Checklist for Buying a Used Car in California

california smog

Buying a used car in California can be slightly different from many other states due to their stricter regulations. The follow information can help guide you through the process of registering and obtaining a tag for your recently purchased vehicle. Also, unlike many other areas in the United States, California requires that most cars and trucks be subject to emission inspection based on SMOG regulations.

  • Purchase Insurance: Automotive Insurance is required on all vehicles operated or parked on California roads. Make sure to have proof of insurance before you start the registration process.
  • Smog Inspections: Smog inspections are required when you register or renew registration for a vehicle in California, but there are some exceptions. Check if your vehicle needs a smog inspection and get it done if necessary.
  • Visit the DMV: Visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. You can also check if you can do the registration process online.
  • Provide Necessary Documentation: You will need to provide the necessary documentation. This usually includes proof of ownership (like a title), a completed application form, and proof of insurance.
  • Pay the Registration Fee: There are a variety of fees that may be required when applying for or renewing vehicle registration. The exact amount can vary depending on the vehicle and other factors.
  • Receive Your Registration Card and Tags: Once your application is processed and your fee is paid, you will receive your registration card and tags.

SMOG / Emissions Inspection

You can locate a smog station near you onlinehere.

Smog inspections are required unless your vehicle is:

Gasoline powered 1975 year model or older
Diesel powered 1997 year model and older or with a Gross Vehicle Weight rating (GVWR) of more than 14,000 lbs
Natural gas powered with a GVWR rating of more than 14,000 lbs.

California Vehicle Licensing Fee

You can find more information on how much and if you need to pay a vehicle licensing fee with this FAQ from the California DMV. You can also use this online calculator to estimate how much your registration fee will be: California Registration Fee Calculator

California Sales Tax on Cars

You can learn more about sales tax on cars in CA here.

Make note of 2012 changes to California driving laws

You can see a full list of the new driver laws that went into effect on January 1st, 2012: California – New laws for 2012. These law changes include changes to DUI, child safety restraints, HOV lanes, Electric Vehicles (EV), and a few others.

Useful Links:

California DMV – Frequently Asked Questions

Auto Auctions in California

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