By on February 22, 2013

 

I have a mild obsession with license plates. Which is to say that I often pay extra for those special plates that I think look cool, but no one else ever notices. I also know a lot of weird license plate-related facts. Like, for example: did you know the last number in a Massachusetts plate corresponds to the month it expires? I proudly trot out that one every time I see a Masshole on the road. Surprisingly, my passengers never seem quite as intrigued as I am.

Occasionally, there are benefits to my license plate obsession. For example, I can always spot cars owned by annoying acquaintances in restaurant parking lots, which spares me from actually having to speak to them. And I have the immense honor of being the go-to person whenever my friends have a registration-related query.

One of the questions I get most commonly is: why do so many expensive cars have Montana license plates? And so, I will now answer that, virtually assuring that TTAC will lose the wealthy exotic car owner and Montana attorney readership, but perhaps gain a following among county tax commissioners.

It’s all about taxes

 

In its simplest form, an exotic car with a Montana plates is an immense tax dodge. Being the Wild West, you see, Montana levies no sales tax. Instead, its government chooses to operate under the unique “we don’t need no stinkin’ money” principle, which possibly explains why they went without speed limits for several years: they couldn’t afford the signs.

Let’s do some quick math before going any further.

Say I purchased a Bugatti Veyron, which is very possible since my own car is similar in a lot of ways. For example, it also has some number of turbochargers that’s less than seven. And four wheels.

In my home state of Georgia, the Veyron’s $1.7 million MSRP would be taxed at seven percent, which comes out to $119,000. For a license plate. I have often said state governments should actually help automakers sell supercars like the Veyron, since the revenue from one Veyron is equal to around 65 Accords.

Now, pretend you don’t live in Georgia. Pretend, instead, you live in Montana. Perhaps you think you’ve made an upgrade, but it’s 63 degrees here in Georgia and I’m writing this on my porch. What say you now, Montanan?

Anyway, if you lived in Montana, the same Veyron would cost virtually nothing to register. Yes, maybe $200 for some fee or other, and of course the requisite $30 for the special plate that no one notices. But aside from that, nothing. You’ve just saved $118,770.

I know what you’re thinking: can’t a guy with a $1.7 million car afford $120k in taxes? Probably. But can’t a guy with a $30,000 Accord afford to spend $20 to board the plane ten minutes before other passengers? It doesn’t matter how rich you are: no one likes to needlessly spend money. Thus, exotic car owners – a bunch that’s probably no stranger to minimizing their tax burden – often turn to Montana for registration.

How does it work?

Surprisingly, minimizing your tax burden by registering a car in Montana is actually pretty easy. Step one is finding an attorney in Montana willing to act as a “registered agent” and set up an LLC (that’s “limited liability company”) on your behalf. Google returns about four million results (literally, four million) so I won’t name any names.

The law firm is important because your registered agent needs an actual Montana address to form your LLC. And the LLC is crucial because it’s going to be the actual owner of the vehicle. That’s right: technically, the vehicle is no longer yours. Instead, it belongs to your newly-formed company – which just happens to be based in tax-free Montana! What good luck you had when choosing a place to incorporate.

In most cases, it costs around $1,000 up front to form the LLC and use the law firm as a registered agent. Each law firm also charges an annual fee of around $100 to continue acting as your registered agent (“hush money” so they don’t rat you out to your DMV). And the state of Montana collects a registration fee every year – but it’s a fraction of what other states usually charge.

Interestingly, you don’t need to buy a Bugatti Veyron for this to make sense. Let’s say you purchase a new Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, which is by far the best Tahoe on the market. (Over/under on how long this article is up before I get attacked for that one in the comments?) With a base MSRP of around $54,000 (what a deal!), the Tahoe Hybrid would mean a $3,800 sales tax bill – at least. In Montana, it’s still just a grand up front and a few fees every year thereafter. A quick $2,800 savings.

So why don’t more people do it?

As far as I can tell, the main reason people – even those in the know – don’t take advantage of Montana tax savings is because doing so is risky (and, frankly, a bit morally questionable). Let’s be honest: unless you live in Wyoming or possibly Idaho, no one is going to believe you’re actually from Montana. Especially if you’re driving a Panamera. When I see a Montana plate in Georgia, I automatically assume “tax dodger” unless it’s a beat-up old Silverado with Bush/Cheney bumper stickers.

While you might not care if your neighbors know you’re not really from Montana, you probably should. That especially applies to California residents, since the Golden State recently launched a “CHEATERS” program that’s designed for people to turn in their tax-evading neighbors. Using a simple online form, the nosy bastard who lives next door can tell the cops exactly what you’re up to.

That’s important because most states have a law against keeping a car for more than a month or two without registering it at your home address. Of course, it’s technically not your car – it belongs to your corporation, which makes the Montana plates “legal.” But it’s thin ice – and some states are already cracking down. In 2010, Massachusetts stated going after RV drivers pulling this scheme. And I imagine “CHEATERS” has caught more than a few exotic-owning Californians, turned in by neighbors angry that the guy next door with the flashy red car wasn’t paying his “fair share.”

Of course, many drivers won’t have any issues. Police officers may not inquire about your out-of-town plates when they pull you over for speeding. If they do, a simple explanation of “it’s registered to my business” will probably suffice. It’s not like they’re going to ask for your articles of incorporation when they could be stopping other drivers and earning more revenue.

But if you are caught, it could mean bad news. Most states will probably insist on back taxes, which would wipe out your entire savings and hit you with a massive bill. And it’s not totally inconceivable to prosecute offenders for tax evasion. Imagine going to your garage to start up your Veyron one morning only to be greeted by Chris Hansen. Why don’t you have a seat right over there for me? Do you really live in Montana? What were you thinking, Jim?

