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  • Nicholas Hinrichsen

Iowa Car Registration: Everything You Need to Know

Updated: Aug 13

This article will serve as your complete guide to registering your new vehicle, renewing your registration, registering your out-of-state vehicle, calculating registration fees, and keeping your vehicle up-to-date on inspections in the state of Iowa!


We will address the following questions:

  • How do I complete renewal registration online in Iowa?

  • How do I re-register a car in Iowa offline?

  • How do I register my out-of-state vehicle in Iowa?

  • How do I register a vehicle for the first time in Iowa?

  • What fees might be involved in car registration?

  • What sort of inspection is needed?

  • Are there any special rules or cases for registration?

How to Renew your Registration Online

With COVID-19 causing Iowa DMVs to close and restrict their hours, IDOT encourages all vehicle owners to utilize the DMVs online platform for registration renewal.


If you live in the following list of localities, you must renew through their website. Each county’s online platform is linked below:

If you live outside these counties, you can use the Iowa State County Treasurers Association online renewal service.


Before your registration expiration date, the DMV will send you a renewal notice in the mail. This notice shows your vehicle’s information, registration renewal PIN, Registration fees, payment methods, online renewal eligibility, and the expiration date for your tags. You are allowed to renew up 30 days before the expiration and 30 days after with no penalty. On the 31st day after your registration expires, you will be charged 5% of your registration fees or a flat rate of $5, whichever value is greater. These fees will continue to accrue every month until you complete your renewal.

To renew online, you will need the following documents and information on hand:

  • If you have your renewal notice, you will need the registration renewal PIN

  • If you have your current registration, you will need your vehicle’s registration audit number

  • IA License Plate Number

  • Your license plate number can be found on both of the documents listed above

  • A form of payment

  • Accepted payment forms include Mastercard, Discover Card, Visa Card, or a valid checking account number.

After your transaction, your registration, license plates, and stickers will be mailed within 24 business hours of confirming your payment. In addition to your registration fees, you will be charged a non-refundable Service Delivery Fee for renewing online. For more information, please see the “Fees and Taxes” heading below.


COVID-19

The Iowa Department of Transportation is granting state-wide vehicle registration grace periods. They have delayed any payments for vehicle registration until the declared disaster is over. They have stated that registrations do not have to be completed within 30 days of your vehicle’s registration expiration date, and license plates do not need to be renewed within the 45-day window anymore. For example, if your registration expired on January 31, you will not incur late fees until August 31. Find out more information about new updates here.


How to Renew your Registration Offline


If you are unable to renew online, Iowa does offer registration renewal by mail or in-person.

Whether you are renewing by mail or in person, you prepare the same materials:

  • Registration renewal notice OR your current vehicle registration

  • Payment for fees (see heading “Fees and Taxes” for more information)

To complete your transaction, you can either:

  1. Mail-in the above paperwork to your local Iowa County Treasurer's office

OR

  1. Go in-person to your local Iowa County Treasurer's office with your documentation in hand

If you decide to go in person, please keep in mind COVID-19 has closed some DMV and Treasurer’s office locations in IA while other locations remain open but require you to make an appointment and wear a mask. Please call your local office to determine your best course of action.


How to Register an Out-of-State Vehicle

Welcome to Iowa! Before you can register your vehicle, you will first need to establish residency.


You are considered an Iowa resident when you meet all three criteria listed below:

Once you are an established IA resident, you must register your vehicle in 30 days, even if your out-of-state plates are still valid. If you register your vehicle outside of this 30-day window, late fees may be applied.


To register with the IA DOT, you will need to bring your vehicle and the following documents in-person to your local Iowa County Treasurer's office:

Once you complete your transaction, you will receive your plates, stickers, and registration certificate in the mail. Shipping times across the U.S. are delayed due to COVID-19, so it may take longer than the usual 5-10 business days.


In Iowa, you are not required to title your vehicle with the state of Iowa; however, if you do not transfer your title, you will not be able to sell your car. You will have to obtain an Iowa vehicle title in order to get transferable registration. For more information on title transfers, please contact your local county office.


Auto Insurance

Even though insurance is not required to register your vehicle, you will need to obtain IA auto liability insurance in order to drive your car legally.

