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Driving Without Valid Vehicle Registration

When taking to the road, there are certain things all drivers must have with them. They are the items police officers typically ask for: A valid driver’s license, proof of liability insurance and valid vehicle registration.

In every state, traffic laws make it unlawful to operate a motor vehicle when:

  • The vehicle has never been registered with the state department of motor vehicles (or motor vehicles bureau) in the state where it is primarily used.
  • The vehicle's once-valid registration has expired (i.e. required fees and filings were not submitted to the state motor vehicle department within the registration period).

Traffic laws in most states differentiate between operating a vehicle that is not registered, and operating a vehicle without proof that the vehicle is registered (i.e. when a driver of a properly registered vehicle fails to carry a required registration certificate, or fails to display current registration stickers).

In many states, penalties for driving a vehicle whose registration has expired will increase the longer the registration has lapsed. For example, if the vehicle's registration expired less than 6 months ago, the infraction might be considered a non-moving violation. But if the vehicle's registration expired more than 6 months ago, the offense may be considered a moving violation, which shows up as "points" on a driving record, and may lead to increased automobile insurance rates.

Many people wonder if they buy a used car, can they drive it without registration. The answer is it depends on the state. In Michigan, for instance, you can drive home a newly purchased vehicle but only if you drive the vehicle directly to the first place of storage (usually your home) within three days of the sale. You must have the properly assigned title with you and should check with your insurance company to be sure you are covered. Again, the number of days you have to register a car varies so you should check with your state's DMV.

In most states, certain types of vehicles need not be registered -- including "off-highway" vehicles, stored vehicles, or vehicles for which a "non-operating" has been filed with the state department of motor vehicles.

  • Driving Without Registration: Laws in All 50 States
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