Is it illegal to have a car without insurance?

In order to register a vehicle with the state, you must have proof of auto insurance. It is illegal to own a car without insurance and without registration. It is only legal to own certain vehicles without insurance, including low-speed scooters, go-karts, and golf carts, but the insurance requirements on these vehicles will vary by state.

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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

UPDATED: Oct 29, 2020

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Things to know...

  • You can’t legally drive any private passenger vehicle that you own without purchasing auto insurance
  • The only motorized vehicles that you can drive without insurance are vehicles that don’t have to be registered
  • Owners are responsible for insuring their cars and they are the ones who are fined if they violate the law
  • If the police stop someone in your car and the plates ping and show no insurance, the car could be impounded
  • If you violate the law by driving without insurance, it could put your driver’s license at risk

Breaking the law can cost you. When it comes to owning a car, you could be breaking the law without even knowing it. That’s because a lot of first-time car owners aren’t familiar with all of the titling, registration, and insurance laws before they sign a bill of sale. It’s not until their first trip to the DMV that they learn that they have to have certain paperwork and mandatory coverage before they can submit an application for plates.

Learn more about auto insurance below and make sure to use our free insurance comparison tool above to compare the best rates today!

You can’t allow your unfamiliarity with insurance laws get you into trouble when you’re taking care of all of the business that involves registering your car. Simply put, it is illegal to have a car without insurance in most situations. There are, however, scenarios where you might not need to maintain active coverage. Here’s what you need to know before you ever go a period of time owning an uninsured car:

Why do you have to register your cars?

State law says that all motorized cars that can be operated on public roads must be registered. It might seem like just another reason to have to pay the state a fee each year, but the money that’s spent for tags pays to maintain public highways and also to employ members of the community.

A car’s registration and the tags associated with the registration is like a car’s identification card. Much like you have a driver’s license to drive, a car needs to have a registration to be driven. It’s actually a Federal law that says that all cars must be registered once each year. It’s the state’s responsibility to oversee this.

Valid tags are a car’s proof that you have paid the taxes and the fees for the year that are associated with being the legal owner.

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What types of motorized vehicles don’t have to be registered?

There are motorized vehicles that technically won’t have license plates. These are exceptions to the very strict registration rule. Typically speaking, you have to have plates on ATV’s, mopeds, RVs, private passenger cars, trucks, and even trailers. Since the vehicle is registered, by law you’ll have to have it insured as well.

If you have a low-speed electric vehicle designed for your neighborhood, however, you legally don’t need a registration for use on public roads.

The need for insurance really only exists when a vehicle is taken off of private property and onto public property. Examples of these low-speed motorized vehicles include:

  • A golf cart used on private property only
  • A go-kart driven strictly on your private land
  • A segway or a self-balance board that is not used on public streets
  • An electric bicycle or scooter that doesn’t require a license

Is the car registered through a state motor vehicle agency?

Whether or not it will be illegal to own a car without insurance is dependent on its registration status. You have to register a car to drive it or park in on a street but it doesn’t need plates to be stored on your private property. If you suspend your registration by turning in your plates, it’s not illegal to take insurance off of the car.

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What is a non-op filing?

In most states, when you own a car that doesn’t need a registration, you still have to file the vehicle as non-operational through the state. This is often called a planned non-op filing (PNO). It just shows that you’re the legal owner but that you don’t plan on operating the car in the near future.

Filing this through the state helps you avoid late fees for letting your registration lapse and it also makes it easier to reactivate your registration when you get the car up and running. If the car has a PNO registration, you are not expected to keep liability insurance on the car until the registration is reactivated.

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Is the car registered in your name?

You don’t have to be the title holder to have a car registered in your name. The registration could be in the name of someone who is leasing the car or financing it as well.

Whoever is listed on the document is the legal entity who has to pay the taxes, fees, and fines associated with having the vehicle in their custody.

If the car is registered to you, whether you’re the lessee or the owner, you have to maintain insurance in your name. It’s critical that you structure your policy right and the name on your policy matches the name on the registration. If the insurance lapses, it will be the registered owner who will have to answer for illegally owning an uninsured car.

What happens if you don’t maintain your insurance on a registered car?

The consequences of owning a car without insurance can be major. If your situation calls for mandatory insurance, you shouldn’t let the policy that you’ve been paying for lapse for even a single day. If you do, you have to answer to the police, the DMV, and possibly even a judge in a superior court.

Perhaps the worst-case scenario would be that you would lose your car altogether to police impound. This typically happens when you or someone you give permission to is caught driving the uninsured car. Cars can also be impounded when they are parked in a public lot and they don’t have registration or insurance. Other consequences include:

  • Citations for driving an uninsured car
  • Fines for being convicted of driving without insurance
  • A misdemeanor on your driving record that affects the points system
  • A suspension of your registration
  • Requirement to pay for reinstatement fees
  • Loss of your license

The longer you go without insurance coverage the riskier it is. You don’t want to be fined for overlooking a due date or misinterpreting the law. Get insurance coverage now by soliciting quotes. After you’ve compared rates via an online quoting tool you can instantly submit your application.

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