Whether you just bought a car or you moved to a different state, part of the process to legally drive it on the road is to get insurance and register the car. In most states, you need insurance to register a car. Without proof of insurance, you cannot register the car or get tags. This can prevent you from driving the car legally, because if you are caught driving without insurance, you could face penalties like fines, license suspension or jail time.
Do you need insurance to register a car?
The state you live in will determine if you need insurance to register your car or if you can get it after registration. In some states, you can get a license plate without insurance, but you cannot drive the car until it is insured. However, most states require you to get insurance before registration.
In every state except for New Hampshire, you must have minimum amounts of liability insurance to drive your car. Some states also require other coverages, which can include medical payments, personal injury protection and uninsured motorist insurance.
In New Hampshire, you can provide proof of financial responsibility, which means you have the funds to pay for the injuries and property damage you cause in an accident. This requires a deposit of money or securities with the New Hampshire Bureau of Financial Responsibility. If you cannot provide proof of financial responsibility, you will need minimum liability insurance, just like other states. In New Hampshire, the minimum coverage required is:
- $25,000 bodily injury liability per person
- $50,000 bodily injury liability per accident
- $25,000 property damage liability per accident
- $1,000 medical payments
- $25,000 uninsured motorist bodily injury liability per person
- $50,000 uninsured motorist bodily injury liability per accident
Required proof of insurance by state
There are seven states that do not require proof of insurance when registering your car. Those states are Arizona, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin. The rest of the states expect you to show proof of insurance that meets or exceeds the state minimum coverage before you can register your car.
|State||When proof of insurance is required|
|New Hampshire||Before driving|
|New Jersey||Before registering|
|New Mexico||Before registering|
|New York||Before registering|
|North Carolina||Before registering|
|North Dakota||Before driving|
|Rhode Island||Before registering|
|South Carolina||Before registering|
|South Dakota||Before registering|
|Washington, D.C.||Before registering|
|West Virginia||Before registering|
What happens to my registration if my insurance expires?
If your insurance expires, your car registration may be suspended. If this happens, you will have to provide proof of insurance to renew your registration and may have to pay a fine or fee to reinstate the registration. The amount you have to pay and the process to reinstate your car registration varies by state.
Most states offer online registration systems to make it easier to maintain valid car registration. If there is an electronic filing system, it is likely connected to the insurance company, which will send an automated alert to the motor vehicle administration. When this occurs, you may receive a notice from the Department of Motor Vehicles to provide proof of insurance. While some states allow you to do this yourself, others require proof of insurance to be provided directly from the insurance company.
If your insurance expires and you do not correct the situation, you may be required to purchase SR-22 insurance. This insurance is not really insurance at all but, rather, a certificate that indicates you carry at least the minimum levels of insurance required in your state. An SR-22 is reserved for high-risk drivers, which can include drivers who allow their car insurance to lapse. Being considered a high-risk driver can also increase your auto insurance premiums well above the costs of a standard car insurance policy.
Frequently asked questions
When can you drive without insurance?
You cannot drive in any state except New Hampshire without insurance coverage at or above the minimum requirements set by the state you live in. If you are caught driving without current insurance coverage in place, you could face penalties which vary by state. If you get into an accident while driving without insurance, you will likely have to pay for injuries and property damage caused by the accident. In some states, you can also be sued, which could greatly affect your financial future.
Do I need insurance to drive a car I just bought?
If you just bought a car, you need insurance before you can drive it. If you purchase the car from a dealer, you may be required to provide proof of insurance before they will release the car. If you finance the car, the lender will also require proof of current insurance and for each renewal to prove you are maintaining insurance coverage.
What is the maximum fine for driving without insurance?
The maximum fine you can receive for driving without insurance depends on the state and whether it is your first offense. Some states will increase the fine for having more than one occurrence of driving without insurance. You may also face jail time or license suspension if it is found you are driving without insurance during a traffic stop or while being involved in an accident.