No matter where you are in the United States, you need to get your vehicle registered. If you happen to drive an unregistered car, you are committing a crime. The same happens if your vehicle is registered but its tags have expired. With that in mind, ‘’what happens if you get pulled over without registration?’ becomes an incredibly important question that I’m here to help you answer.
Despite driving being such a huge part of our everyday lives, people still tend to make these mistakes. I’ve had family members who failed to register their cars properly and on time. Honestly, the whole process isn’t too tricky. In fact, it’s been made easier ever since car dealerships started to register cars for their customers.
Nevertheless, I feel that there are people out there who need to know a bit about registering cars and why it’s important. Firstly, they will get to save the money they might otherwise have to spend on a fine. Secondly, and more importantly, they get to keep driving privileges in check.
What Is a Car Registration?
Credit Karma does a good job of explaining car registrations in some detail. To sum up their article, vehicle registration is a document that proves a car (or a bus, a motorcycle, etc.) is legally yours.
In order to register your car, you need to pay a visit to your local DMV or a transportation agency. Failing to do so on time can cause lots of legal issues, so I suggest doing it as quickly and painlessly as possible.
But what falls under registration, and when do you do it? Well, generally speaking, you’ll need to do it when you’re, for example:
- Buying a brand new car
- Renewing an older license on an annual or biannual level
- Moving to a different state
As for the process itself, you’ll need to provide a few personal documents to the DMV. For example, if I were to acquire a car registration, I’d first need to provide them with my driver’s license or any other type of identification. Next, they will need my proof of insurance and sales tax payment, as well as a vehicle registration application form. Finally, they’ll need some data on my car, such as its title, proof of passed safety and smog inspections, and whether I’m the owner or not.
Do All Vehicles Require Registration?
Interestingly, no, they don’t. If the state grants an owner a non-operating license, they can drive the vehicle without registration. In addition, off-road vehicles usually don’t have to go through this process. And then, you have the stored vehicles. Since nobody is actively using them, they do not require any form of registration by the state.
Do I Need the Registration With Me While Driving?
In the United States, as a driver, I must have the following documents with me at all times:
- A valid, up-to-date driver’s license
- Proof of liability insurance
- A valid car registration
Driving without any of these documents will result in a penalty. So let’s see what happens when the police actually pull us over.
Getting Pulled Over Without Proof of Registration
An officer can pull you over for any reason, be it speeding, driving extremely slow, or even if they think something’s wrong with your car. When that happens, whether you have your registration with you or not, remember to always be polite with officers. More often than not, they can let you off scot-free or with a ticket.
But let’s assume the worst. For example, the police might pull me over for speeding, and I might not have my registration with me. The officer can do one of several things on the spot:
- Let me off with a ticket for a violation
- State that I got the ticket but let me off with just a warning
- Write me a ticket and tow my car
- Arrest me
Let’s cover all of the four situations. Officers will usually let people off with just a warning when they’re polite and the officers are having a good day. Writing a ticket comes with a legal obligation to pay the penalty and renew the registration. Towing the car happens if the registration is expired for more than six months, and you won’t be able to get your vehicle back until paying the fine and registration renewal.
Arrests, however, happen in severe cases. For example, if you don’t have any of the legal driving documents, you’re committing a crime. In addition, if you get too confrontational with the officer, they have every right to arrest you and impound your car, which is why I can’t stress enough that you need to be on your best behavior.
Getting Pulled Over Without Registration
Having proof of registration and having a registered car are two different things. And with too many people driving unregistered vehicles out there, I should point out the main difference between the two scenarios.
When you drive without the proper registration paperwork, you will more than likely get a fine. In case the registration has expired, the penalty will vary depending on how many months you were driving the vehicle after the expiration date.
On the other hand, driving an unregistered car can not only land you steep fines, but you can face at least 15 days of jail time. All states within the USA have different laws and cite different penalties for these violations.
Other Details to Know About Registration Penalties
One massive consequence of driving without registration is the effect it has on your insurance rates. Registering a car requires proof of insurance in case it suffers damage or gets stolen. And if I, as a driver, have a clean record, the rates will stay the same throughout.
However, driving without proof of registration is a moving violation. As such, the insurance rates will increase every time you commit this act.
Having expired registration tags is considered a non-moving violation. As such, You can get a ticket even if you’re not driving the car. Of course, the car has to be in a public area for this law to apply. If it’s parked in your own backyard, you’re technically not breaking any laws, despite not having your car registration tags up to date.
Getting a ticket for driving without registration can affect your driving license negatively. Some of the states use a point system, and for any violations on the road, these will accumulate on your license. If you get too many, you lose your driving privileges for a period of time.
The Cost of Driving Without Registration
Paying one or two fines might not seem like a big deal to plenty of drivers out there. However, not registering the car on time (or renewing a registration) can tumble out of control.
For instance, if a police officer catches you driving with tags over six months past their expiration date in California, you will definitely face jail time. In addition, you’ll get a court notice and a period within which you have to appear in court.
According to California law, you need to pay both the fee for the unregistered tags as well as a penalty. That very penalty is usually four or five times LARGER than the fee itself, which is around $25. And that’s not counting all of the processing fees that go with it.
Then, there’s the court notice itself. I have to stress that even if you pay all the expenses and renew the expired tags, you still have to appear in court. Failure to do so will get you a misdemeanor, which means more expensive fines and more money lost. On top of all that, you could receive a license suspension, which would require you to spend more money on getting your driving privileges back.
Why Registration Matters
Registering a car is more than just going through annoying paperwork every year for the benefit of a DMV bureaucrat. By keeping your registration documents up to date, you’re saving yourself lots of legal and financial trouble down the line. In addition, you’re not risking losing your license or facing jail.
But more importantly, registration helps you keep your own car safe. Should someone steal or damage your vehicle, the registration documents are important bits of legal proof that can help you get compensated for the damage done.
Registering a vehicle might not be the most fun thing in the world; I’ll agree with you there. But if done right, it will make your life go smoother and keep your car on the road with zero issues.