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  • Nicholas Hinrichsen

Washington car registration: a helpful, illustrative guide

Updated: Aug 13

This article will help answer any questions you may have about renewing motor vehicle registration, purchasing a new car, or applying for a driver’s license whether you have lived in Washington state all your life or you've just moved here.


Some questions that will be answered in this article:

  • Can I complete my car registration online?

  • How do I register a car in Washington for the first time?

  • How do I re-register or update the registration for a car in Washington?

  • What fees might be involved in Washington registration?

  • What sort of inspection is needed?

Complete your car registration renewal in Washington online


The Washington State Department of Licensing allows you to complete your annual vehicle registration renewal online!


You are eligible to use online service if:

  • Your current registration is not more than 12 months expired

  • The vehicle does not have or require a Department of Transportation (DOT) number

  • DOT numbers are issued to school buses and commercial vehicles that weigh more than 16,001 lbs, carry hazardous materials, or can carry more than 16 passengers.

After determining if you are eligible, the items and information you will need for a successful renewal online are:

  • Your current address

  • If your current address does not match the one the DOL has on file, you will need to complete a change of address prior to completing your renewal online.

  • Your License plate number

  • Your Driver’s License number

  • An acceptable form of payment

  • Visa, Mastercard, American Express for an additional 3% charge

  • Checking or savings account with no additional charge

  • Email address and/or printer

Once you have gathered your information, the portal will walk you through the process step-by-step. After the transaction is completed, it will take five business days to receive the vehicle stickers by mail or you can pick them up from your local DMV office.


The above registration process does not require you to login in order to complete the renewal. If you want the ease of transaction for all future renewals, Washington DOL offers a platform called, License Express. By signing up for this service, you will be able to register multiple vehicles at a time, get renewal reminders, and it will pre-fill all of your personal and vehicle information.


For more information on registration fees see “How to calculate and understand fees and taxes for car registration in Washington”.


Additional information


Renewal Notices

The WA DOL sends renewal notices to drivers before plates expire either by mail or by e-mail. This reminder includes the registration fees you will need to pay and your registration expiration.


Insurance

You are not required to have proof of insurance during the time of renewal but it is required for Washington residents to have auto liability insurance and carry proof insurance if operating a vehicle. The minimums are:

  • Injuries or death to another person $25,000

  • Injuries or death for all other people $50,000

  • Property damage $10,000

Other Registration Renewal Options in Washington


By mail

This option is only available if you received your renewal notice in the mail. The information about documents needed, payment, and the mailing address will be listed on the renewal notice. Once you send out all renewal documents, you will receive your new tags within 5 business days.


In-person

Schedule an appointment at your local DOL office and bring the following documents:

  • Renewal notice or current registration

  • Photo Identification

  • Proof of residency

  • Appropriate payment

You will receive your new registration and tags on the same day.


Due to Coronavirus, the DOL is currently not offering in-person renewals. Give the DOL a call at 360-902-3770 if you are unable to renew your registration online or by mail. They are open Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 5 PM.


How to Complete Your Out-Of-State Car Registration

You need to do a few things before you can register your car in the state of Washington after moving here. The first step is to establish residency.


To be considered a Washington resident, you must fit one of the following criteria:

  • Be registered to vote

  • Receive state benefits

  • Pay in-state tuition fees

  • Have obtained a WA state license at resident rates (hunting, fishing, etc.)

After moving to Washington, you have 30 days to obtain your driver's license. You can pre-apply online to save some time if you have a residential address in the state already. If you do not have a street address, everything will need to be completed at the driver licensing office through the Department of Licensing. This service is by appointment only, so you will first need to book your appointment online.


Items you will need to have in hand on your appointment date and time are:

  • Proof of identification

  • Payment for fees due

  • Social security number (SSN)

  • Pass any required tests (driving, permit, or vision)

Once you have completed your visit to the office, you will be given a 45-day temporary license while your new one is being processed. Allow for 7-10 days for your permanent license to arrive. Contact the driver licensing office if you do not receive it within 30 days.

After you have applied for residency, you will have 30 days to complete the process of registering your out-of-state vehicle in Washington.


Registering a vehicle:

  • Complete a Vehicle Title Application (mail or bring in to the office)

  • If mailing, sign in front of a notary

  • If in office, sign in front of an agent

  • Current Vehicle Title

  • If you currently have a lien on the vehicle, please obtain a copy of your title from your lienholder.

  • Pay fees (call office to find out what they are)

Additional items you may need depending on the vehicle you drive:

  • If your vehicle is less than 10 years old, you will need to fill out an odometer disclosure statement (not available online)

  • If you do not have this document, you will need to obtain one at a licensing office or you can be mailed a copy within 2 business days.

  • If your vehicle is over 10 years old, you will not need an odometer disclosure.

  • If your vehicle model is 2009 or newer and is a Car, SUV, passenger van, light-duty truck, it must meet the Clean Car emission requirements

  • If the vehicle has been owned and registered in another state for less than 90 days, you will need to include the Bill of Sale or Dealership Purchase Agreement.

