What Is the Difference Between a Car’s Title and Registration?

There are over 263.6 million vehicles registered in the U.S.

That’s a lot of drivers on the road with a lot of important paperwork. You’ll need your license, insurance, title and registration to be on the road legally.

But what’s the difference between title and registration? We break down all of this important paperwork so you don’t have to worry.


The title is the single most important piece of paper in your vehicle ownership. That’s because, without the title, you can’t register the vehicle.

In fact, if the title isn’t in your name, and you don’t have a bill of sale, you don’t legally own the vehicle. So you must keep your vehicle’s title in a safe, secure place. Consider a home safe or a bank lockbox.

What Does a Title Look Like?

The title varies from state to state, but they have similarities. They’re typically nice, high-quality paper that is embossed or has a state seal on it.

They have a thick colored border. In Montana it’s blue, in Colorado, it’s green. Again, this will vary from one state to the next.

The title will have the vehicle’s information on it like the year, make and model. It will also have the date purchased, date issued, and the county where your vehicle is registered.

When you visit the DMV after buying a new car, they’ll mail you a new title in a week or two, so keep an eye out for it in the mail.

You must keep your title safe and clean – do not store it with your vehicle. If the title gets destroyed or lost, it’s hard to replace. But if you do need to replace your title and registration, it’s possible, but a lengthy process.


Now that you understand titles, how does registration play a part?

To legally drive a vehicle, you must register it in your home state. When you register your car, you’ll be given license plates and registration papers. Registration links your plates with the vehicles VIN in the legal system.

When you register your vehicle, you’ll also have to pay tax on the sale. Registration fees and other fees may apply. How much you paid for the vehicle, and the vehicle’s age will factor into the registration.

If you’re from out of state and need to transfer a registration to your new home state, you may have additional fees. For example, Florida has steep fees for transferring an out of state vehicle to Florida.

However, every time you move, you have 90 days to re-register your vehicle to your new address. This is the case even if your tags aren’t expired yet.

What Does the Registration Look Like?

When you take your bill of sale to the DMV, you’re registering your vehicle. You’ll get the title in the mail, but you’ll get your registration right away.

This is a white paper that’s usually glossy. It has your vehicle’s information on it, and your information on it. It shows that you are a legal driver in your state, and the vehicle is legally covered too.

You should always keep the registration in your vehicle. Most often it’s in the glove box or driver’s visor. Should an officer pull you over, you’ll need to show your car’s registration and insurance.

Driver’s License

Your driver’s license is probably your most prized legal document. Most likely it’s kept in your wallet and whipped out any time you need to provide an ID. Driver’s licenses are a valid ID nearly everywhere.

But don’t forget that it’s just as vital to driving as it is to provide an ID. Any time you’re behind the wheel, make sure you have your driver’s license with you.


To legally drive in the U.S., you must also insure your vehicle. There are a few different levels of insurance. These depend on how much you pay, and how much coverage your insurance provides.

If you lease your vehicle, your bank or lender might require you keep full coverage insurance. If you own your vehicle, you can cut back to limited liability insurance. Some states require you to also have uninsured driver insurance too.

Most of the time, you’ll have a digital copy of your insurance card stored somewhere on your phone. This is usually either in an e-mail, a screenshot, or your insurance company’s app.

In many cases, this is good enough to prove your vehicle is insured. But it’s still a good idea to keep a physical paper copy in your vehicle with the registration. This way if your phone dies, or your in an area without service, you’ll still have proof of insurance.

On top of that, getting pulled over is stressful. You don’t want to have to rummage through your phone to find a vital piece of information. If you keep a physical copy, you know exactly where to find it.

The Title and Registration are Vital Pieces of Paperwork to Vehicle Ownership

When you own a vehicle, make sure you know how to find the title and registration. These are two separate documents that need to be kept separate. Each serves a different purpose.

But once you know where they are, you’ll be set to go. Don’t forget to always keep a physical copy of your insurance in the vehicle. And always have your driver’s license on you whenever you’re behind the wheel.

Keep checking back for more great advice to make your life easier!

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