The minimums for insurance are:

  • $20,000 bodily injury per person per accident

  • $40,000 bodily injury for all persons per accident

  • $20,000/$40,000 uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage

How to Register a Purchase Vehicle


Registering a vehicle bought at a dealership:

When purchasing a car from a dealership, the dealer will fill out all necessary registration paperwork and send it over to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within 30 days of the sale. Your dealer will issue you a temporary operating plate (TOP), so you can drive your vehicle until your permanent tags are received in the mail. If the dealership does you this courtesy, you will pay all registration fees at the dealership when you purchase the vehicle.


Due to COVID, the IA DOT recognizes that there may be delays in receiving permanent plates in the mail, so they are allowing TOP extensions. If you purchased your vehicle between February 1 to March 15, you can find out when you will need to switch to permanent plates on this document. If you bought your car after March 16th, your TOP will be valid until September 8th.


If the vehicle is purchased from a dealer and they do not take care of registration:

Suppose you would like to opt-out of the registration service at the dealership. In this case, you are allowed to complete the registration by yourself by submitting the paperwork provided to you by the dealership and paying the registration fees in-person at your local treasurer’s office. You cannot register your newly-purchased vehicle by mail or online.


If the vehicle is purchased from a private party:

If you have purchased your vehicle from a private seller or third-party agency, you must register your car within 30 days of the sale at your local county’s treasurer’s office. It is required that you have a valid IA driver's license before you can register your car. Iowa DOT doesn’t require it, but you should complete a Bill of Sale with the seller to document the vehicle’s transfer of ownership and protect the security interests of everyone involved.

In addition to a Bill of Sale, make sure you leave the sale with the following documents:

  • Damage Disclosure Statement

  • The Vehicle’s title signed by both the Seller and the Buyer

  • The Odometer Statement

  • You do not need to submit a separate application form for this, you will just write the mileage down on your registration papers at the treasurer’s office.

Now that you have prepared for your visit to your county treasurer's office, you will need to:

  • Show your IA Driver’s license

  • Complete DOT Form 411007 Application for Certificate of Title and/or Registration for a Vehicle

  • This Title Application is where you will write down your car’s mileage

  • Prove ownership of the vehicle by showing the loan document or Title

  • Pay all registration fees

  • Accepted forms of payment include Visa, Mastercard, and Credit Card

After you have completed your registration, your plates, registration, and stickers will be sent in the mail. Processing times may vary by location, so check with the teller before leaving your local county office.


Fees and Taxes


Iowa vehicle registration fees vary based on the type and weight of the car. Some IA vehicles are subject to paying a fixed registration fee, while other vehicles’ fees are calculated by the percentage of the vehicle’s purchase price plus its weight.


Standardized Fees

  • Motorcycles: $10 - $20

  • Multipurpose vehicles: $55

  • All vehicles over 12 years old except as listed above: $50

  • Specially-equipped vehicles (to accommodate a disability): $60

Weight-Based Fees

The following vehicles pay registration fees based on the percentage value of their list price plus a weight calculation:

  • All passenger cars

  • Low-speed vehicles

  • Multipurpose vehicles manufactured since 1993.

  • Trucks built since 2010 and have less than 10,000 miles

Percentages of List Price

Weight Calculation

For every 100 lbs. that your vehicle weighs, $0.40 will be added to the percentage of the vehicle’s list price.


Antique (vehicle over 25 years old):

  • $23 (1970-1983)

  • $16 (1969 and older)

  • $50 purchased after 1/1/09

Motorcycle:

  • $20 ( 1-5 years old)

  • $10 (6 years or older)

For heavy trucks, tractors, and trailers, a fee schedule is available on the IA tax and tags website.


When calculating your estimated registration fees, you add the percentage of list price with the weight calculation. IA DOT offers a fee calculator for your convenience.


Smog/Inspection


Iowa is one of the few states in the U.S. that does not require any type of inspection for vehicles. You do not have to worry about safety inspections, emissions testing, vehicle identification number (VIN), or odometer inspections when registering a car for the first time. As an Iowa resident, you do not have to deal with the hassle of recurring inspections before renewing your registration.


Special Circumstances


If you would like to order specialty plates, you can complete a Special Plate Application and mail it to the address below. Iowa is home to the Clean Cities Coalition. To reduce pollution caused by motor vehicles, IA provides many grants and incentives for vehicle owners to Go Green. These grants will give funding or tax breaks to vehicle owners with cars that run on alternative fuels. You can find a list of each grant, their requirements, and more at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Iowa DOT Office of Vehicle Services

PO Box 9278

Des Moines, IA 50306-9278



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