Driving Without Valid Vehicle Registration

Created by FindLaw's team of attorney writers and editors.

When taking to the road, there are certain things all drivers must have with them in order to comply with the law. Failure to follow these rules can result in both traffic citations and administrative penalties. These items, which police typically ask for when they pull over a motorist, are:

  1. Valid driver’s license,
  2. Proof of liability insurance, and
  3. Valid vehicle registration.

Failure to keep physical copies of these documents in your car at all times can lead to a traffic citation and hefty fines. This is particularly true if you are driving without valid vehicle registration, although in some jurisdictions you may receive a "fix-it" ticket (perhaps for a registration that has just recently expired). Below you'll find some basic information about driving without a valid vehicle registration and where to go for more information.

Driving Without Registration vs. Driving Without Proof of 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, or
  • 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 isn't 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 six months ago, the infraction might be considered a non-moving violation. But if the vehicle's registration expired more than six 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.

Used Cars and Vehicle Registration

Many people wonder if they buy a used car, whether they 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 used vehicle but only if you drive the vehicle directly to the first place of storage (usually your home) within 15 days of the sale. You must have the properly assigned title with you and should check with your insurance company to be sure you're 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.

Caught Driving Without Valid Registration? Get Legal Help Today

If you're looking to fight a citation for the registration of your vehicle, you'll want a lawyer on your side who knows the ins and outs of traffic court. In most cases you'll simply pay a fine, obtain the necessary paperwork, and be on your way. But sometimes, particularly when you face the prospect of losing your license, it's worth reviewing your legal options. Speak to an experienced traffic ticket attorney today to find out what your options are for contesting a violation.

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