Back to license plates

Despite the potential pitfalls, there’s one major benefit to Montana registration – at least for those of us with a mild license plate obsession. Apparently eager to make up for lost sales tax revenue, Montana issues full-color special license plates for every cause imaginable, resulting in some of the most unusual, odd and downright bizarre license plates on the road. Some examples:

Montana Quilters

Yes, there’s a license plate for Montanans who enjoy quilting. And while you don’t have to get a pro-quilting vanity plate like our example, what kind of quilter would you be if you didn’t? Unfortunately, Google Images shows that “LVQLTN” and “QLTLVR” are already taken. Surely, everything else is still available.

Weed Control

This isn’t what you think. No, it’s not a group of Montanans desperately trying to keep pot out of the hands of youth. That’s the “Pro Choice, Pro Family” tag. Instead, this is a license plate that’s actually dedicated to controlling weeds. For some reason, it depicts a cowboy on a horse. Perhaps he’s spreading herbicide.

Land and People

The Montana “Land and People” license plate has no apparent purpose, other than to display a multi-colored image showing that Montana does indeed possess both a) land, and b) people. There’s also a small heard of what may be bison on the “Land” portion, though they figure more prominently another Montana plate that says simply “Let Buffalo Roam.” And what better way to facilitate that than to drive your car on paved highways through the state?

Montana’s Treasures

My personal favorite Montana license plate is the “Montana’s Treasures” tag, which is sponsored by something called the “Montana Area Agencies on Aging Association,” or MAaaaaaaaaa. So what are “Montana’s treasures?” Old people. As depicted by an elderly woman sitting in a rocking chair reading to two children, all of whom appear to be seated rather precariously on a cliff.

Teepee Capital of the World

Apparently, Montana bills itself as the “Teepee Capital of the World” – a point they drive home with a license plate commemorating the achievement. While you might think this is a bit racist, especially if you’re the kind of person who turns in his neighbors for having Montana plates, you should know an Indian tribe actually created it. Nonetheless, don’t expect to see “Peace Pipe Capital of the World” anytime soon.

Call Before You Dig

This one urges people to call before the dig on their property, which apparently has similar importance to other Montana causes like breast cancer and quilting. Since there is no easy way to display an image of “call before you dig” on a license plate, Montana decided to just give up entirely and depict a chipmunk wearing a hardhat and carrying a shovel. In addition to his devious smile, the chipmunk is holding a piece of paper which, upon closer inspection, says “PLANS.” I think Chris Hansen needs to pay this guy a visit when he’s done with the Veyron owner.

Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, roadtripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute laptime on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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119 Comments on “Exotic Cars and Montana Plates...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Great article.

    “That especially applies to California residents, since the Golden State recently launched a “CHEATERS” program that’s designed for people to turn in their tax-evading neighbors. ”

    People’s Republic of California is really on the edge of fascism, tell me will the governor insure the SF to LA monorail run on time when/if its built? I’d take the same data and launch a “HEROES” website.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      I genuinely want to hear your definition of “fascism”.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Socialism where the government leverages private capital to achieve its agenda works.

        • 0 avatar
          ttacgreg

          I wasn’t inquiring about the word socialism.
          If I understand your definition of that, which I do believe is inaccurate let me ask you this. What is a government to do, have a bake sale?
          Name an advanced prosperous modern society that doesn’t have a large influential government.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            Fascism is command socialism with the illusion of private property and a side order of blaming its own failings on named scapegoats.

          • 0 avatar
            OAlx

            @ ttacgreg

            Try using a dictionary. “CJinSD” does not seem to have the slightest clue what he is talking about. Things do not seem to be any better with “28-Cars-Later.”

    • 0 avatar
      Thinkin...

      A program designed to catch tax-evaders = edge of fascism??? Please see the dictionary. Words, like fascism, often have actual meanings.

      That said, I LOVED this article. Honestly one of the best I’ve read on TTAC in weeks. Mostly because it was well-written, genuinely informative, and didn’t feel the need to descend into anti-government rhetoric. I’d hoped the comments would be the same…

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I don’t want to get into a political thing here because frankly I’m not a Poly Sci major and prepared to present specific facts on theory of gov’t. However I’m not encouraged to give a thumbs up when any gov’t entity who is utterly mismanaged and spends itself into oblivion decides to shame people into filling its coffers and seeks to make a snitch out of its citizens. Citizens spying on other citizens to the benefit of gov’t is some kind of “ism” and its not “Patriotism”.

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        The irony, of course, is that you complain about how electric car tax breaks are taking your tax dollars. Yet the notion of turning in individuals game the system (taking tax dollars from the people who pay the tax) is somehow distasteful.

      • 0 avatar
        OAlx

        @ “28-Cars-Later”

        Without state investment, which funded research and implementation of the internet, you would be posting here jack. Without state investment in roads, all the talk here would be about 4WDs, especially which ones withstand the deepest potholes best. SUVs or Muscle Cars would inly matter for them foreign visitors from the “socialist” countries or the German Autobahn-fascists.

        It is quite ok to pay taxes. If you can afford to pay more taxes, you should be proud that you are able to do so.

    • 0 avatar
      Ron B.

      ….or use the 2nd ammendment right to protect your home and shoot the shyte of the house next door. Make sure you don’t miss the web cams aimed at your wimming pool and driveway too.

  • avatar
    HiFlite999

    Fun, but “herd”, not “heard”.

    Massachusetts has only 10 months? Must be a metric-only state. :)

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I don’t typically _literally_ LOL at a TTAC article not penned by a Baruth or McAleer, but your descriptions of MT’s absurd special plates truly got to me. Thanks for that!

