Closing the Antique Vehicle “Loophole”

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One way to save a lot of money – and avoid a lot of hassle – is to opt out of paying the annual “registration” fees the governments of most states extort from car owners – and skip the annual “safety” and “emissions” inspections that many states require on top of that. Plus the payment of the fees on top of that.

You can do it legally, too.

But there’s a catch.

Your car must generally be 25 years old or more – at which point it qualifies (in most states) for Antique Vehicle registration, which in most states is permanent – no annual “renewal” extortion – and becomes exempt from both “safety” and “emissions” inspections/extortion.

The savings can be considerable. The gladness arising from avoiding the extortion even more so. Anytime you can get the sticky fingers of government out of your pocket – and its bayonet out of your backside – it is a happy day.

Or happy decades.

My 1976 Trans-Am as been exempt from serial extortion about 20 years now. The Antique tags it wears have kept nearly $800 in my pocket just from not having to send the government roughly $40 every year for the past 20 years in extorted “exchange” for a set of ugly month/year stickers such as I’m obliged to “buy” for my not-antique (yet) truck.

Not having to spend another $15 every year to have my car’s “safety” approved has saved me another $300 thus far – as well as saved me the time I would have wasted driving to get it inspected and the angst of having to let some stranger manhandle my car with his greasy fingers and lug nut-rounding air gun.

There is also one other thing, which is not a small thing.

In my state, there is another annual extortion applied to all registered vehicles. It is styled – honestly, at least – the property tax on motor vehicles. You are compelled to pay a sum to the government each year as the condition of being allowed to possess the vehicle, which the government actually owns as a material fact since you will never stop paying the government as the price of being allowed to hold onto it. Which holding-onto-it ends when you stop paying the government.

At which point, who owns what becomes more clear. As with the ownership state of the home you’re allowed to live in  . . . so long as you pay the government for the privilege.

Anyhow, the “car tax” – as it’s informally known – is assessed each year and based on the average retail value of the vehicle. Even for an old (but not yet Antique) vehicle like my ’02 pick-up, the tax is still close to $100 annually. Tack that on to the cost of owning a not-Antique vehicle.

But that tax is not collected on Antique-tagged vehicles. Put another $2,000 – at least, based on what I have paid thus far in taxes on my ’02 truck – back in your pocket.

Not surprisingly, many owners of old-enough vehicles are getting the Antique tags – and saving a bunch of money. Which is possible because new cars now commonly last 25 years and longer.

Naturally, the government is not happy about that.

When my ’76 was new, 25 years was a long time for a new car to last. Very few did. For that reason, government didn’t care much about the small handful of survivors, most of them garage-kept and rarely driven cars with some historic value, such as my Trans-Am. The government figured – rightly – that cars of its type were largely for show and not used (primarily) to evade.

And so they were “loopholed” – and let alone.

Fast forward 45 years, from ’76 to now.

People are getting Antique tags for their 25-year-old daily drivers, many of which are only historic by dint of being old. My ’02 Nissan Frontier pickup is only six years away from meeting the age minimum to qualify for Antique tags – and I will surely take advantage of that, so as to reduce the sum of money taken from me by the government and so as to have to deal with the government less.

Assuming I can.

The age minimum to qualify for Antique tags will likely be raised – in order to “disqualify” most modern cars by laying down an age minimum even they will have trouble attaining.

This would of course not have much effect on most currently-qualified Antiques, like my ’76 Pontiac – which is not far from being eligible for Social Security. But it would preclude my ’02 Nissan from qualifying – so as to keep the cash flowing.

And what would the effect be of property taxes applied to Antique cars of historic value that are not merely old? How long before government casts its eyes in that direction?

There is a lot of your money at stake – if you own an Antique car.

A ’96 Neon with a book value of $800 isn’t going to bring in much cash. But how about a well-preserved or restored ’76 Trans-Am? Or a ’66 GTO?


As government goes broke – having spent all of our money – it will inevitably seek more of it. Probably by making it much more difficult for a car to qualify for Antique tags. Perhaps by shoving a bayonet in the back of Antique car owners, to make them pony up.

It was fun while it lasted.

.  .  .

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  1. Here in Hogan’s Socialist Republic of Maryland, you can get “historical” tags but (IIRC) you still have to renew every couple years BUT you’re not allowed to drive such vehicles to work/school (i.e., cannot be used as daily drivers). I get some people get away with doing so anyway (and good for them) but it could lead to trouble with AGWs in the sense of compounding charges.

    For example, say you were driving your historic vehicle to work and going faster than the local AGW is happy about. The AGW pulls you over and starts in with the traps, “License, registration, proof of insurance, and do you know why I’m stopping you? Where you headed?”

    If you’re gonna “bend the truth”, you better keep your story straight, have plausible deniability, not look like you’re headed to work/school, and not look/smell in any way that would cause the AGW to escalate the situation!

