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  • Writer's pictureJeff Guymon

Colorado car registration: a helpful, illustrative guide

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

This article will help answer any questions you may have about the process of registering a car in Colorado (CO), regardless of whether you’ve lived here your whole life or just moved here.

Some frequently asked questions that will be answered in this article:

  • How do you renew car registration online in Colorado?

  • What are other options, besides online, to renew your registration in Colorado?

  • How do you register your out-of-state vehicle in Colorado?

  • How do you get a car registered for the first time?

  • What is a VIN/ how do you obtain one?

  • What do you need to get a driver’s license?

  • Do you need to get an emissions test?

Complete your car registration renewal in Colorado Online

For customer convenience, Colorado offers an online service for yearly registration renewal that takes just 10 minutes to complete! To be eligible for this service, your current registration must expire within the month but it can not be more than one month expired, you must be located within a participating county, and there can not be any outstanding fees, tolls, or civil fines.

To schedule an appointment online, visit the Colorado Department of Revenue, Division of Motor Vehicles website and click the “Vehicle Services” button. Once clicked, it should populate a new page where you will find a link labeled “Renew a vehicle registration” under the “Registration” section.

What you’ll need to complete registration online:

  • Your license plate number

  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

  • Current vehicle emissions testing report (if applicable)

  • Current Colorado License

  • A valid debit card, credit card, or checking account

  • An email address

Once you have filled out the online form, estimated arrival times for your new registration and tags is 15 business days by mail. You are unable to visit your local DMV to pick up these items. During this waiting period, make sure to have the receipt for this transaction and with your expired registration in case you are pulled over by any officers to show as proof of renewal.

Additional information

A document you should keep handy before starting this process is your Renewal Card which is sent out 30 days before you are eligible for renewal. It contains information that pertains to your vehicle like the VIN and License plate number as well as the cost of registration, if proof of liability insurance is required, and if an emissions test is required. For a more in depth analysis of how registration fees are calculated, read onto the Fees and Taxes section.

Colorado Vehicle License Renewal Letter

If you do not complete your registration before it expires, the DMV allows a one month grace period. If registration is completed after the grace period, late fees can accrue at a rate of $25 per month up to $100 and the renewal will need to be done in person.

If You Do Not Want to Renew your Colorado Registration Online

If you prefer not to register your vehicle online or are not eligible for this method, the CO DMV offers other alternatives for motor vehicle registration renewal. However, some locations only accept certain credit or debit card options when titling and registering a vehicle. The registration fee is estimated by county and visible online at the county website or local DMV.

1. Self-Service Kiosks

To be eligible, you must be located in one of the 25 participating counties within the state of Colorado, the address listed on your renewal card must be correct, and proper emission and insurance paperwork must be on file. If this appeals to you, the next step is to find the nearest kiosk location, no appointment needed. You will need to bring your renewal card and valid form of payment (check, credit, or debit card). Once you arrive and use the kiosk, your new registration and stickers will be printed instantly. The video below includes a more in-depth overview of how the kiosks work:

2. In-person

If you prefer to speak to someone in person or your registration is more complex, this option is great. Note, some County Motor Vehicle Offices are closed due to COVID-19, so before making the trip check to see if your local county DMV is open.

3. By Mail

When renewal notices are mailed out, they include information on how to complete mail vehicle registration renewal. Inside is a paid postage self-addressed envelope, renewal coupon, and information on emissions and insurance requirements. Processing times to receive your new tags may vary. Contact your local DMV office for more details!

Items you will need for in person or by mail renewals are:

  • Your renewal notice

  • Copy of your insurance

  • Proof of emissions if required

  • A form of payment

    • If you are registering in person: Cash is accepted at all locations, while only certain credit or debit card options are available at some locations.

    • If you are registering by mail: You will need to make a check payable to the address listed on the renewal notice.

4. Over the phone

The last option is to renew over the phone. Although you avoid the wait at the DMV and can speak to a live person, there is a 10 business day processing time and the phone service can not issue temporary registrations, so plan accordingly. Some counties accept credit card or electronic check payments over the phone.

Items you will need are:

  • Your license plate number

  • An Electronic Form of Payment

For information on renewal notice, grace periods, and late fees, please see the "Additional Information" above.