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    I’ve thought about moving my legal-address to my family’s place in WV and registering my new cars there. Luckily though, our county isn’t all that bad, and overall, I’m not sure if the $400ish in taxes I would save each year be worth the hassle.

    Now, if I had far more expensive vehicles, or resided in a state or locality, with much higher tax rates, I would of jumped all over it.

    Military members do it all the time. Some localities are cracking down on them though, others give them a pass.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      My dad was in the Navy for 17 years, and during that period, he never stayed in one place more than two years, and in many instances we were in one state only one year. Back then, active duty military were permitted to declare a state of residence and, maintain that state regardless of where their duty assignment was. Since the people in our armed forces were not highly paid, I don’t think this was much of a tax dodge.

      I suspect that’s still the case.

  • avatar
    corntrollio

    “But can’t a guy with a $30,000 Accord afford to spend $20 to board the plane ten minutes before other passengers?”

    Nice.

  • avatar
    twotone

    Oregon, Montana, Delaware and New Hampshire have no sales tax and are good places to register high-end cars. They make up the revenue shortfall with income, property and use taxes. Set up a “Acme, LLC Auto Rental” company and tell the police and tax agency that you are renting it.

    If I could afford a Veryon, sales tax would be the least of my problems. Most of the people who by these have most of their money off shore anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Set up a “Acme, LLC Auto Rental” company and tell the police and tax agency that you are renting it.

      *Light bulb above head*.

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      Delaware generates most of it’s revenue from corporate Franchise taxes, the idea and statue – and , in the opinions of contemporary judges, even the case law – was copied verbatim from New Jersey. New Jersey got the idea to tax the registered capital of a corporation after the civil war left them indebted, prior to the war the main revenue stream had been railroad taxation, NJ tried to pay of its debts by introducing a widely unpopular property tax, raising the tax on railroads and a few other measures to no avail. But somewhere along the way somebody got the rather bright idea to expand the scope of the NJ corporate tax law to include all corporations and not just railroads, this worked like a charm for NJ, incorporators flocked to the state as the very liberal corporate code allowed trusts to be formed (and some rather more intricate points of corporate law that where good from a management and owner standpoint). This revenue stream allowed NJ to ditch the property tax and eliminated the states debt, Delaware decided that they wanted in on the incorporation/franchise racket and copied NJ law, meanwhile NJ elected a progressive governor (Namely Woodrow Wilson, later president and founding father of the league of nations) that opposed the trusts (to name one, standard oil) and the charter-mongering, so NJ tightened their corporate and tax laws making incorporation less attractive there, Delaware was now the new place of choice to incorporate.
      Now before somebody blows a political fuse and starts ranting about *ucktard progressives, and in defense of WW, franchise taxes didn’t suffice in a state with the actual population and economic activity that had developed in NJ so the incentive to chase incorporation and franchise tax wasn’t as powerful anymore. Delaware – being a small state with a small population and without a terribly developed economy – did have, and still has, the incentive to chase incorporation and franchise taxes so they do just that. Cary @ Yale U has opposed this development and promoted the idea of incorporation becoming a federal mater, but still the only federal incorporation remains the ones that are supported in the constitution.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        “and , in the opinions of contemporary judges, even the case law”

        To be fair, corporate law has evolved greatly since the time of Woodrow Wilson, and Delaware has invented plenty of its own case law since 1899 when the general corporation law was revised in Delaware. Delaware’s Court of Chancery is easily the most influential court on corporate law in the nation and has been for a long time.

        • 0 avatar
          MeaCulpa

          I made an error in writing “contemporary” the way I did. What I meant to convey was that at least one judge at the time of the THEN newly imported law found that the intention of the lawmaker was that NJ case law should also be considered Delaware law.
          But yes the court of chancery is surly numero UNO in corporate law, baring when something matriculates to the supreme court, some rulings of a later date (2007-ish) – concerning fiduciary duties in the vicinity of insolvency – seems poorly reasoned thou. Their’s some rather interesting things written about the influence of DGCL on the MBCA.

          Not being an american scholar or lawyer, everything written should be taken with a grain of salt even if it’s based on scholarly work by people much smarter then I am.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        Most of its revenue? I would have guessed that tolls, especially shaking down every car crossing the Mason Dixon line on I-95 would be even higher. I suppose it just covers the rest.

        • 0 avatar
          WildcatMatt

          Pennsylvania likes to complain about trucks driving across the state on I-80 without ever spending money to support maintenance on the road either via tolls or spending money at local businesses (as opposed to the Turnpike), but I-95 through DE is an even better example.

          The beauty of the I-95 toll in Delaware is how easily it can be avoided if you’re a local. This makes it effectively a tax on out-of-state passers-through (or people who are in a hurry).

          Now, if there was only a better way to skirt the Delaware River toll bridges without driving to Trenton…

  • avatar
    vww12

    Here in SE Fla. the revenuers, I mean cops, are very dastardly about being here more than 30 days without local registration and local drivers license… it gives them a perfect excuse to give you three tickets in the time they would normally give you just one.

    Then again their dirty little rule is about people, not companies. I wonder what they’do about that. The other thing to consider is insurance. I bet GEICO will use “company” status as a perfect excuse to bill one twice or more what they’d normally charge.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      Insurance is a factor. My home state of NC charges 3% sales tax but our insurance is cheap because of state regulated rates. That makes us a register of convenience state for people in NE states with much more expensive insurance.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    Doug, I’ll forgive your ignorance on the “wild west” vegetation, but weed control is a huge issue as noxious weed infestation causes alot of harm to native plant species and also burns quite rapidly. The BLM can only do so much. Currently, I’m sitting at a hotel bar in Helena, it was damned cold in Cut Bank yesterday. In fact, because the wind farm would be within site of folks visiting teepee rings, a protected cultural site under Section 106, the wind farm and transmission lines will have to be moved because the people residing in the teepees did not have the same visual obstructions. Sometimes the BLM does too much.

