Vehicle registration in North Carolina is handled by the state's Division of Motor Vehicles, which is a section of the Department of Transportation. 

There are more than 130 DMV locations around the state where drivers can register their vehicles, but the state recommends that anyone who wants to register a vehicle call their local office to confirm hours of operation.

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What should I bring to the DMV in North Carolina?

According to the official North Carolina DMV site and its page of helpful tips, registering online is recommended unless the driver is unable to complete their registration steps via the internet. 

The state recommends that visitors to the DMV make an appointment, which can reduce time spent waiting at the office.

It's also a good idea to visit early in the morning or early in the afternoon as those times are usually less busy than other times of the day. Some DMV offices have express lines for visitors who have brief transactions, and some locations are hiring additional personnel to handle increased registration demand.

New North Carolina residents who want to obtain their first registration for a vehicle will need to first obtain a North Carolina driver's license. New residents will visit one of the state's license plate agencies to complete their car registration. 

To obtain a North Carolina title and registration, there are five items you must bring to the office.

  • Vehicle title (or registration card if the title is held by a lender)

  • Official MVR-1 Title Application

  • MVR-180 Odometer Disclosure (for vehicles less than ten years old)

  • North Carolina driver license (or NC Temporary Driving Certificate)

  • Valid North Carolina car insurance

Vehicle inspection requirements

Newly titled cars in the state of North Carolina do not need a vehicle inspection when they're first registered, but vehicle owners should be prepared to obtain a vehicle inspection after a year when the vehicle is due for its first renewal.

The cost to register a vehicle in North Carolina

When you register a car in North Carolina, you will be required to pay these fees: 

  1. Title fee

  2. Highway-use tax

  3. County fee

The fee for a new title in North Carolina is $56. 

The state highway-use tax equals 3% of the vehicle's value. The amount charged will not exceed $250. 

The third registration fee is paid to the county in which the vehicle is registered. Those fees range from $38.75 to $53.75, with the counties of Durham, Wake, and Orange requiring the higher fee amount.

How do I renew my car registration in North Carolina?

Current residents of North Carolina that already have a vehicle registered will receive their renewal paperwork in the mail about two months before the renewal is required. 

The renewal notice will feature the vehicle details, the required renewal fee, and any other taxes that might be due at the time of renewal.

Vehicle registrations in North Carolina are renewed annually. Conveniently, the NCDMV offers online renewals through its renew registration and plates page. To register online, vehicle owners must provide the following.

  • License plate number

  • Last five digits of the vehicle title number

Not only can residents use a desktop computer to renew their registration, but they can also use their smartphone to complete registration if they are also paying their property taxes. Online vehicle registration in North Carolina comes with an added $3 fee that is paid to the third-party processing company that handles payments.

What happens with late car registration in North Carolina?

North Carolina will charge a late fee for renewals that are one or more months late. Plates that have expired in the past month will require an extra fee of $15. 

For one to two months after expiration, the extra fee is $20. For a plate that is expired by more than two months, the fee is $25. The late fees were introduced in 2016 after the state's General Assembly voted on the matter.

Getting a personalized license plate in North Carolina

North Carolina offers more than 100 different specialty license plates that honor different special interest groups and charitable causes. Fees are based on which plate is chosen, and residents must pay a fee for their specialty plate on top of other fees charged by the state to register a vehicle.

Specialty plates can only be ordered online, and residents must provide the following when ordering a specialty or personalized license plate.

  • Vehicle license plate number

  • Last five digits of the vehicle title number

It takes anywhere from six weeks to two months to receive specialty plates because they're manufactured on-demand when the vehicle owner orders the plate. Plates are occasionally retired, so it's a good idea to order specialty plates as soon as possible before they are taken out of circulation.

The fees for registering a vehicle in North Carolina won't break the bank, but your car insurance might if you don't shop around when you move to North Carolina to register a car or purchase a new car as a resident of the state. Comparing auto insurance rates when you renew or obtain your registration is a good idea.