How to Title a Car That Doesn't Have a Clear Title in North Carolina

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A vehicle’s title shows who owns it. When someone sells or gifts a car to another party, they sign its title over to that party. ​An individual that does not have a clean title – one that is free from liens – can use an indemnity bond to title the vehicle.

Why a Car Needs a Title

In North Carolina as in all states, a vehicle’s title shows who its owner is. When a party sells or gifts a vehicle to another party, they sign the title over to a buyer who, in turn, gets a new title in their name and registers the vehicle in order to legally drive it.

When titling a vehicle in the Tar Heel State, a new owner must show proper documentation to the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (NCDMV). This includes their driver’s license, proof of liability insurance, proof of the vehicle passing inspection and ownership proof, like a bill of sale.

Then, they complete the appropriate forms and pay the accompanying fees to put the vehicle's title in their name, which is required before they can register it.

Clear vs. Clean Car Titles

The terms “clear” and “clean” are sometimes used interchangeably when describing a title brand, but they are not the same. A vehicle that has a clear title has no financial lien on it that prevents its sale. The seller owns the car free and clear; there are no creditors or third parties that can claim ownership.

A clean title describes a vehicle with no major damage that may render it a total loss. This title brand is a best case scenario for a buyer of a used vehicle.

What Is a Bonded Title in North Carolina?

​A person who doesn’t have title that proves they own a vehicle can use an indemnity bond – an insurance company-written security bond – to title the vehicle. Not all vehicles can have bondable titles, including:

  • Abandoned vehicles.
  • Those with storage or mechanics liens.
  • Those with outstanding liens for which cancellations cannot be issued.
  • Vehicles with pending litigation regarding their ownership.
  • Non-domiciled vehicles.
  • Vehicles that are non-rebuildable, parts-only or declared junked.
  • Vehicles that an insurance company declares a total loss.
  • Vehicles that an insurance company declares a total loss that were sold without a title.

To get a bonded title, the party seeking it must:

  • Submit the proper documents to the North Carolina DMV.
  • Have a License and Theft Bureau inspector inspect the vehicle.
  • Get a vehicle appraisal.
  • Get an indemnity bond.
  • Get an emissions (or smog) inspection on the vehicle.
  • Pay title fees and taxes to the NCDMV.

Required Documents for a North Carolina Bonded Title

To get a bonded vehicle title, applicants must submit one of the following types of identification when processing a request in person:

  • ​Birth certificate certified through a county Register of Deeds or the North Carolina Vital Records Office, or U.S. Report of Consular Birth Abroad.
  • Unexpired, valid U.S. passport.
  • Unexpired, valid passport from any country.
  • Unexpired, valid Real ID.
  • Driver's record certified or non-certified from North Carolina or certified from out-of-state.
  • School documents such as transcript or registration signed by a North Carolina school, a GED or a diploma from a high school, community college or university in the state.
  • Unexpired, valid U.S. military ID, U.S. Military Dependents card or Veteran Universal Access card.
  • ​State of North Carolina Limited Driving Privilege order issued by a court.
  • Unexpired, valid U.S. government documents, such as those issued by Department of Homeland Security or Citizenship and Immigration Service.
  • Court documents, such as ​a divorce decree, gender or change of name order, adoption papers, or court order for child support.

Other required documents for a bonded title include:

Surety Company Bonded Title Fees

Only an insurance company licensed to write surety bonds in North Carolina can write an indemnity bond. The bond amount must be equal to one and a half times the vehicle’s value, with a $100 minimum. The NCDMV will keep it on file for three years.

Title fees are:

  • Certificate of Title: $56.
  • Mobile home title: $56.
  • Corrected or substitute title, duplicate title, duplicate title with lien removal (s) or duplicate title with correction: $21.50.
  • Duplicate title with reassignment: $77.50.
  • Highway-use tax: 3 percent of the value of the vehicle; not more than $250 for new residents moving to the state.
  • Instant title: $105.75.
  • Late fee penalty: $20 (If a vehicle buyer or recipient does not transfer the title within 28 days from the delivery or notary date, whichever date is last).

Getting an Inspection and Appraisal

An inspector from the License and Theft Bureau will inspect the vehicle to be titled. It will not be registered unless it has been declared operable, and the inspector sends an application for operable title to the NCDMV. If a vehicle is not operable at inspection time, the inspector will issue an inoperable title.

The value of a vehicle is determined through an appraisal under the most recent Value Schedule, which can be acquired through the NCDMV in person or by the agency’s Customer Contact Center at (919) 715-7000. For vehicles not in the NCDMV’s Value Schedule, the agency requires appraisals from two individual dealers in the state, which must be on their letterhead.

Before license plates can be issued for a vehicle, it must pass an emissions inspection at an authorized inspection station.