Driving With Expired Tags in North Carolina: What The Law Says

Each state in the US has its own road and vehicle regulations and North Carolina is no different. One such regulation that cuts across every state is the illegality of driving with expired tags.

If you are wondering what to do when your tags expire read on. We will discuss, what the law says and what is expected from you should you find yourself in this conundrum.

North Carolina grace period

Vehicle registrations in the US are done annually and most people assume there is a grace period once the tag expires. So, is there a grace period for expired tags in NC?

North Carolina used to allow a grace period of 15 days for renewing license plates through the NCDMV before 2016. This grace period allowed drivers whose licenses expired in July to renew them until August 15th.

According to the new regulation, it is now mandatory to ensure that your license plates are updated on time. Essentially, if your registration lapse falls in July, you are obliged to update it within the same month.

Registration requirements

The North Carolina DMV will mail you a renewal notice before your registration tags expire. This letter is delivered two months before the expiration date and contains the renewal fee as well as any additional taxes owed. If you are unclear about when your registration is due, you can contact the NCDMV and request a registration notice.

Safety and emissions test

You are also required to go through the safety and emissions inspection at least 90 days before the tag expires. The safety inspection costs $43 or $53 if your windows are tainted. The inspection is done by a licensed mechanic who will go over your car’s signals, tires, windows, headlights, steering, and brakes.

Concurrently, an emissions test is done to check whether your car’s greenhouse gases or pollutants are under the permissible limits for North Carolina residents. You may not require an emissions test if your vehicle is less than three years old, has fewer than 70,000 miles, is more than 20 years old, is a farm vehicle, or is diesel-powered.  

Renewal fees

The NCDMV charges a cost of up to $71.25 depending on the kind of vehicle. The North Carolina DMV allows you to renew your registration by paying via:

  • The NCDMV portal through the PayIt service, which charges a $3 fee on top of your renewal amount. To use this option, you must have your license plate number and the last five digits of your vehicle title number.
  • Mail using the address listed on your renewal notice.
  • An NCDMV license plate agency by scheduling an appointment.

What to do when your tag expires

Being stopped by law enforcement and receiving a ticket or even a Class 3 misdemeanor charge is a possibility if your registration tags aren’t renewed on time. Remember, this applies any time you’re out driving.

Ignoring citations can result in the revocation of your license plate, and force you to turn it in at a North Carolina license plate office in 30 days. It’s wise to avoid ignoring citations as it could also lead to potential arrest.

The North Carolina DMV does not kid around when it comes to renewing your tags. If you don’t renew on time, you’ll be charged a $25 late fee in addition to the renewal fee and any taxes owed. If your vehicle needs an inspection and your registration has already expired, the NC Division of Motor Vehicles has a useful option: they can give you a 10-day temporary license plate. This allows you to legally drive your vehicle for inspection purposes.

Factors that can affect your registration

The following conditions may prevent you from completing your car registration or renewal.

  • If you owe the NCDMV money or have ever written them a bad check. ​
  • If the NCDMV has sent you a notice of a problem with your registration.
  • If law enforcement has seized the registered vehicle because the one driving was impaired.
  • If your vehicle has failed the inspection and emission test or has repairs that require more than $200.
  • If your vehicle has been re-inspected and fails the onboard diagnostic analysis.
  • If you are facing a criminal charge.
  • If you have not paid child support. 
  • If you have failed to pay any vehicle county taxes
  • ​If your insurance has been terminated or do not have any coverage.
  • If you do not pay the penalty for passing a stopped school bus.


There is nothing as terrible and inconvenient as being stopped for expired tags. It is your responsibility to ensure you keep up to date with your car registration and ignorance is not an excuse in law. To avoid driving with expired tags mark your calendar with when it expires, and if you do forget, check your email for a reminder from the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles.

Leave a Comment