Like a car, you’ll need to register a trailer before it’s allowed on the streets. When you register a trailer, the state knows who it belongs to and can better enforce rules like ensuring the trailer is safe for the road and not stolen.
Every state is different, but the registration processes typically look similar. You must collect the right documents and head to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Some states even allow you to register online. After paying your fees and getting approved, you’re ready to drive your trailer. We’ll take a look at how to register a trailer, with examples using our home state of Pennsylvania.
Registering a trailer calls for several documents, some of which you’ll need before you can get others. When you buy a new trailer from a dealership in your state, they can usually help you fill out the documents and will submit them for you. If you buy a trailer out of state or from an individual, you’ll need to collect documents from the dealer or seller.
After getting your paperwork together, you’ll need to bring identification and payment to the DMV or the dealer. Below is a list of the steps and items you’ll need to register a trailer.
The bill of sale documents the transfer of ownership of a trailer. It typically contains information like:
If you buy from a dealer, you should get the bill of sale from them. If you buy from an individual, get the bill of sale before leaving. Most states require the signature of both parties, and some require the signature of a notary, too. Trailer registration in Pennsylvania doesn’t require a bill of sale, but it’s still nice to have one. A bill of sale can offer some legal protection and proof of your purchase, which is essential for a high-value item.
Some states require VIN verification for trailers. This step helps states monitor for vehicle theft by confirming that your VIN hasn’t been replaced. Thieves can try to replace VIN plates or scratch them out, but verification from a qualified official helps confirm the trailer’s authenticity. Typically, they will take a tracing or photo of the VIN, including the gross vehicle identification number (GVWR) and the gross axle weight rating (GAWR) on the VIN plate.
Dealers will typically take care of VIN verification, but you may need it if buying from an individual seller or registering an out-of-state trailer. To get VIN verification, look up the processes for your state. You may need to take your trailer to an approved verification center. Upon approval, you get a form to take to the DMV when registering the trailer. Sometimes, the DMV can perform verification on-site.
States often require safety inspections to confirm the trailer is in good shape and safe for the roads. Many DMV offices can conduct these tests, but sometimes you must visit an inspection center. If you don’t pass, the inspector will tell you what needs to be changed. Some states can issue temporary registrations pending an inspection.
A safety inspection is particularly relevant for old trailers or those that have been bought and sold many times. However, many states still require them for new trailers. Be prepared to get an inspection done even if buying brand new. Again, dealers will typically have this step completed for you.
While the bill of sale shows the transfer of ownership, the certificate of title proves your ownership and gets filed with the state. It also indicates that the property was free of liens or other claims when the title was issued. A trailer doesn’t initially have a title when purchased new, so you’ll usually apply for it with the dealer. If you buy from an individual, you’ll need to have them sign over the title. Some states don’t require a title for trailers, but Pennsylvania does.
You will also need to fill out your registration application. You can get this from your local DMV or print it and fill it out ahead of time. This form includes:
Remember, if you go to a dealer, they’ll help you apply for your title and registration on-site. You won’t need to make a separate trip for trailer registration at the DMV. You’ll typically get your registration and a license plate at the time of purchase, but your title will come in the mail a few weeks later.
Whether you’re registering your trailer at the DMV or the dealership, you will need identification and payment. State requirements might vary, but identification is usually a current state driver’s license, state ID, commercial driver’s license or military ID. You could also use a passport.
Most DMVs now take payment by card, cash or check. Title and registration fees can vary widely between states, with a range between $8 and $225 in states with fixed costs.
In Pennsylvania, your title fee is $67, and your registration fee increases with the GVWR of the trailer. Here are the registration fees for the three different tiers:
You may have other required costs associated with your title and registration, such as:
Typically, you’ll pay these costs in one lump sum at the dealership or DMV.
After payment and submission, you should receive your registration card, plates and stickers either at the time of purchase or within a few weeks. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, do not issue stickers. Instead, you get a registration card and plates. Always keep the registration card with the trailer.
If you plan to register at the dealership and finance your trailer, you’ll also need documentation from your financing company. This paperwork shows the dealer that you have the funds for the purchase.
After your registration period — usually one, two or five years — it’ll be time to renew. Fortunately, you can usually renew your registration online. Before your current registration expires, head to your state’s DMV website to find the online renewal form or go to the office for a paper form.
If you change addresses in the middle of a registration period, you must report the change. Pennsylvania’s trailer registration law gives you 15 days after moving to report the new address.
The above process describes the general guidelines for a typical trailer registration. Registering your trailer in another state, with financing, through a business or as a tax-exempt purchase are all situations with slightly different requirements.
Typically, a dealership takes the hassle out of registration, giving you your license plate and registration at the time of purchase. An out-of-state sale means you’ll need to register the trailer yourself. Most dealers will give you the resources to simplify the process, such as all the necessary documents and guidance on who they need to go to. You are still responsible for taking them to the DMV, submitting them and paying fees.
While most states follow similar requirements, always check what documents your state requires before leaving an out-of-state dealership. You will generally need the bill of sale and the manufacturer’s statement of origin (MSO). The MSO contains specific vehicle information, like the year, make and VIN. A dealer can also issue a temporary tag that allows you to take your trailer on the road before getting it registered.
If you’re financing your trailer, the title typically goes to the financing company. When you make your final payment on the trailer, the title gets released to you. Your lender technically owns the trailer until then. In these cases, you will identify the financing company as the lienholder on the bill of sale and other documents. You won’t be able to transfer the title until the lien is cleared.
A tax-exempt trailer purchase is also unique and varies by business, state and dealer. Some trailers that often qualify as tax-exempt include those used for farms, mining operations and state or local governments. You’ll generally need your tax-exempt form. Since you won’t pay taxes when buying a trailer out-of-state, you’ll need to save this document for when you register the trailer in your state. During an in-state purchase, you’ll want to bring this to the dealer or when you register the trailer with the DMV.
Tax-exempt purchases typically require a verification process, so check with your dealer about any additional requirements they may have. At Brechbill Trailers, for instance, we ask that you provide your tax-exempt form at least 48 hours before you’ll pick up the trailer.
You can register your trailer under a business name if it’s purchased outright. If you take this route, the person picking up the trailer will need a signed letter on the company letterhead authorizing them to pick it up and sign documentation on behalf of the organization. We need this documentation even if the person picking up the trailer is the business owner.
If you plan to register a financed trailer for your business, check with your lender to ensure you have the right name on the registration. For example, the state may allow you to register the trailer under either your personal or business name, but your lender might require your registration and financing agreement to be under the same name.
Recently moved to a new state? Registering your trailer is very similar to registering a car. New residents usually have a certain amount of time after establishing residency to register vehicles and trailers. You’ll need to take your out-of-state title and registration to the DMV. There, you’ll fill out a new title application with an authorized agent. You may also need VIN verification and payment.
Leased or financed trailers may require more documentation from the leasing or financing company.
If title and registration sounds complicated to you, you’re not alone. On-site titling and registration is one of the biggest advantages of buying from a trusted dealership instead of an individual or a less-established dealer. When you partner with experienced salespeople, you can:
At Brechbill Trailers, our knowledgeable team aims to make your purchase as smooth as possible. We’ll guide you through how to register a utility trailer, gooseneck trailer, equipment trailer or another trailer from our vast selection of new and used products. If you register within Pennsylvania, we’ll take care of the title and registration. For out-of-state purchases, we can provide the necessary documents. Buyers who use our rent-to-own or financing solutions also benefit from our team’s expertise in these more complex situations.
Contact us today to see how Brechbill Trailers can help with your next purchase!