What is the car registration fee in California? California

California Car Registration Fees

There is no way to tell exactly how much you will pay the first time you register car in California, until you go into the DMV office and get it completely figured out. The state has many fees in effect.

The basic vehicle registration fee in California is $34, but the state tacks on additional fees. The other fees are based on:
  • Where you live in CA.
  • The type of vehicle you have; this fee is the Vehicle License Fee (VLF). Expect to pay more for a newer vehicle.
  • Whether you order special license plates, such as a vanity plate or limited edition plates.


The VLF is used instead of taking a property tax on the vehicle. To calculate the VLF, the DMV takes into consideration the age and make of a vehicle. The CA DMV Web site has a fee calculator; this is the only way to get an idea of how much you’ll have to pay for first-time car registration.

Use Tax for New Residents

If you’re new to California and bought your car less than 12 months ago, expect to pay a use tax, in addition to other fees.

This is like paying a sales tax to the state of California; you pay the difference between what you would have paid in CA versus what you paid in the state where you bought the vehicle. However, the amount is tax-deductible. The Board of Equalization oversees this tax; call them at 800-400-7115. The DMV office where you register your car will also be able to tell you what you owe.

Smog Check

Though not included in the DMV registration fees, you might also have to shell out money for emissions testing to an authorized testing facility, if you are new to California or if your renewal notice states that you must get an emissions or smog check inspection. The testing fee varies. You will need to do the smog check prior to car registration.


Fees Some additional fees you might pay when you register car include:
  • Alternative Fuel/Technology Smog: $8
  • CHP Fee: $22 (almost everyone pays this)
  • Clean Air Vehicle Sticker Fee: $8
  • Various county fees

Registration Renewal

Before your annual registration expires, the DMV sends out a renewal notice. This states exactly what you owe to renew. The fee should decrease slightly each year as your car grows older.

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