    Also, there are many many wealthy folks with ranches in Montana. The Bozeman airport is the nicest airport in Montana due to the folks that fly their jets into the area. Working in MT (and all across the US) as an environmental engineering consultant, for electric utilities, on line siting and energy development has given me the opportunity to meet some of these types of folks when purchasing property. Even meeting the quilt makers too. Cool experience.

    With all that said, I love Montana but am just as happy in Idaho. Great people and great terrain.

    • 0 avatar
      cfclark

      I spent a week in Polson, MT, in January, for work. Saw plenty of very nice homes that appeared empty, awaiting the return of occupants once the weather warms up (Polson is on Flathead Lake). Some nice Montana-registered cars are overt tax dodges, and some are the property of people with multiple real addresses, with Montana being the locale with the lowest tax burden. (As a California resident, this is of great interest to me.)

  • avatar
    niky

    So Montana is the Monaco of America? Except you don’t have to live there? Cool!

  • avatar

    A bunch of guys here in Charlotte are doing this. I keep hearing about it at Cars and Coffee, some are doing it to get get around emissions testing rules here in NC too. Damned “not ready” codes…

  • avatar
    mitchw

    There’s something else going on in Montana. You can register a car that wouldn’t be street legal anywhere else in the country. No emissions or crash silly stuff. Same trick. Freeeedommm! through Federalism baby, yeah

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      Hmm, does this include motorcycles? I really want to build a honda XR650R for the street. Plus, being in the Military I end up paying a lot of “Impact Fees” (they will sometimes exempt us from the taxes, but usually make you pay the impact fee the first year) when I move every few years. Might be cheaper in the long run to do this with my 3 cars and bike.

    • 0 avatar
      rustyra24

      I drove my project Celica around for the longest time with no exhaust. It was a death machine. I have seen cars with so much rust they do not have doors. Montana is a great place to have a project car.

  • avatar
    morbo

    Virginia has a bazillion plate combos too. I love having ‘Rutgers University” (state University of NJ) plates with my beloved Scarlet Knight on my Virginia car.

    They have on plate with ‘Children First” on the bottom footer of the plate and a goofy child font for the plate letters. Someone got that plate personalized wiht “EAT THE’ above ‘Children First”.

    Class 1 trolling of Virginia before they took his plates away.

  • avatar
    gpolak

    There’s another good reason to register your car out of state: if your state requires a front license plate, register in a “rear-only” one. There’s no way I’d be drilling the front of my Aventador to stick an ugly hunk of steel on the nose. Some don’t care, but if I had an exotic I’d jump through hoops to avoid that crime against design.

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      Or you could just pay the fines for lacking a front plate. It’s better to be chased by the cops then the taxman you know.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      I’ve always just dealt with the no-front-plate. It’s a fix-it ticket in CA if someone cites you (has never happened). If you park on public streets, sometimes you will get an add-on for no plate if you let the meter expire, but that only happened once.

    • 0 avatar
      mypoint02

      WI is a front license plate required state, but over 20 years I’ve only been stopped for it once. It was after midnight when I was 19, so I’m sure the cop was trolling to see if I’d been drinking. Got off with a 10 day repair ticket and that was the end of it. Even when I’ve gotten speeding tickets they’ve never said anything about it. Obviously very loosely enforced.

      WI wouldn’t be a bad place to register an expensive car either. Annual registration is a flat $75, no annual property tax or variable charge based on the car’s value, no safety inspections, and if you get outside of Metro Milwaukee no emissions testing. Unlike other places (such as IL), there are no city stickers. We do have a 5.0-5.6% sales tax, but you wouldn’t have to pay it if you transferred the title from another state.

  • avatar
    imag

    You. I like you. Another great article.

  • avatar
    gessvt

    At the risk of sounding like a spambot: this article was highly informative, interesting and entertaining to read.

    Once it thaws out, I’m going to lurk around the neighborhood in search of Montana plates. Just so I can nudge nudge, wink wink at the owner.

  • avatar
    Fenian

    My grandparents’ RV and tow-behind Jeep were both registered in Montana for the same reason. I never knew how prevalent that scheme was.

    Living in Missouri, we have a yearly personal property tax on things like automobiles, planes, boats, etc, but over the river in Illinois they don’t. There are plenty of people who live in Missouri, but register their cars at a relative’s address, a business, wherever, to avoid yearly taxes.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Delaware has number plates that can be expensive. 2 digit tags can be transferred and are usually sold. A tag 75000 to as much as 1000 dollars for a tag around 10000. It all depends on what people are willing to pay.
    More info:
    http://www.aaroads.com/delaware/license_plates.htm

    I’ve got a low number motorcycle tag and these are becoming scarce. I could get a few hundred for mine, I think I’ll give it to my kid someday instead.

  • avatar
    Monty

    #firstworldproblems

    That’s all I got.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Delaware has number plates that can be expensive. 2 digit tags can be transferred and are usually sold. A tag below 100 can cost 50G or more. Tag number 6 was auctioned off for 600K recently. Number 57 went for 75 grand in a charity auction that came with a 57 T bird. Certain numbers can be very desirable, like 123, 77 and 69.