Colorado Registration Card

How to Complete Your Out-Of-State Car Registration

If you have moved into Colorado and need to register your vehicle, the first thing you must do is establish residency within the state.

To be eligible for Colorado Residency You Must:

  • Own or operate a business in Colorado

  • Be employed in Colorado

  • Reside in Colorado for 90 days

Once you become a resident, you must transfer your license within 30 days AND you must register your vehicle within 90 days.

Requirements for driver's license/ID:

In order to apply for a Colorado driver license/ID for the first time, it will take about 10-20 minutes to complete online. All you need is an email address and your basic information (name, address, date of birth). If you prefer in-person, this list of dmv locations provides options based off of where you live.

In order to be eligible for a Colorado driver license/ID , you are required to:

  • Be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, demonstrate lawful presence in the U.S.

  • Have your Social Security number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) on file with the department

  • Have no record of bad checks on file with the department

  • Not be enrolled in the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP)

  • Provide proof of a Colorado Address(mailing address)

Fee = $30.87

To register, here are a few things you to bring in order to have a successful visit:

  • The vehicle’s title or current out-of-state registration certificate

  • Verifiable Identification in the form of a CO Driver’s License or your valid out-of-state license

  • Verification of Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) (Form DR 2698)

  • Proof of passing an emissions test (if applicable)

  • Proof of minimum liability insurance

  • Money for fees

For the Verification of VIN:

A VIN verification is a physical inspection to ensure the vehicle’s 17 digit unique identifier, or VIN, matches up with the one listed on the registration and/or title document. These inspections can only be performed by Colorado State Patrol, authorized law enforcement agencies, and certain authorized businesses.

To schedule your appointment, you can use the online scheduler provided by the Colorado State Patrol or you can find and set up an inspection with a certified VIN inspector in your area using the Colorado state site. They conveniently break down companies in your county, their prices, and their contact phone numbers. On your appointment date be sure to bring your vehicle, the VIN inspection form, and a payment of $50 in the form of cash or check.

If you moved to Colorado and you can show a Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin (MSO) from a dealership, then in accordance with House Bill 17-1105 (July 01, 2017), you are not required to get a regular VIN inspection.

For liability insurance:

The state of Colorado requires auto liability insurance for all automobile owners that covers drivers if they are found at fault in an accident that resulted in bodily injury to the other driver involved or vehicle property damage. Popular companies that offer liability insurance are Allstate, State Farm, and Nationwide.

The minimum coverage required for the state:

  • $25,000 for bodily injury or death of one person

  • $50,000 for bodily injury or death to all persons

  • $15,000 for property damage

How To Complete Your New Car Registration In Colorado

The state of Colorado requires you to register any vehicle you purchase before you can drive it. An exception to this is if the vehicle is being driven from the place the seller stored the vehicle to the place where the buyer plans to store the vehicle. From the purchase date, you have 60 days to have it inspected and registered with the DMV.

If you are purchasing from a dealer:

Typically dealerships will register the vehicle for you, but in rare cases, they don’t. If they do not, the dealer should set you up with the proper expectations of what to expect at the DMV and give you the documents you will need. In Colorado, documents may vary based on your county, so give your local office a call to see what documents are required in your area.

If you are purchasing from a non-dealer:

Be sure to have a bill of sale signed by both the seller and the buyer to show legal proof of the sale and transfer of ownership. The vehicle will need to be titled at your local county motor vehicle office (DMV). The other documents you will need are:

  • Proof of insurance

  • Verifiable ID

  • Current Title or ownership documents (from previous owner)

  • Odometer reading

  • Bill of sale

  • If lien is recorded, an acceptable mortgage document/security agreement is needed (carbon copy or original)

  • Emissions Proof (if required)

How to calculate and understand Fees and Taxes for car registration in Colorado

Curious about what the fee will be for your first-time vehicle registration? In order to find the registration fee estimator, go to the Colorado DMV site and click the “Vehicle Services” button. Once clicked, it should populate a new page where you will find a link labeled “Estimate registration fees” under the “Registration” section. Using information based on your vehicle type, class, year, weight, and date of purchase, it will calculate what the registration fee should be.

