Buying a Used Car From A Private Seller In North Carolina

When buying a used car from a private seller, there are so many things to keep track of. From getting new license plates to understanding North Carolina’s title transfer process, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to buy a private-party car in the Tarheel State.
The private-party vehicle market is awash with scams and fraudsters, and private transactions can be cumbersome. PrivateAuto streamlines the private car buying experience and makes it quick and safe. From encrypted messaging to instantaneous payments, we are the only transactional marketplace for private-party used vehicles.

Should I Buy from a Dealership or a Private Seller?

People buy used cars from dealerships for convenience, while private purchases usually provide better value.

Here at PrivateAuto, we strongly advocate for the private seller option:

1. You drive the deal on your terms. PrivateAuto allows you to make offers and negotiate the best deal directly with the seller.
2. Get a better price by cutting out the middleman and going straight to the source. Dealers must buy low and sell high to make a profit and keep the lights on. You don’t need to fund them.
3. Avoid fees. Vehicle dealers charge documentation fees that range from $50 to over $1,000.
4. Enjoy security and convenience when you do the deal with PrivateAuto. Our transactional marketplace gives dealer-like convenience in the palm of your hand. From scheduling the test drive to sending instant payments, you’ll love how easy the entire process is.
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North Carolina Used Car-Buying Process

In North Carolina, you will go through the following steps when buying a used car from a private owner:

1. Find a car
2. Research the car
3. Arrange the test drive
4. Inspect the car
5. Sign the bill of sale
6. Pay the seller
7. Have the seller sign over the title
8. Insure the car
9. Register and title the car in your name
10. Pay sales taxes and fees
11. Get new license plates

Let's go over these steps in more detail.

Find a Car

Whether you are searching for an electric vehicle, a work truck, or a minivan, you’ll probably want to shop online. There are so many car-buying websites with pre-owned vehicles for sale by owner:

Vehicle listing sites such as Autotrader.
Auction websites such as Hemmings and Cars and Bids.
Online classifieds
National classifieds such as Craigslist and OfferUp.
Local classifieds such as KSL Cars.
Social media sites like Facebook Marketplace.

While these websitesplaces help you find used cars in your area, all of them lack transactional capability. We call them "meetingplaces" because they leave you to your own devices when it comes down to closing the deal.

Another downside to many of these sites: they mix dealer inventory with private-party cars. Most of them don’t have an easy way to filter by private-party vehicles, so you’re left digging through a glut of dealer listings to find the private offerings.

We’re the world’s first and only fully transactional marketplace, offering self-service technological solutions for every stage of the deal. And, we cater exclusively to private owners, with no dealer listings on our marketplace.

Begin your car-buying journey today!

We have nothing against other listing sites. But we still want every buyer to have the transactional security and convenience that our users enjoy.

That’s why we developed DealNow. DealNow allows you to create your own dealroom on PrivateAuto, invite the owner of the car you want to buy, and fast-track the transaction.

Do Some Research on the Car

It’s a great idea to do some preliminary research on the vehicle you’re about to buy. A vehicle history report can help you avoid buying a lemon.

PrivateAuto has partnered with AutoCheck to provide vehicle history reports on premium listings. AutoCheck gets its data from the following sources:

OEM manufacturers
Car dealerships and extended warranty companies
Import and export companies
Rental and fleet companies
State Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMVs).
Auto auctions
Salvage auctions
Collision repair shops
Service records from maintenance facilities
Insurance companies
Vehicle inspection and state inspection stations

An AutoCheck report reveals a wealth of info about the car’s history.

Regular maintenance (or lack thereof)
Manufacturer buybacks or lemon titles
Odometer rollback
City and state of previous registration, number of owners
Accidents and damage reports, stolen vehicles
Rental, taxi, lease, or government use
Lien information, ownership transfers
Collision repair history
Structural or frame damage
Service, repair, and maintenance performed
Total loss and reason for the loss
Stolen vehicles
Title history: salvage titles, junk titles, flood damage, hail damage, storm damage, fire damage, and more
Major repairs
Open recalls
Emissions records
And a lot more

Schedule the Test Drive

When you've found a car you like and agreed on a price, it's time to take it for a spin.
Other marketplaces force you to exchange contact info with the seller and have a back-and-forth conversation about scheduling. Your privacy is compromised, and you waste a lot of time.

PrivateAuto keeps your personal info private and secure. All communication happens through our messaging system. Our in-app scheduler makes it easy for you to schedule the meetup: just select from the seller’s available times and show up to their designated location.

Vehicle Inspection

Before buying the car, you should inspect it. Even better, arrange a professional pre-purchase inspection by a qualified mechanic (especially if it’s a higher-mileage vehicle). Here are some of the things to inspect:

Body: check for obvious damage, body panel alignment, uneven gaps, mismatched paint, signs of damage repair. Look closely for any indications of collision repair. Check for rust underneath and around various body panels. Check headlights, brake lights, and other lights.
Undercarriage: inspect under the car for leaks, rust, damage. Look at brake lines, exhaust, suspension components.
Fluids: check all fluid levels, including engine oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, coolant. Look for leaks and make sure the fluids look clean and at proper levels.
Tires: examine tire treads and make sure there is sufficient tread depth. Also look for any cracks, bulges or other tire damage. Check the spare as well.
Interior: make sure all controls, electronics, air conditioning, and heating work properly. Look for any warning lights on the dash when the car is started. Check for water damage, stains, or tears inside.
Maintenance records: review the vehicle history report and check maintenance logs to understand repair and ownership history.
Test drive: drive the car under different conditions to test acceleration, braking, steering, transmission, and to feel and listen for any mechanical issues.