    The governor, Lt Gov, and Sec of State have 1,2 and 3. Number 4 is the lowest number that a taxpayer can have. Most tags are handed down through family, granddad got a tag in the 20’s and it ends up on a car worth less than the tag is. Tags are frequently listed in the paper for sale, you can get a 5 digit tag for anywhere from 100 dollars for numbers around 75000 to as much as 1000 dollars for a tag around 10000. It all depends on what people are willing to pay.
    More info:
    http://www.aaroads.com/delaware/license_plates.htm

    I’ve got a low number motorcycle tag and these are becoming scarce. I could get a few hundred for mine, I think I’ll give it to my kid someday instead.

    • 0 avatar
      silverkris

      In Hong Kong they auction off plates with lucky numbers. For example, things with 8’s are lucky – the number 8 sounds like the word for prosperity. For example, “168” sounds like on the road to wealth.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      I cannot imagine spending even one dime on something like this. Just goes to show you, some people will buy anything to impress someone.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      Not just any five digit plate. Specifically you want plate 86999 or lower, because that is the highest number originally issued on a black porcelain base prior to 1942, and therfore can be displayed in that format today.

  • avatar
    raded

    I live in Oregon and honestly had no idea that registration costs varied based on the price of the car in other states.

    I think I paid $120 to re-register my 2002 Saturn L200 and the same $120 to register my 2012 Mazda3. Unless you count gas tax, I don’t have to pay any taxes on my Mazda again until 2016.

    Too bad the state doesn’t let us pump our own gas.

    • 0 avatar
      James2

      re: pumping gas in Oregon

      I was visiting my uncle in Eugene and went to fill up the rental. Damn near gave the attendant a heart attack when I went to fill up on my own.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        I’ve done it in Jersey when the attendant was being slow/lazy and I needed to get going. :)

        I can’t believe Oregonians were so stupid as to vote in full-service gas, but it shows you how many geezers vote and how many young people don’t.

        • 0 avatar
          MeaCulpa

          Coming from an all self service country I LOVE when somebody pumps for me. “Fill’er up!” feels like something out of the golden age of cinema, well at least when I get past the chock of a guy appearing by the side window all of a sudden.

      • 0 avatar
        CobraJet

        Same with me. I had just finished filling up my rental car at a little country store near Mt. Hood when this lady came rushing out. She scolded me and said I was not supposed to do that. I said I never heard of such and back in Tennessee where I am from, I have not seen a gas station attendant in 40 years!

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Maine is fun. You get to pay a % of MSRP every year as excise tax. Doesn’t matter what the car is worth, only what it cost new. So a beater Mercedes worth $500 might cost $300/yr, while a $500 beater Corolla costs <$100. Starts at 2.4% of MSRP the first year, declines over time to, IIRC, .7%. Then stays there forever. So if I am doing my sums correctly, a 7yo Veyron will cost better than $11K a year to register.

      We can pump our own gas though. But wierdly, nearly all the stations in my city are full service. Go figure.

  • avatar
    MeaCulpa

    In some cantons in Switzerland a foreigner can negotiate with the government on the amount of tax to be paid before he moves there.

  • avatar
    markholli

    As always, very entertaining post Doug. Keep ‘em coming.

    When I was a kid I remember my dad registering some of his beaters in Summit County, Utah (Wealthy area that includes Ski resorts and Park City). I always thought it was because he was some kind of hot shot with business connections up in the mountains. Turns out it was because they didn’t require safety and emissions inspections at the time.

    We still have one county in the state that doesn’t require emissions testing, but that will change in the next couple years.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Doug, good stuff.

    Here’s a little known license plate fact to trot out to impress and amaze your friends and family.

    In South Dakota, the first number denotes what community you are from. It’s based on population. For example, the biggest city in the state is Sioux Falls. If you live there, your plate starts with a “1”. If you’re from Rapid City, your plate starts with “2”.

    After that, I have no freakin’ idea. I’m gonna guess “3” is Aberdeen. 4, 5, 6…Mitchell? Brookings? Pierre? You can just make it up because I don’t even think South Dakotans know for sure.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the kind words. Sadly, I already knew about the South Dakota county codes. The “sadly” bit primarily applies to my license plate-ridden life. A few other states do it too (in fact, near you, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming all do).

      By the way, here’s the full list if you’ve ever wanted to know:

      http://15q.net/sdco.html

    • 0 avatar
      cfclark

      Tennessee had the same system for a long time, though it went to adding the county name to the tag about 25 years ago. “1” was Shelby County (Memphis), “2” Davidson, and so on. A fast-growing suburban county would jump several ranks between censuses.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      Alabama still uses county codes on its plates. The first one or two digits of the plate number is the number for the county where the plate was issued. The county code is also on the yearly validation decal so you can tell where vanity and specialty plates were issued.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      Georgia did that by county up until 1970, likewise with the counties ranked by population. Although the county codes no longer appear on the plates, oddly they continue to be used as an internal code by DMV — frozen at the 1960 census population rankings. There is some document you sign when you get tags for a new car that still has the code in the county field — so, for example, mine would say “Chatham – 003″.

      • 0 avatar
        Joe McKinney

        Florida stopped using county codes in the mid-1970’s around the time it stopped issuing annual plates and went to multi-year plates.

        Alabama has a split method for assigning its countie codes. Numbers 1, 2 and 3 are used for the most populous counties – Jefferson, Mobile and Montgomery. After that the counties are assigned numbers in alphabetical order.

  • avatar
    RegistrationPlease

    Great article!

    BTW: “but it’s 63 degrees here in Georgia and I’m writing this on my porch. What say you now, Montanan?” Got that beat by a long way… 83 in Fort Pierce, FL. At 3 in the afternoon. On FEBRUARY 22. Sorry, had to rub it in.

