Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states. After several years she expanded her insurance expertise, earning her license in Health and AD&D insurance as well. She has worked for small health in...

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Apr 14, 2022

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Here's what you need to know...

  • When you own a car and you register it in your name, it’s your legal responsibility to buy auto insurance on the vehicle
  • Auto insurance is required in almost every state. In states where insurance isn’t mandatory, vehicle owners must still provide a valid form of financial responsibility
  • Some states will accept a cash deposit, a surety bond, or a certificate of self-insurance instead of liability insurance
  • In some states, you must show proof of insurance before you can register a car or get your license plates
  • If the state has an electronic verification system in place for verifying coverage, you might not need to provide proof of insurance when you register your car

When you buy a car, it’s your responsibility to register the car in your name as soon as possible. One of the benefits of buying a car through a car dealer is that the dealership generally transfers the registration for you.

This courtesy will save you a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you buy a car from a private seller or a friend, it’s best to be prepared before you wait in line.

There’s a very specific list of things that you need to register a vehicle in your name — the bill of sale, the title, and your personal identification.

In some states, you also need to provide the DMV agent with proof that the vehicle has insurance before you will receive your plates.

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Find Out if Insurance is Mandatory in Your State


Auto insurance is mandatory in most states. While insurance is almost always required, there are rare exceptions to state-mandated insurance requirements.

In both Virginia and New Hampshire, there aren’t compulsory insurance laws. The rest of the states have either a mandatory insurance law or a financial responsibility law in place.

It’s important to understand your legal responsibility when you own a car.

Since laws are set by the state legislature, the owner’s responsibility will vary from state to state. Find out what type of coverage you’re required to carry and the minimum limits that you must have before you buy a car.

In states where insurance isn’t mandatory, you still need to show that you have the financial ability to pay for damages that you cause when you’re driving your private passenger vehicle. The proof that you file must be acceptable to the state.

Some accepted forms of financial responsibility include:

  • Certificate of self-insurance (approved by the treasurer)
  • A cash deposit (amount varies by state)
  • A surety bond secured by collateral issued by a bond company in the state

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How long do you have to register your vehicle?

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If you buy a car at a dealership, the agent will have you sign documentation so that they can issue your plates right at the site. If you’re going a different route, you need to go to the DMV and apply for your plates in a timely manner.

In most states, you have 10 to 30 days to register your car in your name for the first time when you purchase it.

If you’re moving to a new state, you might have up to 60 days to transfer your registration and turn in your old plates. You should check the registering and titling rules before you procrastinate.

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Do you have to show that you have insurance when you register your car?

If insurance or a proof of financial responsibility is required by law, you may be asked to prove that you have valid insurance before the DMV will accept an application for registration.

If you don’t have to show that you have liability insurance, you will most likely have to sign an application where you are certifying that you have the insurance that’s required by law.

The insurance that you have must have been issued by a carrier in the state where you live.

If the DMV does ask you to show that you have liability insurance, you should bring your auto insurance ID cards issued by the carrier.

The ID cards will list your name, address, vehicle, policy number, policy term, and company name, license number, and contact information.

How does the state verify that you have insurance if proof isn’t required?


Not all agents ask for proof of insurance. Just because you don’t have to show that you have a valid insurance ID card doesn’t mean that you don’t have to have insurance. The department will be able to see that you have coverage in real time.

Many states have enacted electronic verification systems so that they can see when a car is and isn’t insured.

You don’t have to show your ID card, but the state will run your car’s VIN to see if coverage has been activated. Insurance companies are required by law to report changes in your insurance status real time.

If you don’t have insurance on the vehicle, there’s a chance that the DMV won’t approve your application for license plates until you have proof.

When the agent doesn’t ask for your coverage, you’re not automatically in the clear. You can still face license and registration suspensions when the department sees the car isn’t insured.

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How to Shop for Auto Insurance

If you don’t already have an existing policy when you buy your new car, it’s important that you shop around for coverage to find the best rates.

Every insurance company has their own set of rates and underwriting requirements. By taking the time to compare rates, you can find out which carrier has good prices for drivers in your risk class.

It can take a lot of time and effort to contact every insurance company in your area directly.

If you’d rather spend your time doing something that you enjoy, you should use our FREE online rate comparison tool to get instant quotes from dozens of providers all at once. Just enter your zip code below to get started!