  • A VIN Inspection is needed if your vehicle has been rebuilt or declared a total loss by an insurance company. Inspections are performed by the Washington State Patrol. More information on booking an appointment can be found here.

Your new license plates will be given to you the same day if you complete the process in person. If mailed in, allow up to 3 weeks from when the application arrived at the office.


COVID-19:

Due to coronavirus, it is suggested that you try online services first before requesting an appointment. If an in-person appointment is needed, you must bring a face mask that covers your nose and mouth at all times during your visit. You must also wash your hands after arriving.


How To Complete New Motor Vehicle Registration In Washington


Did you purchase your vehicle from a dealership?

If you purchase a vehicle from a dealership, they should register and title the vehicle on your behalf. Dealerships are required to submit the forms for transferring the title within 45 days of the sale. If the dealer does not do this or the registering takes longer than 45 days, you can file a complaint by submitting a Dealer, Manufacturer Services and For Hire Complaint or calling: 360-664-6475.


Did you purchase your vehicle from a private party?

You have 15 days from the date of purchase to transfer ownership of the vehicle to your name, and the seller of the vehicle will need to report the sale of the vehicle during this time. A $50 fee will be applied on the 16th day, and an additional $2 will be added per day ($125 max) until transferred.


Forms and items needed:

  • The title signed by both the seller and the buyer

  • A signed Bill of Sale

  • Vehicle Title Application

  • If your vehicle is less than 10 years old, you will need an Odometer Disclosure Statement

  • If you do not have this document, you will need to obtain one at a licensing office or you can be mailed a copy.

  • A valid form of payment

You can mail these documents to the address listed below and receive your new plates in 3 weeks and your title in 8 to 10 weeks. If this is the method you choose, please be sure to have all documents signed in the presence of a notary.


Refunds and Title Services

Department of Licensing

PO Box 9043

Olympia, WA 98507


You can also complete this transaction at your local office by making an appointment. You will receive your new plates the same day and receive your title in 8 to 10 weeks.


To expedite your title for an extra $50, visit or mail your forms to a Quick Title Office.


How to calculate and understand fees and taxes for car registration in Washington


Registration

  • Filing:

  • $4.50 registration

  • $5.50 title only

  • $10 title and registration

  • License and registration:

  • $30 license tab

  • $30 mopeds

  • Service fee:

  • $15 title transactions

  • $23 title and registration

  • Renewal prices vary by county, vehicle, and plate number

  • Calculator

  • License eXpress account

Transportation Benefit District Fees (TBD)

TBD are additional fees added to registration that was imposed by cities/counties to fund local transportation projects. The fees can vary, for example, in Olympia, the fee is $40, whereas in Seattle it is $80. A more complete list of the cities and the fee amount can be found here.

Eligible for refunds and exempt from licensing fees:

  • 100% disabled American veterans, former prisoners of war, and Gold star widow/widowers

  • Get approved by the special plates unit and request a refund. Call for instructions: 360.902.3780.

Regional Transit Authority Tax (RTA)

Residents of Pierce, Snohomish, and King counties and reside within the Sound Transit District are required to pay the RTA tax before purchasing or renewing their vehicle. The money from the tax helps fund construction and the transit services in the district. The current rate is 1.1% and is calculated by the formula below.

Motor Vehicle Sales Tax

An additional sales tax of 0.3% is applied by filling out an Excise Tax return form and given to the dealer who submits it.


Use Tax

The Use tax applies to items in the state of Washington when a sales tax has yet to be paid. Purchasing a vehicle from a private party will require you to pay a use tax on it at a rate that varies by the county the seller is located but can be found on the Department of Revenue's website.


Additional Fees

License plates $10

Titling $50

VIN Inspection $65


Payment options available for Washington services:

Smog and Emissions Testing


As of January 1, 2020, Emissions testing that was once required in Clark, King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Spokane will no longer be needed to renew registration.

Furthermore, Gov. Jay Inslee signed the Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) standard that went into effect on June 11, 2020. The standard requires automakers to produce a certain number of zero-emission vehicles to earn credits for those made and sold. This effort was put in place to increase the number of electric vehicles in the state and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Any vehicle made in Washington during the year 2020 and on will meet the emission standards. If you purchase a vehicle that has less than 7,500 miles and it doesn’t meet the emission requirements, you will not be able to register your vehicle in Washington. If it has more than 7,500 miles, you will be able to register the vehicle.

The only vehicles that need to undergo emissions testing:

  • New vehicles to the state of Washington that are not a 50-state vehicle

A 50-state vehicle is a car that meets both federal and California emission standards. If it does not meet the California emission standard, then the car is considered a 49-state vehicle. You can see what category your car falls into by looking at the Vehicle Emissions Control information under the hood of your vehicle.

Your car is registered, now what? Lower your payments!


Now that you feel the stress and confusion of vehicle registration vanishing, it’s time to take a look at how to improve another aspect of your car-ownership experience: your loan. This is where WithClutch.com comes into play.


More than likely, if you received your vehicle loan from a dealership, you may be drastically overpaying. WithClutch can help people save money and time by allowing them to refinance from the comfort of their home in less than 20 seconds. If this is something that appeals to you follow these simple steps to get your refinance journey on its way!

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