  • avatar
    ablessin

    Fun article. FYI as a MT resident in the know, this may make good sense if you’re buying a Veyron, but doesn’t for everyday cars. We pay a LOT more here than in any other state I’ve lived in, when it comes to annual registration fees. My 2007 Toyota Tacoma still costs me (it goes down over time) $350/year to register with the state. When I lived in VT, the annual fee was $32. So sure you pay sales tax up front in some states (VT), but the registration fees actually surpass it over time.

    In this case, a $30K truck would cost you $1800 in sales tax in VT (I believe 6%), and then $32/year to register. If you own the truck for 6 years in VT that would be a total of $1992 over the 6 years.

    In MT, you would pay no sales tax, but then $350/year for those 6 years, or $2100 which is more money in the long run.

    Obviously the more expensive the car the longer the break-even, but for most of us, it’s just whether you pay it up front, or down the road.

    Of course I added insult to injury, because I paid the sales tax in VT, and a year later moved and started paying the big registration fees. Ouch!!! :)

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      In CA you pay both, high sales tax on purchase, new or used, and high annual fees, that include personal property tax and a weight fee on trucks. A 2007 Tacoma costs a similar amount annually here, but you already paid 9% or more (depending on city or county) sales tax.

      Im sure a lot of folks in counties bordering Oregon have cars and trucks registered to an Oregon address.

      Ron Tonkin in Portland has been selling a lot of exotics for decades. No sales tax and low plate fees have to play a role in his success.

    • 0 avatar
      rustyra24

      After ten years you can buy a permanent tag. It only saves you money if you plan on keeping the vehicle for a long time though.

  • avatar
    roadscholar

    Loved it. Keep ‘em coming.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    When I lived in Florida, the license plates always had the county you registered the car in stamped on it. Seemed an expensive option. Never understood why they did it.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Florida also has a HUGE assortment of plates (120 of them!) take a look: http://www.flhsmv.gov/html/tagbrochure.pdf What ticks me off are the various politically motivated plates.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      Question on Florida plates…I grew up there and knew about the county bit, but I often see “Sunshine State” in the county spot on cars, mainly when I am not in Florida. Is this a rental car thing for Florida?

      • 0 avatar
        Lt.BrunoStachel

        Florida rental cars all use, what is called the state plate with the Sunshine State motto on the bottom. They all expire in the month of June. If the car is a year old or newer and you see a number six on the expiration tag for the month, than it’s a safe bet that the car is a rental. Corporation owned cars can either have a 6 or 12 for the month. Everything else expires on your birthday. Which is a PITA if you own more than a couple of cars,trucks,RVs,motorcycles,etc.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        You can choose your county or Sunshine State when you get a plate, no extra charge. Anyone can get them. And yes, we have more specialty plates than any other state, most of them are pretty cheap too. I am getting the new Endless Summer plate when my car is up for renewal this year; the colors will look perfect with my black car.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I know of a person that has a Montana plate on their exotic.

  • avatar
    prndlol

    I’ve got the Cannonball Runz.

  • avatar
    7402

    In Fairfax County, Virginia, vehicle owners pay an annual property tax based on the value of the vehicle. The owner must pay the tax if the vehicle is “garaged” in the county. “Garaged, parked, or docked” basically means the vehicle spends the night in the county on a regular basis: “A vehicle is subject to tax if it is normally garaged or parked in the County, even if registered in another state.” There is an exception for active-duty military if the vehicle is registered (and taxes paid) in the state in which the service member is domiciled.

    There are plenty of cars in Fairfax County that are registered in other states, including Montana, and I see them often enough to know they are “garaged” in the county. I even see them in the Kiss & Ride lanes at schools and parked in high school parking lots. I’m waiting for the county to task school resource officers (cops) to put two-and-two together so the county can either charge those folks back-taxes on their vehicles or withhold their kids’ transcripts and graduation until the parents cough up the tuition to the school district.

    The current rate is $4.57 for each $100 of assessed value. That’s about 77k for the year you buy that Veyron and the same percentage on its assessed value every single year thereafter.

    • 0 avatar
      GS650G

      Or maybe VA could pay for roads through gas taxes, vehicle weight and other actual values instead of basing the rates on what a vehicle costs or is worth. The system isn’t based on real cost recovery, it’s more social justice in action.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        sigh… and to use the trite “when hell freezes over” if anything Va will keep its property taxes and add a few more, they are currently eyeing a jump from a 5 to 6% sales tax in addition to the current property taxes. Probably to hire more state police and reduce the speed at which reckless driving occurs to anything slightly above walking speed.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          That, but VA does have a lot more roads than most other states to pay for. The personal property tax thing made more sense back the 1920s when it was mostly farm equipment.

      • 0 avatar
        monomille

        The problem in VA is that the dense population and road needs are in the north (Fairfax/Arlington counties and surroundings) and the political power and interests are all over the states – the State legislature spreads the road maintenance money all over the state shorting northern VA needs. Doesn’t help at all that the politics are very different in the two areas.

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    Must be a new thing with MA plates. I used to reregister my Miatas after every year around same time (April-May) and I’m pretty sure the last numbers were not 4 and 5. Only the last set of plates does conform to this algorithm.

    • 0 avatar

      It corresponds to every single Mass plate (except for vanity and commercial, which are Nov and Dec) – I swear! Even the ol’ green ones, which don’t have dates stamped in the corner.

      Some examples:

      http://www.plateshack.com/y2k/Massachusetts2/ma2012.jpg
      http://www.plateshack.com/y2k/Massachusetts2/ma2007redsox.jpg
      http://www.plateshack.com/y2k/Massachusetts/ma2003sept.jpg

  • avatar
    mkirk

    I hope to live in Montana one day.