For a breakdown of the motor vehicle registration fees, the Colorado DMV put together a sheet with the fee amounts and where the money goes. Extra fees may arise based on individual situations, for example, an additional $50 is required if you have a specialty plate.

A portion of the registration fee is something called the Specific Ownership Tax (SOT). SOTs are based on where the vehicle was manufactured and the original taxable value. This value is determined when the vehicle is new and will not change over the lifespan of the vehicle. You can see what your SOT is on the back of your registration receipt.

Colorado Tax Card

Another fee is the Funding Advancement for Surface Transportation Economic Recovery (FASTER) in which money is collected one out of every five years of registration for the Road Safety, as well as, the Bridge Safety bills. For example, the Road Safety Surcharge is $16 and the Bridge Safety Surcharge is $13.00. The fee changes depending on the vehicle type and the surcharge associated with it.

Smog and Emission Testing

Emissions Tests

Emission tests, also known as smog tests, were put in place to improve air quality throughout Colorado. AIR (Automobile Inspection and Readjustment) Care Colorado was implemented to help preserve the natural beauty of the state and reduce high air levels for health-related issues. One inspection every two years is the standard for vehicles older than seven model years, as well as those from 1982 or newer. Annual inspections are required for vehicles from model year 1981 and older. Each time the vehicle ownership changes, the state requires an emissions inspection.

Vehicles that are exempt from emissions testing

  • Those less than 7 years old

  • All-electric

  • Collector vehicles from 1975 or older

  • Farm vehicle, horseless carriage, street rod, kit car, or motorcycle

If an emissions test is required for your car, you can find locations for inspection facilities on the Air Care Colorado site, with real-time estimates for expected waits. Due to COVID-19, all open stations are currently very busy, masks are required, and only one person is allowed to be in the vehicle during the inspection. When headed to your inspection, all you need to bring is your vehicle and registration renewal card.

Hours of operation:

Monday thru Friday 8 - 5:30PM

Saturday 8 - 1PM

Those currently open as of July 24, 2020:

  • Northglenn - 1950 E. 112th Ave, Northglenn, 80233

  • Arvada - 5158 Marshall St, Arvada, 80002

  • Golden - 15335 W 44th Ave, Golden, 80401

  • Longmont - 4040 Rogers Rd, Longmont, 80503

  • Sheridan - 2802 W Mansfield Ave, Sheridan, 80110

  • Broomfield - 11609 Teller St, Broomfield, 80020

  • County Line - 8494 S. Colorado Blvd, Littleton, 80126

  • Boulder - 5655 Airport Blvd, Boulder, 80301

  • Denver SE - 10190 E Warren Ave, Denver, 80231

  • Stapleton - 12042 E 30th Ave, Aurora, 80010

  • Parker - 10199 Park Glen Way, Parker, 80134

  • Fort Collins - 835 SE Frontage Rd, Ft. Collins, 80524

  • Greeley - 2844 W 30th Ave, Greeley, 80631

  • Loveland - 7001 N. Franklin Ave, Loveland, 80538

Inspection Fees:

  • 1982 & Newer: $25 every other year

  • 1981 & Older: $15 annually

  • VIN Verification: $20

If your vehicle passes the inspection the information will be updated in the system.

If your vehicle fails the emissions inspection, have it fixed at any auto shop and re-tested within 10 calendar days, and the retest is free. More information on what to do when your vehicle fails its emissions test can be found through Air Care Colorado's brochure.

The test is due by the end of the same month your current registration expires. If you renew your expired registration online after July 1, you may be charged a late fee. Use this form to request a refund, depending on where you live. Some counties, such as Denver are waiving late fees until July 31, 2020.

More information on the online services provided by the Colorado DMV can be found on their website

Your car is registered, now what? Lower your payments!

Now that you feel the stress and confusion of vehicle registration vanishing, it’s time to take a look on how to improve another aspect of your car-ownership experience: your loan. This is where comes into play.

More than likely, if you received your vehicle loan from a dealership, you are drastically overpaying on your loan. We live in a time of greedy car dealerships which has caused the car loan market to be inefficient. This market inefficiency is due to the fact that most vehicle owners pay more for their loan than they were qualified for.

Most people can save money by refinancing their loan from the comfort of their home. “Most people” maybe you, which is why you shouldn’t waste any more time or money and follow these simple steps.

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