Car buying/insuring/registering/drivers licensing in North Carolina
September 15, 2014 8:17 AM   Subscribe

I have never purchased a car. I got a handmedown as a teen/college student, then lived in public transportation friendly locations the last many years. I'm now in North Carolina-walk me through the steps like I'm the idiot I am.

I'm currently borrowing a car from a very kind relative. There's no pressure to get a car tomorrow, but I need to get my own car sooner rather than later.
Parts of the process I get: getting non-dealer financing. buying the car.
But what order do these happen in?:
-buying car
-registering car
-insuring car
-changing drivers' license to NC (I gather there's some sort of sign-IDing written test)
-[some other steps I haven't even considered]
posted by atomicstone to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
if you're buying a car from a dealer, they usually require proof of insurance before you leave.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 8:19 AM on September 15, 2014

The dealer's insurance can cover you to drive to your insurance agent and get the car insured. Ask them about this.
posted by thelonius at 8:24 AM on September 15, 2014

You do need insurance in order to register the car with the NC DMV. The DMV site says that, if you are a new resident, you do also need an NC license first.
posted by thelonius at 8:31 AM on September 15, 2014

It's possible to get a good deal on financing from the dealer. Just be sure to read all the fine print and have other options available. Also be sure to have copies of your credit report score since telling you yours is bad is common scam (or at least it used to be.)

As for insurance, shop around now. Tell them what kind of car(s) your interested in and get estimates. For me that was a large part of my decision as to which car to buy. I was surprised about how the cars I was interested in that seemed very similar to me had remarkably different insurance rates for the same coverage.

I used when I bought my cars. They have info and advice on financing and insurance as well as buying.
posted by sevenless at 8:33 AM on September 15, 2014

You can get your DL changed whenever. You should do this now, it makes things simpler - and may be a requirement in your state.

When you find a car you like, you call up your insurance and work out the details of insuring a car of that make and model.

Once you are sure you can afford both to own it and insure it, you go to the dealer and you get a purchase agreement that will have the VIN and other info on it, and you use that to actually arrange insurance to start the day you purchase it. They will send you Proof of Insurance.

Then you go to the dealer and buy the car. Most dealerships will do the registration and all that right there, but if they don't, once you sign the paperwork and head down to the DMV and get it registered and plated in your name.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:36 AM on September 15, 2014

But what order do these happen in?:
-buying car
-registering car
-insuring car
-changing drivers' license to NC (I gather there's some sort of sign-IDing written test)

It goes like this:
-secure financing, if you're not paying cash
-shop around
-buy car (if the dealer offers a better price if you use their financing, take it, then immediately pay it off with the financing you've secured if it has a better rate)
-immediately insure car
-register car

Find an insurance agent now, and then when you've bought the car, before you leave the dealership, call them and give them the VIN number off the car. They should be able to email you temporary proof of insurance, or fax it to the dearlership, right away. The dealership will likely take care of registration as part of the buying process.

Most states have something like a 30- to 45-day requirement after you move into their state in which you must change over your license. However, they seldom enforce this. Depending on how long you've been there, you can either do it before or after you buy your car. If I recall, when we moved to NC, we had to take the driving test as well as the written test, but I don't know if they do this for everyone or not (and this was 15 years ago anyway).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:41 AM on September 15, 2014

You have insurance now, right? (You should, if you're driving.) When you're at the dealer buying your car, you call your insurance company and say "hey, I bought a car" and they will walk you through the process. You'll need the VIN (vehicle identification number), which the dealer will provide to you. If you don't have an insurance company, pick one before you go and call them at the dealer (or bring your laptop/tablet and use their website).

Personally, if you are staying in NC then I'd get your license switched now, it just makes some things smoother when you get a loan/register your car/insure it. You'll have to tell your insurance company your new license number anyway.
posted by desjardins at 8:52 AM on September 15, 2014

I'm in the middle of this process as well and expect to have a new car by the end of the week. I haven't talked to a single dealer on the phone or in person and am going to get a pretty good deal. If you want some tips for negotiating the purchase via dealers' internet sales managers, MeMail me.

