Getting a Car for Christmas

Five years ago, my husband “gave” me a minivan for Christmas. Sure, it was fun to find the keys in my stocking and to put one of the children in the third row seat on the way to grandma’s, forcing him to stretch to touch his siblings. But it wasn’t all fun and games. On the way back from my in-laws’ house, I sheepishly asked:  So, how much are the payments? Gulp.  And then there is that pesky December registration renewal, which increases my already out-sized December expenditures and adds to my long year-end “to do” list. On top of that, my registration renewal wound up costing me an extra $8 last year. Read on to learn more about my total bill and how you can avoid the new late fee for registration renewals. 

Tag and Tax Together. North Carolina implemented a Tag and Tax Together system in 2013.  Under this system, DMV mails to the registered owner of a vehicle a registration renewal notice two to three months before the vehicle’s registration expires. That renewal notice doubles as a property tax bill.

Thus, to renew my vehicle this December, I must pay three amounts:

  • A $41 registration fee;
  • A $30 municipal vehicle tax; and
  • The city and county property taxes assessed on my vehicle.


My registration fee is higher than the $36 required by G.S. 20-87(5) for the registration of private passenger vehicles of not more than 15 passengers. That’s because I live in Wake County and am subject to a $5 tax levied by the Triangle Transit Authority.

Registration fees increased in 2016 for all types of vehicles. The registration fee listed on my 2015 notice was $33. By the time I paid it in January 2016 (within the 15-day grace period), it had increased to the current $41, the amount effective for registrations renewed January 1, 2016 or later. S.L. 2015-241, s. 29.30.

Inspection requirements. I could not immediately renew my registration in late September when I received this year’s registration renewal notice. First, I had to have a current safety and emissions inspection performed on my vehicle. G.S. 20-66(j). Fortunately, I remembered that I needed an inspection when I took my car in for routine serving last week. (After five years, I’m finally getting the hang of this.) That inspection and authorization cost $30, the fee set by G.S. 20-183.7(a).

I was able to have my vehicle inspected in November, rather than December, the month in which my registration expires, because G.S. 20-183.4C(7) permits a vehicle to be inspected within 90 days of the license plate’s expiration.

The new late fee.  As every North Carolina driver knows, a fifteen-day grace period applies to registration renewals. G.S. 20-66(g). Thus, though the registration of a vehicle expires at midnight on the last day of the month designated on the sticker, the vehicle may lawfully be operated until midnight on the fifteenth day of the following month. I’ve already mentioned that last year my use of the grace period cost me an additional $8.

Registration fees have not increased for 2017, but a $15 late fee will apply if I again wait until January to renew my registration. That’s because the late fee statute, which became effective July 1, 2016, does not incorporate the 15-day grace period. G.S. 20-88.03(k). The late fee for a registration expired less than one month is $15; for a registration expired more than one but less than two months, $20; and for a registration expired more than two months, $25.

With all that said, I think I’ll wrap up now so that I can go on-line to renew my registration. It will be one less thing I have to do in December.

(Honey, if you are reading this, I really am grateful. You know how I hate to shop for cars.)

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