All motor vehicles used on public roads in Australia must be registered, whether they are a car, motorcycle, or truck.
Specialist vehicles such as compact street-sweeping machines or small buggies used by councils also need to be registered, though the conditions and costs are different from mainstream cars.
Registration fees – collected by government authorities in each state and territory – go towards road maintenance and road safety.
Furthermore, a significant portion of the total fees go towards covering the cost of not-at-fault persons (or “third parties”) injured in vehicle crashes.
In some states this fee is bundled with the registration charge, while other states such as NSW separate the registration fee from compulsory third-party (CTP) insurance.
This is intended to show motorists how the fees are divided.
Registration expires at midnight on the night before the renewal date. So, for example, if a car was first registered on the 25th of December for 12 months, that registration would expire at midnight on the 24th of December.
As this article was published, as a guide the registration fee for a popular small hatchback car was between $800 and $1100, depending on the age and address of the driver, vehicle type, and the state of registration.
In addition to contributing to roads and road safety, registration is also a way for authorities to accurately identify a vehicle and its owner.
The registration paperwork – which goes hand-in-hand with number plates – is, in effect, the ownership title of a motor vehicle.
This is why registration papers need to be signed over to a new owner when a vehicle is sold.
Most states require change of ownership forms to be completed and submitted by both the seller and the buyer, usually within two weeks of the sale.
The buyer of a used car also must pay stamp duty, a percentage of the purchase price. On new cars, registration and stamp duty are calculated with the drive-away price.
Motor vehicle registration is paid annually, however as costs have risen a number of states have introduced “short term” registration renewal periods.
In NSW, it is possible to register a car for six or 12 months. When a car is sold new, it must be delivered with 12 months of registration (or the balance of 12 months registration if it is a near-new demonstrator model).
Owners can switch to a six-month renewal period once the first renewal notice has been issued. In NSW it is not possible to switch to a different registration renewal period except at renewal time.
Authorised car dealers can, however, sell a used car with three, six or 12 months registration on it.
On vehicles with registration that has lapsed or is about to expire – and being sold by an authorised car dealer – the period of registration can be negotiated at the time of sale and customers can choose a three, six or 12-month registration period.
In Victoria, new cars must be delivered with 12 months of registration (or the balance of 12 months if a near-new demonstrator model), but owners can select three, six or 12-month intervals from their first renewal.
Queensland offers the most flexibility. As this article was published Queensland was the only state in Australia that enabled vehicle registration to be paid monthly.
In Queensland the registration of used cars can be renewed monthly, every three months, every six months, or annually.
The flexibility of paying registration fees in smaller instalments – for shorter periods of time – is designed to give motorists the best chance of managing their budget and staying within the law.
In most states, the fine for driving a vehicle unregistered is more than the cost of the registration. While this may seem a harsh penalty it is designed to encourage people to register vehicles, because the financial consequences of not doing so are more expensive.
Unregistered cars are automatically uninsured – and some states issue fines for that offence as well, which can amount to double or triple the cost of registration.
Until recently, each registered vehicle driven on public roads was obliged to display a registration label. This was in addition to the requirement for vehicles to display number plates.
Labels were sent out weeks before renewal time ready to be affixed to the windscreen and the vehicle owner was required to pay the registration fee before the expiry. However, some motorists fitted the new registration label without paying the fee and the law quickly caught up with them.
To close this loophole and to avoid any confusion whether the fee had been paid or not, registration labels are no longer required in most states and territories.
Because records are now kept electronically, vehicle number plates are enough to identify whether or not a car, truck or motorcycle is registered.
Without registration labels to check, people who borrow a car from a friend or family member can determine if a vehicle is registered by typing the number plate sequence in a free “rego checker” web page operated by each jurisdiction’s transport authority.
The disappearance of registration labels coincided with the widespread introduction of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras fitted on the roof bars of specialist police vehicles.
The ANPR cameras can detect unregistered vehicles (and stolen or wanted cars) in milliseconds as they drive by.
An alert sounds inside the police vehicle, a snapshot photo of the offending vehicle is displayed, enabling police to spot it in traffic, even when the wanted car is travelling in the opposite direction.
Registration is central to all road enforcement and crucial to properly identifying the correct ownership of all motor vehicles. And most of it is funded back into roads.