I have a preapproval letter from my bank. The dealers are offering me a $1,000 rebate if I finance through them. I'll do it if they give me a better interest rate than my bank did, but otherwise it's not worth it. If their interest rate is even one percentage point higher, they'll make that $1,000 back on interest, and then some.

Best deal on insurance I found was through Costco; something to consider if you're a member. However, I did not find the best price on a car through Costco's auto buying program.

The registration/licensing (of the car, not you)/title transfer can take place at the dealership. Make sure you ask them how much money that will add to the final sales price -- "What's the out-the-door price?" is the question you want to ask them.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:20 AM on September 15, 2014

Hi! I moved to Charlotte in 2010. You do have to retake the written part of the driving exam, which I considered fairly ludicrous since I had 15 years of driving experience with no accidents or tickets. I would suggest you get the PDF of the driving manual from the state DMV Web site and study it before taking the exam. I did and only missed 1 out of 20 questions. The question I missed was "What is the penalty you will receive on your license if you purchase alcohol for minors?" YES, that is apparently in some appendix to the manual that I skipped although I read everything else.

If you are moving to Charlotte specifically, I want to warn you that the customer service I experience at the nearest DMV is almost always quite bad, if not antagonistic. It is one of those worst-of-both-worlds neoliberal ideas where a monopoly service is contracted to a private firm. No accountability, yay!

As far as buying your car, I have only ever bought used cars off places like Craigslist. It is not nearly as hard as people make it out to be. I always buy dependable models (Ford Ranger and Mazda Protege 5 were my last two regular purchases) in their mileage sweet spot - 30-70,000 miles. Since you are new to all this, you may not want to do that, of course.
posted by Slothrop at 10:09 AM on September 15, 2014

Adding to the comment above, in the Charlotte area it is worth the drive to go to the offices in Monroe or Mt. Holly. Do not go to Arrowood Rd unless you enjoy joyless waiting and listening to people complain in multiple languages.

Also be aware that driver's licenses and tags are, for the most part, handled by separate offices in NC.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 12:29 PM on September 15, 2014

Also, with NCDMV, you will NOT receive your new license right away. Now they give you a paper license and your actual license comes in the mail from Raleigh.

Get the airplane background; all the cool kids do.

The NCDMV is horrible, and as noted by the posters above I'd suggest going to an office outside of a metropolitan area. Registration is handled at a "License Plate Office" or some such that is separate from the DMV. Bring checks, or lots of cash. They still, afaik, don't take debit/credit cards. If you're in SENC, stay away from either of the Wilmington locations; I'd assume Jacksonville is probably also as awful.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 1:21 PM on September 15, 2014

This should happen in the following order:

1. Change your driver's license over to NC, if you can, or get a new license in NC if your license has been expired too long.
2. Get financing.
3. Arrange to buy the car. Have the dealer provide you the VIN.
4. Using the VIN, get an insurance policy.
5. The dealer may take care of registering the car for you, in which case you'll need to give proof of insurance to the dealer, and you don't have to do anything further.
6. If not, the dealer will either give you a Certificate of Origin (if it's a new car), or sign over a title to you (if it's a used car). The dealer may or may not put a temporary plate on the car. If not, you won't be able to drive the car yet. Take whichever document you get to the DMV and register the car. The DMV office will give you a plate (North Carolina is a rear-plate-only state).
7. Put the plate on the back of the car. You're done. Happy motoring!
posted by tckma at 1:40 PM on September 15, 2014

My mistake -- You won't get a title or C of O if you're financing. You will get a bill of sale and the loan or lease documents, which you will take to the DMV instead.
posted by tckma at 1:43 PM on September 15, 2014

A couple of minor points: make sure you study for the signs test, along with the written test. It's required, it's a pain in the butt, and I've seen folks fail the signs test who had been driving for years. I almost failed the signs test when I moved home ("dude, it's a white sign, they come in speed limit signs and other signs that are used to tell you things..." Finally the DMV worker let me pass, but they were fishing for 'regulatory sign'.)

You will need proof of insurance to change your license, as well.
posted by joycehealy at 3:38 PM on September 15, 2014

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