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  • Nicholas Hinrichsen

Wisconsin Car Registration: Everything You Need To Know

Updated: Aug 13

This article will help answer any questions you may have about out-of-state car registration, purchasing a new car, or renewing your motor vehicle registration in the state of Wisconsin.

Some questions that will be addressed in this article:

  • Can I complete my car registration online?

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

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

  • What fees might be involved in Wisconsin registration?

  • What sort of inspection is needed?

Complete your Car Registration Renewal in Wisconsin Online

The state of Wisconsin offers an online registration renewal platform through the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT).


You are required to renew your registration annually in Wisconsin before the expiration date. This day of the month coincides with the date the registration was initially issued. If you do not renew before the expiration date, there will be a $10 late fee added to your total registration fees. One month before you are required to renew, WI DOT sends out renewal notices as a friendly reminder to help you avoid late fees. This document will include the expiration date, registration fees due, vehicle information if emissions testing is required for renewal and renewal options.

To be eligible to renew online, you must:

  • Have your current address on file with the WI DOT

  • If you do not have a current address on file, you can update your address online.

  • Have a valid form of payment

  • Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover Card, or checking/savings account

  • If required for your vehicle, have passed an emissions test

  • License Plate Renewal Notice came with a Renewal Reference Number (RRN)

  • Located on the right of the notice (Please see example above)

  • If you did not receive a Renewal notice, You can also find the RRN using the License Plate search

If an RRN is not on the License Plate lookup or on the renewal notice, your plate does not qualify for online renewal, and you will need to renew in person or by mail.


If you are eligible to renew online, you will just need to visit the WI DOT site. You will enter your License Plate number and zip code or your RRN to validate your eligibility. From there, the system will prompt you with the next steps. Once you have reached the payment step, it will redirect you to the US Bank to process your payment. At the end of the transaction, you should receive a confirmation number to verify the renewal is completed. It is recommended that you print this confirmation page or the email receipt as proof and keep it in your vehicle until the actual registration and tags arrive in 7-10 business days.


Other Vehicle Registration Renewal Options in Wisconsin


By mail

To renew by mail, you will need to send your renewal notice and your renewal fees to the address shown on the notice you received in the mail or online. Acceptable forms of payment are Check or Money Order made out to “Registration Fee Trust”. Your registration certificate and your new sticker will be sent within 10 business days.


In-person

When renewing vehicle registration in-person, you can go to either a Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) location or a Third-Party Title and Registration service provider.

If you plan on renewing at a DMV, you will need to bring:

  • Registration Renewal notice

  • A valid form of payment

  • For DMV locations, payment types accepted are cash, checks, debit cards, and select credit cards. You will need to pay for both registration fees and a $3 service fee.

  • For third-party locations, payment types accepted may vary based on location. You will pay for both registration fees and a $10 service charge.

In addition to the above documents, you may also need to show proof of insurance and a personal property tax receipt.


For both in-person services, you should receive your registration certificate and sticker the same day.


How to Complete Your Out-Of-State Wisconsin Vehicle Registration

Before you can register your vehicle, you will need first to establish residency in Wisconsin. After establishing residency in Wisconsin, you will have 60 days to apply for your new registration.


You are a Wisconsin Resident if:

  • Your main place of residence is in Wisconsin

  • You pay income taxes in the state

  • You are registered to vote in the state

After establishing residency in Wisconsin, you will have 60 days to apply for a WI Driver’s License and a WI vehicle registration.


To get a Wisconsin license/ID, you must:

  • Go to a WI DMV location

  • Bring the following forms and documents:

  • A Driver License Application MV3001

  • Proof of Identity

  • Social Security card, W-2 form, A valid photo driver license

  • Proof of Residency in Wisconsin

  • Utility bill, Wisconsin fishing license, college enrollment document, mortgage, lease, mobile phone bill

  • Proof of name and date of birth

  • Passport, birth certificate, US Certificate of naturalization

  • Proof of US citizenship or legal residency

  • Proof of Social Security Number

  • Proof of WI insurance

  • Surrender your old license/ID

  • Pass a vision and hearing test

  • If applicable, pass a written and/or driving exam

  • Pay the fees required

WI DOT offers a helpful PDF that outlines acceptable documents for WI DL and ID card applications. Once you have finished your appointment, you will be given a temporary paper license that is valid for 45 days and your driver’s license or ID card will be sent to you in the mail within 10 business days.


When it comes to registering and titling your vehicle, you can either apply in person or by mail. Unfortunately, with COVID-19, there is no longer the option to visit your local DMV service; your application must be mailed in.


The documents and items you will need to register and title your vehicle are:

  • The out-of-state vehicle title and/or registration

  • If you do not surrender the title, you will still be able to register your vehicle. If you want to sell the car later, you will need to obtain a WI title.

  • If you do

  • A completed Title and License Application Form MVI

  • Proof of Identity

  • You will not need a Proof of Identity if you are sending these documents in by-mail.

  • If you have owned your vehicle for less than 90 days, you will need to provide proof of paid sales tax to your previous state. The taxes will be applied to any local or state taxes due at the time of registration.

  • Payment for:

  • Title fee

  • You will need to pay the title fee, regardless if you surrender your title to the DMV.