Sign a North Carolina Bill of Sale

In the state of North Carolina, a bill of sale is not required in a private-party car transaction. It’s still a good idea to have one: the bill of sale is a legal document that protects both buyer and seller by memorializing the terms of the sale.

Here are the necessary elements in a bill of sale:

Your full name and notarized signature
The other party’s full name and notarized signature
Price of the car
The make, model, and year of the car
A description of the car
A warranty disclaimer stating the car is being sold as-is
Date of the transaction

PrivateAuto provides an official North Carolina bill of sale as part of our standard in-app transaction process. At the appropriate stage of the transaction workflow, the buyer and seller will be asked to sign the North Carolina bill of sale electronically in the PrivateAuto app.

Pay for the Car

Now is the time to pay the seller. Existing payment methods are inconvenient, risky, or expensive (or some combination of all three). That’s why we created PrivateAuto Pay.

You can send unlimited funds with no transfer fees. Nights, weekends, holidays—anytime. The seller will receive the money immediately. It’s totally secure, easy to use, and convenient. Its instantaneous nature provides escrow-like safeguards for you to control the deal.

Oh, and if you don't want to pay cash for your next vehicle, you can apply for a used auto loan directly within the PrivateAuto app. When your application is approved, your profile will show that you have verified funds, which will set you apart from other buyers.

Our lending partner will pay the seller in full when you close the deal and send payment. You will make monthly car payments to the lender. It's that simple. Curious how much your payments will be? Our car loan calculator will tell you.

Sign the Title

After you’ve paid for the car, you and the seller will each fill out and sign the certificate of title, and the seller will give it to you. This is the crowning step that makes you the official owner of the vehicle.

Both parties need to fill out the title certificate thoroughly. The following info is required:

Vehicle identification number (VIN)
An odometer disclosure statement (in many states)
Damage disclosure statement

Odometer Disclosure

Federal law requires the seller to complete the odometer reading statement (also known as an odometer disclosure). In many states, the title includes an odometer disclosure. For other states, an additional odometer disclosure statement is required as a separate document.

If in doubt, you could always complete the Federal Odometer Disclosure Statement to make sure your bases are covered.

Inspect the odometer to verify that the seller’s entry is correct. Keep in mind that sellers who tamper with a car's odometer to obtain a false reading can face serious consequences.

The PrivateAuto app has a field for the odometer reading so that both the buyer and the seller can check the mileage before moving forward.

Vehicle Identification Number Check

Always verify the vehicle identification number to compare it to that written on the title. You want to avoid having the wrong vehicle identification number on the car title, as this will cause all sorts of grief later on.

The PrivateAuto app has a field for the VIN, where both the buyer and seller can check it for accuracy. This helps to eliminate errors (or the rare case of outright seller fraud).

Get Car Insurance

Before driving your newly-purchased car home, you’ll want to have it covered under an insurance policy. Most states require liability insurance at a minimum; it’s up to you whether to get more coverage.

PrivateAuto makes it easy to compare rates and get car insurance right in our app.

Finalize with North Carolina DMV

You technically own the car at this point, but the North Carolina DMV needs to know that. It’s time to register the car in your name, transfer the title in the state records, and get new license plates. They will require the following:

Valid driver license
Notarized vehicle title signed by the previous vehicle owner
A title application (Form MVR-1)
Proof of insurance
Vehicle title transfer fee: $56
Registration fee ranging from $38.75 to $53.75
Payment for Highway use tax (HUT): use Form MVR-613.pdf)
Payment for North Carolina car sales tax (7.5% of the car’s purchase price)
Potentially other taxes and fees, depending on your city and county of residence

License Plates

Some states allow the license plates to remain with the car when sold. North Carolina requires the seller to remove the plates from the car. As the buyer, you’ll apply to the DMV for new license plates, and pay pay for North Carolina license plates (the cost of a standard plate is included in vehicle registration).

See our state-by-state guide to license plate requirements if you’re considering buying or selling a car in another state.

Emissions Testing

Certain North Carolina counties require emissions testing in order to complete a title transfer and register a vehicle.

New Hanover

In the 19 counties where emission checks are required, cars in the following categories are exempt:

Light-duty cars less than 3 years old or that have 70,000 miles or less
Cars that are 20 years old or older​​
Diesel-operated cars
Kit cars
Plug-in hybrid cars

A NC emissions inspection costs $30.
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Buying a Car in North Carolina with PrivateAuto

It’s easy to buy a used car online with PrivateAuto. Whether you’re looking for a Tesla, a Ford Maverick, a Range Rover, or a Nissan 350z, North Carolina car buyers will find a great deal on the ride of their dreams.

We are the only end-to-end vehicle buying platform that gives you everything you need to get the deal done, from making offers to sending payments.

Browse our used cars for sale in North Carolina.

Selling your car? List your car on PrivateAuto to get the best price and transact easily and safely!

North Carolina Car Buying FAQ

What kind of insurance does a used car need?

Used cars, like new cars, are required to have at least liability auto insurance. Every insurance company will have different rates, so make sure you look for the best auto insurance quotes.

North Carolina law enforcement requires you to keep proof of your car insurance in your car at all times.

Who pays for the car title transfer fees in North Carolina?

Does North Carolina lemon law apply to used cars?

What are temporary tags?

Is buying a car privately for cash a good idea?

Are title certificates ownership documents?

How to protect yourself when buying a vehicle privately?

How can I get a duplicate title in North Carolina?

How do you transfer an out-of-state title?

Where can I go to transfer a vehicle title in North Carolina?

Can you get an extended warranty for used cars?