    • 0 avatar
      markholli

      Hunt for the Red October reference?

      “I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck… maybe even a “recreational vehicle.” And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?”

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      “…and marry a round American woman, and raise rabbits.”

      Darn, markholli, you beat me to it.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    @Doug: Those of us with a Beautiful Mind notice things like this. My wife is concerned about my license plate observations.

    BTW, legally evading taxes is not immoral, but turning in your neighbors for doing so is.

    • 0 avatar
      silverkris

      Ohhhh, I am also such a geek in noticing license tag patterns – particularly internationally, to denote the region/place of registration.

      In France, until recently, cars with the 75 suffix meant Paris registration.

      The way you can tell Singapore tags from Malaysia tags is that the S’pore plates series always end in a letter such as AH 3526 S.

  • avatar
    Yeah_right

    Hmm. The fact that the revenooers are cracking down makes a boy think about clever ways to avoid the lawman. Are the states creaky computer systems connected enough to prevent you from registering your car in two states and then having one of your minions swapping the plates out every three weeks or so? Yeah, yeah, shame on me.

    Thank you, btw, for not going down the easy route of condescention. I get so annoyed with the broader media starting every taxation discussion with the assumption that because you have enough money to buy a supercar, yacht, private jet, or trophy wife that you should kiss a govn’t satrap on his bald head and be eager to pay proportionally more in taxes.

  • avatar
    rustyra24

    I live in Montana and this true. Most people make fun of the amount of different license plates that we have. I usually only put the back plate on my car, I think most states require both.

    We also have no automobile checks which result in having many “death traps” on the road. The best part is that the state does not have emissions so build that car to your content.

    The no speed limit law did not last very long because we lost all federal road funding from what I understand. I did learn that a 95 Ford Taurus shakes like a banshee when going over a 100 mph per hour.

    • 0 avatar
      slyall

      Here in the backward “Garden State” they eliminated safety inspections a couple years back to save money and now in order to get a sticker all you have to do is make sure your check engine light is not illuminated! Imagine how many death traps will begin to be on the crowded roadways here. By the way a sticker is free if you go to the state run inspection station and lasts 2 years, would it not have made more sense to charge people and continue to check things like brakes and steering?

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        We have no inspections in FL, no significant rise in ”death traps” on the road compared to every other state I’ve driven in. inspections have always been a rip off for consumers and a boon for repair shops, all about money not safety. I applaud New Jersey for recognizing that.

        • 0 avatar
          Joe McKinney

          Florida stopped requiring annual safety inspections in 1981. The FHP farmed out these inspections to local repair shops and the results were predictable. Your tailpipe would 1/2 inch to short, your headlights were not properly alligned, or whatever, but the shop could always fix this for you for a small fee.

        • 0 avatar
          mnm4ever

          I have never had to deal with inspections in Florida, that was before my time. I had to deal with them in other states though. And all of them were the same old crap: pointless inspections, wasting incredible amounts of time and resources, and solving nothing. My point is, living in a state that has no inspections since 1981, I see no discernible difference in the amount of junk cars and “death traps” on the road compared to any other state I have been in that DOES have inspections.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            I have to differ on this one. I travel for a living, all over the country. It is immediately apparent to me what states have safety inspections vs. what states don’t, ESPECIALLY in places that have actual seasons. I have seen some serious rusted out deathtraps on the road in the upper Midwest. How would you be able to tell by looking if a car in a rust-free place like Florida has no brakes or balljoints ready to come apart??

            I don’t find Maine’s safety inspection requirement particularly onerous – the things you will fail on are things that should be taken care of, and if you strongly disagree with an inspector the State Police will cheerfully referee. I’ve done that once, resolved in my favor. Or you can just take the car somewhere else, the test is cheap. Ultimately the state takes complaints seriously enough that the overwhelming majority of shops are honest.

            Particularly as someone who does most of his own work, I like the idea of someone else giving the car a once over annually. Peace of mind for less than $20.

          • 0 avatar
            Joe McKinney

            I got my license in 1981 and my first car in 1982, so I never had any personal experience with Florida vehicle inspections. I do recall going with my father when he had his vehicles inspected. He always owned nice, late model cars that were well maintained. Regardless, the local inspection station could always find some trivial fault with the vehicle.

            That said, Krhodes1 does have a valid point. I am sure these safety inspections did catch plenty or legitimate problems – burnt out or broken lights, excessively worn tires, worn brake pads, windshield wiper blades, etc. I currently live in Alabama which does not require vehicles to be inspected, and you do see some real heaps on the roads. You do not see as much of this over in Mississippi where they have annual safety inspections.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      Nope, Montana got a speed limit because someone stopped for excessive speed claimed that the Reasonable & Prudent law was based on arbitrary cop discretion. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_limits_in_the_United_States#Reasonable_and_prudent

  • avatar
    jimf42

    Illinois, despite many other problems is car friendly… $100/ car regardless of value for the yearly registration…less for classics with Antique Vehicle (25yr old) plates.

    • 0 avatar
      cfclark

      Of all the transplants in California, Illinoisans seem to keep their out of state plates the longest, probably for this reason. (I figured it was either that or everyone being able to bribe someone back home to send them a sticker without having to fly back.)

    • 0 avatar
      Robstar

      We recently had a guy from the UK office come here & I asked him what he thought of the cars here.

      He told me they were much larger than most in the UK & many wouldn’t pass a safety inspection where he was from.

