What Are Car Tags? (Everything You Need To Know About Them)

When you purchase a car, there are several things you need to do before it’s considered road legal. One of those things is purchasing car tags. Although a trip to the DMV can be a hassle, it’s a necessary evil when buying a car.

What Are Car Registration Tags?

Car tags are registration stickers that drivers must display on their vehicles each time they renew their registration. They display the last two digits of the year in which your registration will expire.

What Are Car Tags Used For?

The purpose of car tags is to allow anyone who checks your tags to confirm whether or not your registration is up to date.

Many states in the US require drivers to display car tags on their license plates. However, in other states, car registration is a card the driver will keep in their vehicle.

Why Do You Need Car Tags for Your Car?

Although acquiring car tags might seem like an unnecessary annoyance, there are a few reasons why registering your vehicle with your state is so important.

Shows Ownership of a Vehicle

Car tags indicate ownership of a vehicle. To get tags for your car, you’ll need to provide the title or lease paperwork that you got when you got the vehicle. In addition, car tags indicate that you’ve paid any required tax on your car.

Required to Make a Car Road Legal

When you purchase a car, there are a few documents you’ll need to present to drive it legally. These include your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and your vehicle’s registration.

Your car tags are what show that you’ve registered your vehicle with your state’s DMV. Without them, you won’t be able to legally drive your car on public roads.

Shows Your Vehicle Is Insured

When you go to the DMV to register your vehicle, you’ll need to show proof of insurance. By affixing car tags to your vehicle, you’re showing that you’ve insured your car in a way that meets all state requirements.

Types of Car Tags in the US?

There’s only one type of car tag in the US, but you’ll find a few different kinds of license plates that require car tags. 

Standard Tags

Standard car tags are registration tags that go on a regular license plate. These license plates go on a typical car with no special features. You’ll get your standard plates after your temporary tags.

Temporary Car Tags

When you purchase a car, you’ll receive temporary tags to put on your vehicle when you leave the dealership. You’ll use those until you go to the DMV to register your vehicle, which is when you’ll get your standard plates and car tags.

Classic Car Tags

When your car hits a certain age, you can register it as an antique or classic car. In some cases, you can opt to get a plate that matches the car’s original era. However, you’ll still need to use contemporary car tags to show that your vehicle’s registered.

How Do You Get Car Tags?

Getting car tags is a pretty simple process. Before you purchase your car, you’ll need to insure it based on your state’s requirements. Then, you’ll take your title and proof of insurance to your local DMV and fill out the necessary forms to receive your plates, registration, and car tags.

What Do You Need To Have?

You’ll need several items to register your vehicle with your local motor vehicle agency.

  • Driver’s license
  • Proof of insurance
  • Title or lease agreement
  • Proof of inspection
  • Registration form
  • Form of payment

Requisite forms and the process for registering your car may vary from state to state, but the general steps are the same.

Insure Your Vehicle

You won’t be able to register your car until it’s insured, so the first step is to check your state’s insurance requirements and get your vehicle covered. For example, some states might only require drivers to maintain a minimum of liability insurance. In contrast, others might want your car fully insured.

Make a DMV Appointment

In some states, the motor vehicle division might require you to make an appointment to do any business. If you live in a state that requires appointments, take a few minutes to get one set up as soon as you purchase your car.

Note: If you’ve recently moved from out of state, you might need to purchase a transfer permit, too. You’ll need to do this before getting any form of documentation.

Gather Your Documents

Once your appointment is set, gather all of your documents to avoid delays. You should check your state’s document requirements before your appointment, as they can vary quite a bit.

For example, New Jersey requires 6 points of identification to get a license, ID, or vehicle registration. This is to confirm your address and identity. 

Fill Out the Vehicle Registration Form

Each state will have a form you’ll need to fill out to register your vehicle. You might be able to acquire the form ahead of time to skip a step at the DMV. If not, try to get to your appointment a few minutes early so you can fill it out right away.

Pay Your Fees

Make sure you have a payment method on hand to pay any registration fees. You may only need to pay for your plates and tags, or there might be other fees, too. If you’re not sure what fees you’ll be responsible for, you can look on your DMV’s website or call ahead of time.

What Is the Average Cost of Car Tags in the US?

The average cost of car tags and registration in the US can vary wildly from state to state. Some include additional fees, while others are straightforward. A few specific examples of price and fee variations are as follows:

StateRegistration and TagsLicense PlatesAdded Fees
California$64$23CHP FeeVehicle License FeeTransportation Improvement FeeCounty/District Fee
Florida$14.50-$32.50 renewal $225 new vehicle$28N/A
Mississippi$12.75 renewal $14 newN/AN/A
Ohio$31$6 transfer $31 newN/A

How Are Car Tags Calculated?

Car tag prices are calculated based on several things. Some states consider more factors than others when determining your registration price. For example, in California, your registration fee is based on:

  • Type of vehicle
  • Model year
  • Motive power
  • Purchase price
  • Purchase date
  • County
  • Zipcode
  • Residency

You’ll also need to pay for the cost of plates and several added fees in CA. However, in other states, such as Tennessee, drivers pay a flat fee with no additional fees or cost for plates.

When Are Car Tags Considered Expired?

When you receive new car tags or a registration card, there will be a date listed on the card or tags. That date is the expiration date. In most cases, you’ll have one year from the date of registration before you’ll need to renew.

Why Do They Expire?

States will require you to renew your registration regularly to ensure all drivers are driving legally. Each time you renew, you’ll need to show proof of insurance and your license to get your new tags.

Car Tags FAQs

Still have questions about car tags and registration? Here are a few commonly asked questions.

Can you get your car tags anywhere?

The only place you can get your car tags is through your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. You’ll be able to renew online, in the mail, or in person. However, first-time renewals will require an in-person visit.

Can I get my car tags online?

Many states will give you the option to get your car tags online. Check with your state’s motor vehicle commission to find out for sure.

Do veterans get discounts on car tags?

In some states, veterans, military members, and their families can get discounts on car tags, and some may not require payment at all. Check with your local office to find out if you qualify.

Why are car tags so expensive?

Vehicle registration costs can vary based on several factors. Some reasons yours might be expensive could be due to fees in your state, the age of your car, and road use.


Although car tags can be a bit of a frustration, they’re necessary in all states. Most importantly, make sure to bring all the required documentation to your appointment to ensure your visit goes smoothly.

Author: DJ

Dave Junior is a hands-on automotive technician with experience in performing service, diagnostics, and repairs on domestic and imported vehicles. He enjoys writing and sharing his knowledge far and wide.

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