inspection.
  • Lemon Law Title. Car that is unsafe to drive.
  • Junk. Cars that can’t be repaired.
  • Odometer rollback. Someone tried to roll back the odometer, which is illegal.
  • Flood Title. Severe damage from water.

These are the main terms that you will see when looking at car titles.

What’s a car registration?

A vehicle’s registration is required by your state of residence. The registration proves that you have officially registered your vehicle with your state DMV. It also shows you have paid any taxes or fees that were due.

Specific registration rules vary by state. Typically, however, when registering your motor vehicle, you will pay a fee and then receive a license plate and registration document. Some states use a sticker.

The vehicle’s registration document or sticker proves that the vehicle is roadworthy according to state law.

In Florida, for example, drivers will register their vehicle with the HSMV, pay a registration tax and fees, and then receive a metal license plate, a validation decal, and a registration certificate. Once you’ve received all of that, your vehicle is officially registered in the state of Florida.

Is registration the same as license plates? All states have license plates. A license plate is proof that the vehicle’s registration fees have been paid. The license plate also helps identify the vehicle and trace its ownership.

If you don’t have your vehicle registered, it can result in a number of penalties. According to FindLaw, driving a vehicle with registration that expired over six months ago will generally result in a moving violation in most states.

This results in points on a driver’s record and increased insurance rates, in addition to fines and possible loss of driver’s license.

How do I register my vehicle?

What is registration? The vehicle’s title and registration cards are linked to one another – so it’s no surprise people confuse the two terms. To register a vehicle with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, you must show proof of ownership, verifying that your name is on the title of the vehicle.

In most states, that means you need to show the Department of Motor Vehicles acceptable proof of ownership after purchasing a vehicle in a private sale, including a title certificate and a bill of sale.

Once you have verified your legitimate ownership of the vehicle, you can pay the registration fee and/ or vehicle license fee, property tax, and proceed with the vehicle registration process.

In the case of a private sale, you would also be changing the title and registering the vehicle at the same time.

If you just purchased a car from a private owner, for example, then you can provide the DMV with a title certificate and bill of sale before completing the registration. You still have to pay tax and a vehicle license fee.

When does car registration expire? Car registration lasts a year, so if you registered your car on March 4th, your registration will expire on March 4th of next year.

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How can I transfer a car title?

Transferring a title usually happens when a car is sold to another person. As mentioned above, you can list a name or corporation on the vehicle’s title.

However, some vehicles have multiple owners or co-owners. In this case, there are different ways to list the owner’s names on the policy.

Let’s say John and Mary both co-own the same Honda Civic. The vehicle title for the Honda Civic can list the owners in two ways:

  • John or Mary
  • John and Mary or John/Mary

If the co-owners are listed as “John or Mary”, it means that the vehicle can be sold with the consent of just one vehicle owner. John or Mary can sell the car in a private sale without providing proof of the other person’s consent.

If the co-owners are listed as “John and Mary” or “John / Mary”, however, then both listed owners need to consent before selling a vehicle. The buyer requires a signature from both owners.

In addition, if you refinance your vehicle, you will need to have a new title issued. The new title will show your new lender on it.

Do I need proof of ownership to insure a car?

Generally, to insure any item, you need to prove that you have some financial ‘stake’ in that item. Typically, you only insure vehicles that you legitimately own.

When it comes to a legal owner vs registered owner, insurance companies might ask for proof that you have some ownership in the car before giving you an auto insurance policy. This is called ‘proof of insurable interest’. If you will be driving the vehicle, you’ll need to keep the card nearby or in your car, which is known as proof of insurance.

If your name isn’t already on the vehicle’s title, then you may need your name to be listed on the title as a co-owner in order to place the vehicle on your insurance policy.

However, insurance companies have different rules regarding ownership and non-owners auto insurance. Check with your insurance company.

Once you have a car title in your name and proof of car registration, you can start searching for the best auto insurance for that vehicle. Use our free tool below.

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