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Motor vehicle laws differ from state to state, but ... in general ... nearly all states make it illegal to operate an unregistered motor vehicle on public roads (this often includes even having the vehicle TOWED on public roads). Generally the penalty for violating this is a (possibly substantial) fine, but some states increase the penalties for subsequent offenses to include jail time.

Again, state laws differ, but an unregistered vehicle parked on a public roadway may be subject to towing and impoundment. Since getting it back out of impound will require you to operate or tow it, you may have to show proof of registration before the vehicle can be released from impound.

If it's not registered AND you're not driving it, there may be no immediate consequences, though registering it so that you can legally drive it again after a period of lapsed registration will usually require you to retroactively pay the missed registration fees, including any late fees that may have accrued. Many states allow you to register a vehicle at a lower rate if you don't plan on operating it. A vehicle registered as non-operational must be registered fully before being driven, but you probably won't have to pay the retroactive registration or late fees.

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Q: What can the dmv do if your car is not registered?
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