It’s easy to confuse a title with your car’s registration. While there are some similarities, there are also some differences.

A title is a document that proves you own a car. On the other hand, registration is an official process through which your state certifies that you are legally allowed to drive the vehicle.

Let’s learn the difference between title and registration and how to register your vehicle.

Key Highlights
  • The title refers to vehicle ownership, while registration is the process of registering your car with your state’s DMV.
  • When registering your vehicle with the Department of Motor Vehicles(DMV), you must show proof of ownership.
  • Depending on the state laws, there can be two names on the vehicle title.
  • You should always carry your vehicle registration document whenever you are driving on the road.
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Written by:
Laura Longero
Executive Editor
Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.
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Reviewed by:
John McCormick
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Editorial Director
John is the editorial director for CarInsurance.com, Insurance.com and Insure.com. Before joining QuinStreet, John was a deputy editor at The Wall Street Journal and had been an editor and reporter at a number of other media outlets where he covered insurance, personal finance, and technology.

Title vs. registration

A motor vehicle title (also referred to as the “pink slip”) is the item that certifies you as the legal owner of the vehicle.

The state requires registration to show you have registered the vehicle with the state and paid any taxes or fees due. As part of the registration process, you typically receive a license plate and registration document or sticker to place on the plate or windshield so that the vehicle is known to the state and roadworthy.

License plates prove that registration fees have been paid and are a means of readily identifying a vehicle and tracing ownership.

Florida’s Department of Highway and Motor Vehicles, or HSMV, defines registration as evidence of paying a motor vehicle’s registration tax and fees. It comprises a metal license plate, a validation decal and a registration certificate.

What is a car title?

A car title is a legal document issued by a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) when you buy a vehicle.

It shows proof of ownership; without it, you will not be able to prove that you legally own the vehicle. And if you took out a loan to buy the car, your lender will retain control over the title until you pay off your loan amount.

The title consists of the following details:

  • Name of the vehicle owner and seller
  • Weight class
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • Details of lienholder if the vehicle is financed
  • Odometer reading at the time of sale
  • Date of sale
  • Signature of both the parties (buyer and seller)
  • Addresses of buyer and seller

Types of car titles

A car title can be used for more than just proving ownership. There are different types of titles, each of which indicates the specific condition of a vehicle.

  • Clean title: This states that the vehicle has been thoroughly inspected and has never been involved in an accident or sustained any damages.
  • Clear title: A car is given a clear title if it has been repaired after sustaining damages and has passed the inspection.
  • Salvage title: Vehicles deemed a total loss get salvage titles. They cannot be driven until they are fixed and get a rebuilt title.
  • Rebuilt title: A rebuilt title is given to a car repaired or rebuilt after sustaining severe damage.
  • Bonded title: Cars that hold no record of ownership get a bonded title with a security bond equal to the car’s value being purchased as security.
  • Dismantled title: The dismantled title is given to a car that has sustained damages and is deemed totaled.
  • Junk title: A car gets a junk title if it cannot be repaired.
  • Lemon title: If some of the components of a car do not work correctly and make it risky to drive on the road, then the car is titled a lemon.
  • Odometer rollback title: A car is given an odometer rollback title if its odometer is turned back illegally. It results in lower mileage readings than the car actually has.

Read more: How to insure a salvage or rebuilt title car

What is vehicle registration?

Vehicle registration is the process of registering your vehicle with the state. To legally drive your car on the road, you must register your vehicle with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Transportation Department, depending on the state you live in.

States require vehicles to be registered for various purposes such as determining owner identity and providing helpful information during criminal investigations or at the time of tax assessment.

A vehicle registration certificate is something you should carry whenever you are driving. You never know when law enforcement will pull you over, and they’ll ask to see it.

How do you register your vehicle?

To register a vehicle with your state’s DMV, you must show proof of ownership — so your name must be on the vehicle’s title. The DMV would question your right to register the vehicle if your name is not on the title.

For example, in New York state, if you register a vehicle you bought from a private party, you must show the DMV acceptable proof of ownership with a title certificate and a bill of sale. You would register the car and apply for a title in your name since when you buy a car the title is signed over to you.

Do I need vehicle proof of ownership to insure a car?

You must show proof of insurable interest to insure a vehicle on your car insurance policy. This usually means to an insurer that you have some ownership of the car.

So, you may need to have your name added as a co-owner of the car to be able to place it on your insurance policy, but it depends on your insurance provider. Some allow parents to insure a child’s car on their policy without being on the title while others will not if you are not listed as a co-owner of the car.

Can you register a car under a different name than on the title?

There can be two names on a title. State laws differ, but when you register a vehicle and the names are joined by the word “or,” one owner can sell the vehicle without the other’s signature or consent. “And” or a slash (/) requires the signature of each owner to sell the vehicle.

In most states, even if you are listed as a co-owner of the car, your child could register the car in their name. The best way to see if you need to be added to your son’s title as a co-owner with insurable interest is to add the car to your insurance policy.

Or, if you are comparing quotes for the cheapest car insurance ask the insurance carriers that you get rate quotes with what their underwriting rules allow in this situation.

Finally, check with the DMV to ensure it accepts insurance for a child’s car in your name.

— Michelle Megna contributed to this story.

Resources & Methodology

Sources

Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. “License Plates & Registration.” Accessed November 2022.

New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. “Get proof of ownership at purchase.” Accessed November 2022.

Laura Longero

Ask the Insurance Expert

Laura Longero

Executive Editor

Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

John McCormick

Ask the Insurance Expert

John McCormick

Editorial Director

John is the editorial director for CarInsurance.com, Insurance.com and Insure.com. Before joining QuinStreet, John was a deputy editor at The Wall Street Journal and had been an editor and reporter at a number of other media outlets where he covered insurance, personal finance, and technology.

Leslie Kasperowicz

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Leslie Kasperowicz

Managing Editor

Leslie Kasperowicz is an insurance educator and content creation professional with nearly two decades of experience first directly in the insurance industry at Farmers Insurance and then as a writer, researcher, and educator for insurance shoppers writing for sites like ExpertInsuranceReviews.com and InsuranceHotline.com and managing content, now at CarInsurance.com.

Nupur Gambhir

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Nupur Gambhir

Managing Editor

Nupur Gambhir is a content editor and licensed life, health, and disability insurance expert. She has extensive experience bringing brands to life and has built award-nominated campaigns for travel and tech. Her insurance expertise has been featured in Bloomberg News, Forbes Advisor, CNET, Fortune, Slate, Real Simple, Lifehacker, The Financial Gym, and the end-of-life planning service.

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author image
Executive Editor

Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.