  • Vehicle registration fees

  • Necessary payment

  • Check or money order payable to “Registration Fee Trust”

  • MV1 Online Application Guide includes fee estimates

Mailing address:

WI Dept. of Transportation

PO. Box 7949

Madison, WI 53707-7949


These forms and fees can be submitted in 4 ways:

  1. Mail:

  2. Typically takes 14 days or less

  3. The address is listed above.

  4. DMV Customer Service Center:

  5. Those that offer registration service will charge an additional $5 for counter service.

  6. DMV agent locations

  7. Check ahead to see if they take credit or debit cards. Some will only accept cash and/or checks or money orders.

  8. DMV Temporary License Plate Agents

If you moved to an area that requires emissions testing and your vehicle is not exempt from this testing, you will need to get a smog test completed within 45-days of registering your vehicle. If you do not, your registration will be suspended. For more information on emissions, please see “Smog and Emission Testing” below.


Insurance

In Wisconsin, it is required for residents to have liability insurance. This process can be completed by filing an SR-22 with an insurance company that does business in Wisconsin. Companies will either mail the certificate to WisDOT, give the SR-22 to the customer, or electronically file the information into WisDOT’s computer system.

The minimum auto insurance requirements:

  • $25,000 for injury or death of one person

  • $50,000 for injury or death of two or more people

  • $10,000 for property damage

COVID-19

Due to COVID-19, most in-person services have been suspended at the Wisconsin DMV service centers. The DMVs are now open for ID and driver license customers who cannot use the online services. The extension for vehicle emissions tests has expired as of August 1st.


How To Complete New Motor Vehicle Registration In Wisconsin


If you purchase a vehicle from a dealership:

If the vehicle is bought through a dealer licensed in Wisconsin, they will submit the title and registration documents on your behalf and provide you with a temporary operating plate (TOP) that allows you to drive while you wait for your permanent plates legally. Within 10 days from the processing date, you will have your new plates and registration in the mail.


If you purchase a vehicle from a private party:

If you just purchased a vehicle from a private party, you will need to register the vehicle on your own either online, in-person or by mail.

Please follow the steps listed below to complete your new vehicle registration online.

  • Go to the eMV Public Online Service

  • Have the following documents and information:

  • A signed Wisconsin title

  • Both the seller and buyer must sign the back of the title, and the odometer reading must be filled out (unless exempt).

  • If there is a lien listed on the title, be sure to collect the lien release from the seller.

  • If it is an out-of-state title, you will need to mail in your application.

  • Wisconsin Driver’s License or ID, date of birth, and last four digits of your SSN

  • Payment for fees

  • Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover

  • Checking/ Savings account using Automated Clearing House (ACH)

  • Service fees apply when using credit or debit cards

  • A printer and 8.5 x 11-inch paper

  • Complete the online process

  • Print the documents and mail the following documents to the address below

  • Title and License eApplication Receipt

  • Original Title

  • Lien release (if applicable)

WisDOT-eMV Public

P.O. Box 7907

Madison, WI 53707-7907


If you can not apply online, please visit the WI DMV site to find out how to apply by-mail and in-person.


How to Calculate and Understand Fees and Taxes for Car Registration in Wisconsin


Registration fees

Costs for registration varies based on vehicle license plate type and may be greater if you live in an area that requires you to pay a Wheel Tax. For automobiles, there is an annual $85 registration fee. For other license types, please visit the WI DOT website.


A Wheel Tax is an annual vehicle registration fee on top of the regular annual fee paid that goes to the town, city, or county. Costs vary, for example, Milwaukee is $20, and Madison is $40. More information on the counties and municipalities that collect a wheel tax can be found on the wisconsindot.gov website.


Other Miscellaneous fees:

  • Original title or title transfer: $164.50

  • Title Replacement: $20

  • Late fee: $10

  • Driver’s License: $34

  • ID Card: $28

Sales Tax

Wisconsin collects a 5% sales tax on all purchased tangible property, certain coins, certain digital goods, and vehicles. More information on the rate of the tax can be found here. There is also a breakdown by county on the state, county, and stadium tax rate.


County Use Tax

The County Use Tax is a 0.5% tax that is applied when a vehicle is purchased. This tax is only required within certain counties in Wisconsin. Exemptions for the County Use tax rate are explained in further detail in Part 18.D.(2) through (5) in Publication 201 written by the Washington Department of Revenue.


Smog and Emissions Testing


Due to the Federal Clean Air Act, Wisconsin has been improving the state’s air quality by monitoring vehicle emissions. From this, Wisconsin residents residing in the seven counties listed below are subject to emissions tests. In Wisconsin, vehicles will require an emissions test every two years before their license plate renewal, starting the third year following the vehicles’ model year For example, the model year 2020 vehicles require their first emissions test in 2023. Renewal notices indicate when a car needs an inspection. Facilities for inspection can be found on the Wisconsin VIP website. Be sure to bring the vehicle’s test notice and the car that matches the identified one on the notice into the testing center.


Vehicles that are exempt from testing:

  • Electric powered

  • 1995 and older models

  • Motorcycles

  • Mopeds

  • Diesel-powered 2006 and older

  • low-speed vehicles

Vehicles requiring testing:

  • Those in the following counties: Washington, Sheboygan, Racine, Ozaukee, Milwaukee, Kenosha, Waukesha

  • After a transfer of ownership

  • First registering in Wisconsin

  • Automobiles and light trucks 1996 to 2006 that have a gross weight up to 8,500 lbs

  • Automobiles and light trucks 2007 to present with a gross weight up to 14,000 lbs

  • *Hybrid electric vehicles that use both electric power and gasoline/diesel are subject to inspection

If you pass the emissions test, your vehicle's successful test information will be sent to the DMV. If you sent in your renewal documents before getting your required emission test, your registration and sticker will arrive 7 to 10 days after you pass your emission test.


If your vehicle fails the emission test, it will need to be repaired and brought back in to be retested. A list of state-approved repair facilities can be found here.


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