D. Gilson is a writer and author of essays, poetry, and scholarship that explore the relationship between popular culture, literature, sexuality, and memoir. His latest book is Jesus Freak, with Will Stockton, part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Series. His other books include I Will Say This Exactly One Time and Crush. His first chapbook, Catch & Release, won the 2012 Robin Becker Prize from S...

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate drivers about...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Licensed Agent for 10 Years

UPDATED: May 11, 2021

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Vehicle registration renewals are simple, fast, and with the inclusion of Internet service in most states, convenient! There are two steps.

First, the vehicle owner will need to review the vehicle information contained on the renewal form. This step insures that the information in the state database is complete and correct. Step two; pay the fee!

Every state requires motor vehicle owners to register their cars, trucks, motorcycles, and scooters. Registration laws include recreational vehicles such as motor homes, and boats.

States also require the registration and periodic renewal of vehicles without engines and those that are used for hauling, such as trailers and campers, if they are to be used on public roads.

As proof of renewal, many states provide stickers to affix to the windshield or interior of a motor vehicle and to the rear license plate. In this way, law enforcement officials can readily identify vehicles that are not registered or whose registrations may have expired.

A registration pocket card is also required in most areas and must be presented upon request.

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Do I have to register my all-terrain vehicle or dirt bike?

Yes! In most cases, motorized vehicles are required to be registered even if they are only used off-road. This includes ATVs and snowmobiles. It’s important to note that laws vary from state-to-state.

You should always check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles to determine what is required in your area.

Can I still renew my registration by mail?

Yes! States still send out renewal notices by regular mail. In some states, a vehicle owner may “opt out” of receiving renewal notices by mail choosing to receive electronic notification instead.

Can I renew my registration in person?

Yes, you can renew your vehicle registration at your local DMV office. Original, first time registrations still require a trip to the local Department of Motor Vehicles.

This is a much more time consuming process as many states are actively cutting back on staffing and closing branch offices as cost-saving measures.

What fees are required?

Fees vary from state to state. Most states charge nominal annual or biannual fees. These fees can be as little as $10 to $12 for a small vehicle such as a motorcycle or scooter and range to $40 to $50 for a passenger automobile or light truck.

Registration fees for business and commercial vehicles however, can be much higher.

Noe that truckers engaged in interstate commerce, for instance, pay thousands of dollars annually in fees to each state in which they drive and original registrations will often require additional one-time fees to cover the cost of state-issued license plates.

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What are “ad valorem” fees?

States such as Alabama, Georgia, and California charge ad valorem fees when a vehicle is registered. These are fees based on the value of the vehicle and are much higher than standard administrative fees.

On average, these fees range in the hundreds of dollars each year.

Do registration fees based on value ever go down?

Yes! As the value of a motor vehicle declines with use and age, registration fees are reduced accordingly.

Another benefit of this kind of fee is that it is considered a tax by the Internal Revenue Service and is therefore allowable as an itemized deduction.

What is a license plate?

License plates are unique identifiers more or less permanently attached to a motor vehicle as required by each state. They are proof of the vehicle’s original registration with the state and some states require both front and rear plates while others require only a single rear plate.

In some states, a license plate remains with the vehicle when it is traded or sold. In other states, the plate remains with the vehicle owner, who attaches it to another registered vehicle.

At one time, all plate numbers were assigned randomly. In recent decades, special plate numbers, called “vanity plates,” could be requested for an additional fee.

Today there are a number of options available to a vehicle owner for specialty license plates including plates designed specifically for sports enthusiasts, hobbyists, nature lovers, and military veterans.

Most any appropriate and lawful combination of numbers and letters is acceptable unless already in use by another party.

Do prison inmates still make license plates?

Yes, many states still use cheap prison labor to pound out license plates with metal presses and stamping machines.

Have we always had license plates on our cars?

License plates are almost as old as cars themselves. New York was the first U.S. state to enact a plate requirement in 1901. However, while the government required that plates be used, they didn’t provide them. Plates had to be fashioned by the vehicle owner.

The earliest license plates were made of porcelain and iron. Other materials that were used in the manufacture of early license plates include cardboard, plastic, and leather. Copper and even pressed soybeans were used at some point to make license plates!

Other states followed suit with license plate requirements, but it wasn’t until 1957 that the size of an automobile plate was standardized throughout the United States. Since then, individual states have used license plates to advertise their states’ tourist attractions and natural wonders.

License plates have become mini billboards and feature state mottos, plants, birds, and flowers.

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