Better Check Your Car Registration

DMV Special Notice
DMV Special Notice about sending registration renewal notices at the last minute

I checked mine randomly the other day, and saw that it was about to expire. I hadn’t received a notice from the DMV. I called them and they said (very nice and helpful on the phone, by the way) that they had just mailed me a renewal notice. I received it two days before the expiration date. Then I had to scramble to get the renewal done, and when I tried to do so online, the DMV servers weren’t working for quite a few hours.

On top of that, the renewal form and enclosed separate “Special Notice” (see above) seem to disagree about the consequences of late registration. The renewal form has a “Late Payment” box which indicates that renewing even a day late results in penalties in the form of higher fees, and these get higher the later it gets. However, the Special Notice indicates that, due to recent legislation, for renewal fees due on or after July 1, 2011, DMV will no longer send 60-day advance notification of renewals, but rather, will establish a “30-day grace period before penalties are due.” I have read through these materials several times and still can’t figure out what the bottom line is if you pay late. Even if the Special Notice trumps the renewal form, I think the procedural change is going to cause some people a bit of nervousness.

For example, this is summertime, and plenty of people are on vacation, and thus might not get their vehicle registration renewal notices until after their registration expiration date. So again, I recommend checking the date on your registration. If it’s set to expire soon, you can go to, and you should be able to navigate through the renewal and payment process online even if you have not yet received your notice in the mail.

UPDATE 7/11/11: According to the Fresno Bee, this whole procedural change is the result of a legislative proposal, Senate Bill 94, to help close California’s budget deficit by extending the 2009 increase in vehicle fees. Ostensibly to avoid having the wrong fee amount listed on our renewal forms, the bill “halt[s] DMV renewals for vehicle registrants until lawmakers reach a budget deal or the fiscal year ends on July 1. The DMV also would be unable to accept payment on renewals with due dates beyond June.” Governor Brown signed SB 94 in early May.

On June 30, the DMV put out this notice advising motorists not to renew their registrations until they receive a notice from DMV. I think that state officials could have publicized that a bit more at the time, don’t you? Also on June 30, Governor Brown signed a new budget into law. The budget does not extend the 2009 vehicle tax increase, but it does contain a modest vehicle registration fee increase ($12, I believe).

In any event, my attitude is unchanged: since I discovered my upcoming registration expiration date and was able to renew it before that date, there was no chance that I was going to wait until the date slipped, and then hope that the politicians and the police still would be on board with that after the fact.

12 thoughts on “Better Check Your Car Registration”

  1. I think to renew online you have to have a number that’s provided on your renewal form. I’ve done it online for a couple years (great!) and that’s how it’s worked.
    Maybe they have a way for someone to do it without the number–maybe…

    1. To renew online you only need the vehicle’s license plate number and the last five digits of the VIN both of which are found on your current registration. No renewal form is needed.

  2. Mine expires at the end of this month but I’m not trusting any purported grace periods or cops looking the other way for a month or two. To add to this last-minute bullshit I can’t do the renewal online because I need to get my truck smog-checked.

  3. I do all my renewals online. Its fast and painless. As for smog I know my oldest car needs annual smog checks and I have a couple of places that I know can do it fast without appts so I pop in and get it done. Smog tests are connected with the DMV at the places I go to and they notify them of the “pass” automatically so I can still do the renewal online.

  4. California DMV sent me the renewal notice postmark Jul-6. I got it on Jul-8. And the due date is Jul-12. I can’t pay it online now since I need to have a smog check done.
    On another note, it say “Pay fees within 30-days of the DUE DATE to avoid penalties. After the 30-day grace period, penalties will be due.”
    I dont know if I should cry or laugh about this.

  5. I find myself in this situation–just this weekend I realized “hey, I got my car in a July…why haven’t I gotten a registration notice yet?”

    If you’re a AAA member, paying at the office is also a good option.

  6. Yeah, this is so stupid. My renewal is due at the end of August. Usually, i get the notice in the mail several months ahead, but not this year. I might need to get a smog check as well – can’t remember if it was last year or the year before I did it last, but I think it was the latter.

    They have a thing on their website that is supposed to estimate how much you need to pay, if you haven’t received your renewal notice yet. I wouldn’t count on the new grace period, nor getting any leeway from the cops.

  7. So I checked when I got home–my registration expired on Friday. The online fee estimate calculator had estimated $25 in late fees, but when I actually went through the renewal process (and when the DMV’s website was working), I didn’t have to pay any additional fees.

  8. I updated the post to add some background as to why this was done. But I can’t promise that the process will make any more sense to you, or provide you with any comfort as to the way things are being done in Sacramento.

    1. Thanks for the update…so the suspension of fines and possibly payment is because the turds in Sac are thinking about increasing the fees on license plate again or just maintaining the increase from a few years back. Am confused, do know that my next car up is August and no renewal notice is in my meathooks so I can presume I just need to pop online and take care of business on 8/1.

      1. The California budget situation is in great part due to the reduction in fees by Terminator when he came into office. Without that we won’t be in such a mess.

  9. Got my truck smog-checked today and submitted my payment online. Word back is that tags and registration will be shipped in 5 business days.

Comments are closed.