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. Registration, on the other hand, is an official process through which your state certifies that you are legally allowed to drive the vehicle.

Let’s find out the difference between title and registration and learn how you can register your vehicle.

Key Highlights
  • The title refers to ownership of a vehicle, while registration is the process by which your car is registered with your state’s DMV.
  • You have to show your proof of ownership when you register your vehicle with the Department of Motor Vehicles(DMV).
  • 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.

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. In a nutshell, it shows who legally owns the vehicle.

Registration is different in that it is something required by the state to show you have registered the vehicle with the state and paid any taxes or fees due. Registering your motor vehicle goes hand in hand with the titling process.

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 are evidence 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 having paid the registration tax and fees on a motor vehicle. It consists of 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) at the time you buy the vehicle.

It shows proof of ownership and 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 and each one of them 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 that have been deemed a total loss get the salvage title. They cannot be driven until they are fixed and get a rebuilt title.
  • Rebuilt title: A rebuilt title is given to a car that has been 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 properly 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 be able to legally drive your car on the road, you must get your vehicle registered 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 useful 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 you’re going to get pulled over by law enforcement, 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 title of the vehicle. If your name is not on the title, the DMV would question your right to register the vehicle.

For example, in New York state, if you are registering a vehicle you bought from a private party, you need to 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?

To insure a vehicle on your car insurance policy, you need to show proof of insurable interest. 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 make sure it accepts insurance in your name for a child’s car.

— 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.