  • avatar
    Ranger_Bob

    Oregon is, at least to my knowledge, the cheapest place to purchase and register a vehicle. In addition to having no sales tax on the purchase, registration is dirt cheap, plus if you buy a new vehicle, you purchase four years of registration at one time (for something like $180). The catch with registering in Oregon is that your vehicle must pass DEQ every time registration is due (every two years, after the initial four on a new car). There is a way to pass DEQ out of state, but I don’t know how it works. You can skip the trip to DEQ if your registration is in a county that has a local ordnance skipping the requirement. Motorcycles work the same, except they are cheaper, and there isn’t a DEQ requirement.

    In 2006, I purchased a $37,000 F150 in Oregon. My total sales tax was $0, and paid $164 to register/plate it for four years. I looked at purchasing a similar truck in Minnesota a few years ago. Sales tax would have been around $2400 and the first years registration was around $450.

    • 0 avatar
      olddavid

      The DEQ provision is only for the urban counties. At the beach, we have no clean air requirement. Ergo, several of my friends have their project cars registered to my box. In the old days, Idaho would literally number the county specific plates by each purchase. No tags in those days -new plates every year and they were transferable. My Father made a great spectacle one year out of getting in line the night before to register my Mom’s first new car Idaho K 1. I still have the plate. Funny what clicks in a five year old mind.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    Australia had something similar. If you registered your semi truck in South Australia it was few hundred per year with no inspection. The other states bitched about it citing safety issues etc but what they really meant to say was that their annual rego costs were in the thousands per truck and they wanted the money. I still see the trailers regoed in South Australia but not so many trucks these days. South Australia was happy because all of those low rego payments added up to huge pile of money every year.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    You can get pulled over in Cali just for having out of state plates, but you probably won’t unless it’s an exotic, you’re out late at night or otherwise drawing attention to yourself (in a lifted Hummer with your cigarette boat?). That’s even if you have an (Arizona?) front plate, but visit California for more than 20 days and you’re technically considered a resident and subject fines. The DMW and CHP websites don’t clearly state that you’re subject to a traffic stop for out_of_state_plates because tourism is (was) so huge.

    You must have two clearly readable California license plates at all times, and even though there’s a grace period for new vehicles (or ‘used’ from dealers), technically there’s no exceptions. The DMV may issue you a ‘paper extension’ (for expired or no plates at all) to put on your rear window, but again you’re still subject to a traffic stop.

    CVC4000.4

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I see a few vehicles with plates from Rocky Mountain states regularly in my neighborhood in DC. I suspect the motive is not so much tax avoidance, but lying to your insurance company about where your car is garaged and driven. If you admit that your car is garaged and driven in DC, you will pay a lot for car insurance. If you cross the Potomac River and live in the Virginia suburbs, you will pay about 1/3 less, everything else being equal.
    Of course making a false statement on you insurance application is grounds for cancelling your policy. So, if you’ve told Allstate that your car lives in Idaho and you’re in a big wreck in DC with a lot of liability, you just might find yourself uninsured.

    The registration in another state dodge is far more common in expensive yachts, because the financial incentive is so much higher. Rhode Island, for example, apparently has no sales tax on yachts, which is why Sen. John Kerry docks his million dollar plus yacht in Rhode Island, not Massachusetts. Of course there are limits to this strategy. Most states require a waterway use permit for boats in their state’s waters more than 30 days. So, if you close the sale of your yacht onboard, outside of the 3-mile limit (and therefore argue that no sales tax is due), when you tie your boat up at a marina in Annapolis, Maryland, you’d better have your Maryland waterway permit on the side of the hull (which happens to cost the same as the sales tax).

  • avatar
    lmike51b

    Movin’ to Montana soon gonna be a license plate tycoon.

  • avatar

    Just left Montana (Ski Bridger Bowl !)
    Typical Montana car is a battered pickup, followed closely by a dualie. “Cars” tend to be generic Americans or low end Asian models. All coated in dust.

    I’ve driven Bozeman-Billings or Billings-Butte. Cops do enforce the speed limits, sorry, but you can still go fast, assuming any car coming towards you is a cop.

    I didn’t see a single sport or exotic-not saying they don’t exist, but Montana vehicles all work for a living. My BIL pulls two ‘biles with his Tundra, but watching him bounce a third one into the bed is priceless, and typical.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    My first wife hit the jackpot of tickets when she got pulled over for a busted headlight. She had moved in with me and kept her out if state plates. She had forgotten her license so showed the cop a book of checks with my address printed on them as her ID. She got: no NC inspection, no NC registration, no NC license, no NC insurance, and oh yeah the burned out headlight. Luckily they were al, warnings and she scrambled to get them all fixed with it he allowed 72 hours.

    The local cops often stake out the exits to the upscale apartment complexes near major employment centers during weekday morning commute time, trolling for drivers heading out to work with out if state plates.

  • avatar
    JGlanton

    Montana should also have a license plate design called “Tax Cheater”. They could use the Monopoly Tycoon graphic for it.

    California should have a special “Class Warfare” plate. Maybe a cartoon of the regular folks throwing a rich guy into the river and catching the money falling out of his pockets.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    This article is a good argument for standardizing vehicle license fees across the U.S.– or perhaps having a National License Plate for all vehicles, and doing away with state plates.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      A national license plate? That’s another Federal grab of state revenoo! All the Feds will do is spend twice what they collect to feed a huge registration bureaucracy with rules and regulations up the ying-yang (spit)!

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    It’s worth pointing out that many direct car insurance companies require that the vehicle be plated and garaged at one of your residences (in some cases, your primary residence) in order to purchase coverage. This is to avoid several types of rate evasion, which also helps to keep this sort of thing in check at the Average Joe level.

    Of course, if you own a Ferrari you probably don’t buy insurance by picking up the phone when you see a cartoon lizard on TV.


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