When prompted for a vehicle registration number, many car owners are unsure what number to look for—is it the VIN, the license plate, or something else entirely?
Car owners can find their vehicle registration numbers on the back plate, front plate, registration card, or paperwork because the vehicle registration number is the same as the license plate number. DMVs issue this number when registering a vehicle.
Read on to learn more about vehicle registration numbers, where to locate them, and their purpose.
When registering your vehicle for the first time at your local DMV, you’re issued a set of license plates. When you receive hard plates, the vehicle registration number is the same as the plate number. It connects you to the vehicle and proves ownership. This number is different from a VIN, which we’ll discuss later in this post.
Temporary plates also have a registration number, although these numbers expire when the plates do, usually within 30 days. A temporary vehicle registration number proves ownership and indicates that you’ve successfully applied for a full registration.
If you need your vehicle registration number, just look at your front or back plate and jot down the number. It’s wise to memorize the number for future reference.
Your state’s DMV issues a vehicle registration number (license plate) and registration paperwork when you register the vehicle for the first time.
The registrar will ask you to present a valid and current driver’s license, answer a few questions, pay a fee, and—as long as everything is in good standing—they’ll issue your plates, a sticker, and registration documentation. Most states require that you carry this paperwork in your vehicle to further prove ownership.
Suppose you need the registration number, but your vehicle is not within your view or is lost or stolen. In that case, you can figure out the vehicle registration number by looking at your registration paperwork. Again, these numbers are the same as your license plate number and should be listed under “License Number” or “Plate,” although registration cards vary by state.
While vehicle registration numbers rarely change, there is one exception.
In most cases, the vehicle registration number (plate number) does not change as long as you are the vehicle owner. When transferring a vehicle to a new owner, the DMV will issue a new plate number upon registration. If original plates are stolen, the DMV may issue new license plates.
In the case of stolen vanity plates, the DMV will reissue the plates with the same characters. However, the new plates will include a mark to indicate that they were reissued and are not, in fact, the stolen plates.
Vehicle Registration must stay current. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting pulled over, ticketed, and having to attend court and pay fines. If this happens more than once, you could lose your license, and the police could impound the vehicle.
Some DMVs also charge hefty late penalties for expired registrations. In addition, once your insurance company catches wind of your infractions, they might increase your car insurance rates.
Different states have different laws regarding vehicle registration. Still, as a general rule, vehicles should be registered when purchasing a new one from a private seller, moving to a new state or country, or when your current registration is set to expire soon.
When purchasing a vehicle from a dealership, they may obtain the title and registration for you. With private sellers, you’re on your own.
If you move to a new state or country, you’re required to register the vehicle with the state or country’s DMV (or equivalent). In the United States, you do not need to register the car if you’re only in another state for school or if you’re active-duty military.
When the current registration is set to expire, you’ll want to register the vehicle as soon as possible. You can find the expiration date on your registration paperwork. If the day of expiration falls on a day when the DMV is closed, it’s best to renew early to avoid penalties.
Now that you know what a vehicle registration number is, let’s discuss the VIN, or the vehicle identification number. While many car owners often confuse the two, these numbers are entirely different and contain different information.
A car’s vehicle registration number or plate number connects the vehicle with its owner. This number is most often used to track a vehicle after a crime or car accident.
The VIN, on the other hand, is not the same as the vehicle registration number or license plate number, although many websites still tout this misinformation. The VIN number is a 17-character (or less, if the car was manufactured before 1981) alphanumeric code. The VIN is like the car’s fingerprint, and no two VINs are the same.
While VIN numbers can also connect vehicles with their owners through the DMV’s database, it’s not commonly used for this purpose. Instead, VINs are used for insurance, manufacturer recalls, when making warranty claims, or when buying or selling a used vehicle.
The number also provides information like the manufacturer, brand, size, but also more detailed tidbits including:
- The type of engine in the vehicle
- Which specific plant, down to location, assembled the vehicle
- The vehicle’s serial number
During the manufacturing process, assemblers install the VIN. You can find it on the body shell of a vehicle, between the windshield and the dashboard. If you cannot locate it there, it may be on the driver’s side doorpost or the vehicle’s title.
Every state requires vehicle registration by law. Therefore, every vehicle should have a unique vehicle registration number, or license plate number. This number validates that the owner had the car registered with that state’s DMV and paid all fees and taxes.
Any car owner operating a vehicle without a valid registration is breaking the law and at risk of suspension, court fines, and even having the vehicle impounded.
The next time you’re prompted for your vehicle registration number, you’ll know exactly what it is and where to find it.