Key takeaways

  • Most states require you to have auto insurance before you drive your car.
  • If your registration is suspended in a state that requires car insurance, you will most likely need to prove you are insured to have it reinstated.
  • Your state may require SR-22 certification if you allow your insurance to lapse without renewing.

You may wonder if you need insurance to register a car. In most states in the U.S., the answer is yes. Where the states differ is in whether you need car insurance or registration first, as well as what coverage types and levels you need to drive legally. In all but seven states, you will need to show proof of insurance when you apply for registration. In a handful of states, however, you only need to prove you are insured in order to drive legally; they do not require proof of insurance to register your car.

Do you need insurance to register a car?

It depends. The state you live in is what will determine whether you need car insurance before registering your car or whether you can get a car insurance policy 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.

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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 your state’s 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. Despite the name, SR-22 is not a type of insurance itself, but is, rather, a certificate that is created by your insurance company that verifies that you carry the appropriate minimum amount of coverage for 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.

What do you need before driving a car?

What you need to have in place before driving your car varies slightly from state to state. You will be responsible for knowing what your state requires and ensuring that you’ve done everything needed to be on the road legally. Here are examples of what you are likely to need before getting behind the wheel:

  • A valid driver’s license or learner’s permit: In all locations in the U.S., you need a valid license or permit to drive on all public roads. This does not apply to roads on private property, however, or private driveways.
  • Registration: All vehicles on public roads must be registered with a state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Penalties may be incurred by drivers who do not register their cars.
  • Proof of insurance: Car insurance is required in all states except New Hampshire. If you do not have insurance in New Hampshire, however, you are still liable for costs involved in an at-fault accident. Virginia also allows drivers to pay an uninsured motorist fee annually and drive legally without insurance.
  • Proof of safety inspection: Many states require annual inspections to ensure that your car is able to be driven safely. Inspections may include an emissions test, depending on where you live.

Frequently asked questions

    • Other than New Hampshire and Virginia, it is not legal to drive in any state without having car insurance coverage that fulfills at least the minimum requirements set by the state. In Virginia, you will need to pay an annual uninsured motorist fee in lieu of car insurance.Should you be caught driving without active car insurance coverage, you could face penalties, which vary by state. Most financial experts recommend purchasing car insurance coverage even if you aren’t required to; the financial consequences if you cause a car accident without insurance can be devastating.
    • Yes, you need car insurance to drive a car you just bought. In fact, most dealers will require you to show proof of insurance before you have the vehicle released to you. If you already have car insurance, check with your agent as your current policy will typically extend to a newly purchased vehicle for a short amount of time.If you finance the car, your lender will almost certainly require you to show proof of full coverage car insurance (which includes coverage that pays for damages to your own vehicle if you cause an accident or for other covered incidents) after you purchase the car and at each renewal to prove you are keeping continuous insurance coverage on the vehicle.
    • Non-owner car insurance is basically what the name suggests: car insurance to cover you if you are not the owner of the car you drive. For example, if you do not own a car but occasionally drive a friend’s car, you might want to consider this coverage. If you are in an at-fault accident while driving their car, non-owner insurance would cover you if you exceed the limits of their insurance policy. It is, however, not the correct type of insurance if you live with the car’s owner. In that case, you will want to be added as a driver to the owner’s insurance policy. Non-owner insurance does not cover damages to the car; it often only provides liability coverage. Talk with a licensed insurance agent to see if this type of coverage is right for you.