Can you register a car without a license?

If you're wondering whether you can register a car without a license, know that a driver's license isn't required to purchase and register your car. Any valid photo ID, such as a passport, may be used in lieu of your license.

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Tonya Sisler has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of South Carolina in Journalism and has worked for 15+ years in management. She has also completed a proofreading certification and is currently a professional writer.

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Brad Larson has been in the insurance industry for more than a dozen years. He started out as a claims adjuster for a national carrier. He has since switched to the agency side of the business. Brad is licensed in all P&C lines.

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Reviewed by Brad Larsen
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent Brad Larsen

UPDATED: Apr 15, 2022

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Things to Know

  • A driver’s license is not required to register or plate your vehicle
  • A photo ID is usually all you need to register your vehicle, which apart from your driver’s license can also be a learner’s permit, passport, or non-driver identification card
  • Most states require you to have car insurance before registering your vehicle

In the United States, we often take for granted that having a driver’s license is required for getting around. However, you can often get around just fine without one depending on where you live. Many states have decent public transportation systems for travelling to and from work and between cities — welcome news for those who can’t or simply don’t like to drive.

But suppose the day comes when you find yourself in the market for a new car. Or you might want to buy a car for someone else to drive you around. Of course, the next question that arises is: can you register a car without a license?

Fortunately, the answer is yes. Even if you can’t do much with a car without a license, you can still buy one and register it as your own. Here’s everything you need to know about registering your car without a driver’s license.

Car Registration Explained

All car owners in the U.S. must register their vehicles with their respective state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Department of Transportation. Annual registration is required to legally drive on public roads. When a vehicle is purchased, it must be registered before going on the road.

As part of registration, you will have to pay taxes and fees, which are determined depending on the make of the car and its age (newer cars cost more to register). Additionally, some states take into account other factors, such as the market value of your vehicle.

A vehicle registration serves as proof of ownership (the vehicle’s title). In addition, it is also an important source of information for legal matters, from assessing taxes to tracking criminal activity. A recovered stolen vehicle, for example, can be traced back to its owner just based on its registration.

It’s also important to have your registration with you every time you hit the road. You’ll need it if you get into an accident or are pulled over.

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Why You Shouldn’t Drive an Unregistered Car

It’s illegal to drive an unregistered car on public roads. During an accident or when you are stopped by law enforcement, you’ll be asked to show your vehicle registration, driver’s license, and proof of insurance.

Failing to show either document can result in various penalties, including fines, court, and misdemeanor charges. In some states, driving without proper registration can net you a hefty fine of up to $200. In more severe situations (i.e., not registering the car in the first place), you can even lose your license and driving privileges. You also run the risk of getting your vehicle impounded.

Additionally, driving an unregistered car is also a moving violation. If caught, your insurance rate is likely to increase. Repeat violations will result in ever-escalating penalties, inevitably leading to felony charges and a criminal record. Ouch.

How to Register a Car Without a Driver’s License

The good news is that in most states, you do not need a driver’s license to register and plate your vehicle. You can even go as far as purchasing insurance for your new ride.

You can register your new vehicle with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in your state. You should have the following items ready before heading to the DMV:

  • Proof of identity (driver’s license or any government-issued photo ID)
  • Car title (or lien agreement if financed)
  • Money to pay the sales tax (cash, check, or credit card)
  • Bill of sale (from the dealership)
  • Odometer reading (self-reported mileage)
  • Proof of insurance

To register your vehicle, you may need some form of photo identification, but the great news is that this isn’t restricted to just your driver’s license. Passports, for instance, can also serve as acceptable proof of identification.

If you are applying for a car registration, any of the following documents can serve as proof of identity in place of a driver’s license:

  • Your learner’s permit
  • Your U.S. passport
  • A non-driver identification card

The registration process usually takes one business day. Depending on how busy the service center gets, the registration process may sometimes take an hour or less.

In some states, the initial registration must be done in person while the vehicle is being plated at a local service center. Other states allow car owners to register their vehicles online. Depending on your state, you might be allowed to complete the entire registration process online, while others might only allow you to complete the required paperwork and print it out (also saving you some time at the DMV).

When purchasing a new vehicle, the dealership can also assist you with the registration process by submitting all necessary paperwork to a DMV on your behalf.

Can you buy a car without a license?

You can legally buy any car you like — so long as you have a valid government-issued photo ID and the financial resources to do so. However, you cannot legally drive your car without a driver’s license and proper insurance, and here’s where things get tricky.

Even someone with a valid driver’s license cannot drive your spanking brand-new ride off the lot without insurance. If you purchase a car from a dealership without insurance or a license, you’ll have to find another way to transport the car — such as via a tow truck or some other method.

If you are buying the car from a private individual, they may allow your friend or family member to drive it back for you. If insurance is an issue, they can also offer to drive it themselves instead.

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Can you get car insurance without a license?

To register a car, you need car insurance, and to purchase car insurance, you need a driver’s license. A valid driving license gives insurance companies access to your driving record, which in turn determines your insurance rates.

Insurance companies cannot access this information in the absence of a driver’s license. At this point, you’re an unknown element to these insurance companies and thus automatically classified as a “high-risk” individual. Most reputable insurance companies draw the line here and will refuse to move your application forward, and without coverage for your vehicle, most states will not allow you to register your car.

But don’t give up just yet. There is a way to get around this.

Try buying a policy as a secondary driver and designating someone else as the primary driver. This person can be anyone, as long as they are over 18 and have a valid driver’s license. By doing this, you are giving the insurer some assurance that you won’t be driving the vehicle.

Insurers will use the primary driver’s information to offer policy coverage details and rates — even if you’re paying for it. The insurer will look at where the driver will drive and their driving record. Your insurance rates can become significantly more expensive if your appointed primary driver has a poor driving history. So make sure you choose wisely.

However, know that not all insurance companies will want to provide coverage to someone that’s not the primary driver. Check out all your options and do your research to get the best policy for your needs.

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