    I have an ’02 that I’m hoping to keep until ’27. But it would absolutely have to be my spare/fallback car as it currently *is* today! (i.e., that would mean if/when my good car was in the shop, I need to drive the spare to work) I’m a pretty good straight-story keeping kind of guy but I’m not sure if it’s worth the risk.

    And we don’t have yearly inspections nor vehicle property tax. Just registration fees which are somehow not tax deductible.

    • Hi Eure,

      Yup. Much depends on how low you can fly under the radar. Out here in The Woods, it’s easier than it would be in, say, Northern Virginia. I try to make use of all the tools available to me and recommend everyone else do the same!

  2. Eric – it’s true that the “antique” exemption was a great loophole, as you pointed out how few cars were kept going to the 25-year minimum, and the survivors were usually relegated to very limited use. It’s also true that primarily due to competition that vehicles, particularly in their engines, have been made more durable (mainly to survive the longer warranties offered), a by-product of attempting lower emissions levels also. Not necessarily a bad thing. What truly dooms most vehicles is that they’ve also gotten more COMPLEX, and often require special equipment which only a well-heeled shop can afford, IF the manufacturer releases the applicable information and software outside its dealer network at all. In all too many cases, there’s some manner of catastrophic electrical failure which renders the vehicle unrepairable, either b/c the repair info and/or parts are “Unobtainium”, or simply cost-prohibitive relative to the vehicle’s worth. Which also helps the “survivors”…there’s a lot of perfectly useable engines and transaxles going to the boneyard, so if you’re otherwise viable ride is developing a rod knock or using too much oil, well, a swap for a used engine is often the ticket, especially if you can do it over a few weekends yourself!

    As you pointed out, money-hungry state governments haven’t been asleep at the switch. As far as they are concerned, the age is irrelevant, it’s USE of the vehicle that they want to tax, as a “user fee”. Which, ordinarily, is fine, but that’s only the beginning. Typically, fuel taxes have taken care of this consideration, as the more miles you drive, obviously the more fuel your ride will consume, and if you drive a larger, heavier car or truck, it’ll drink that much more, to “compensate” for the supposed increased wear and tear on the highways. Again, all fine. But here in CA, for example, the legislature couldn’t and wouldn’t keep its mitts off the fuel taxes, which were designated for the highways and roads, and we Californicators got crappier, ill-maintained highways as a result. Never mind all their “pie-in-the-sky” schemes for “mass transit!” So, in ADDITION to these already high taxes (The once-“Golden” State’s fuel taxes are the highest in the nation), we get proposals for additional taxes via mileage charges, and so on.

    And then their’s CARB – California Air Resources Board. Kinda ironic acronym, right? California once did have a “rolling 30” policy, where, once your ride was 30 years old, it was exempt from smog. During the early part of “Moonbeam’s” second round of mis-governance, that was changed to affix the smog requirements to 1976 and newer, which coincides with when the catalytic converters were widely in use. So, please do keep in mind that even if you know how to diagnose, say, a 1978 Plymouth Gran Fury with the 360 “Lean Burn”, if one of the sensors or that early “brain” they had (in the AIR CLEANER, of all places) craps out, you may be out of luck! I can’t believe that this wasn’t planned as a subtle way to force older vehicles off the roads, simply b/c the state and local governments want to encourage turnaround with cars, which generates sales taxes and higher registration fees.

    Which leads me to conclude than in retirement, I’ve gotta not only get the hell outta California, but also find a quite RURAL county, one which, preferably, has NO smog requirements. Typically, but not always, the local PTB are more than happy to have your pension monies be spent there, and won’t hassle you with bureaucratic obstrufucation.

    • Hey Cousin Dougie,
      It wasn’t Moonbeam that changed the smog law, it was Arnold.

      • Morning, William!

        I used to admire Arnold; I still respect his achievements as a bodybuilder/actor. But his actions in politics lead me to regard him as an opportunist with some ugly tendencies, like most politicians.

        • He was a big phony, starting with the fact that he married into the Democrat royal family, then claimed to be a Republican. Got away with it, I believe, because of Reagan’s precedent (hey, he’s an actor, too! Can’t be all that bad!)

          I know, D v R is largely a distinction without a difference, but it mattered more then.

          • Hi Anon,

            I agree. I began to suspect him after listening to a few interviews; his answers struck me as very contrived. Not genuine. Just like any other grifter on the make. What depressed me most about this is the guy was a genuine success on his merits and had so much FU money he was in a position few ever achieve to say what he really thought – like it or not – without having to sweat the mere mortal consequences most of us must sweat.

            That he did not do so tells me that what matters most to him is “winning” – whatever it takes. Whoever it hurts. So long as it’s not himself.

            • Agree with all of your points. The irony for me also is that because of his place of birth, he literally is without excuse in embracing tyranny and thumbing his nose at all that his adopted country provided for his taking.

            • eric, I agree totally with you. I had a bit of hope he’d make some positive changes but 6 months into it it became obvious he was just passing on talking points he was being fed and had no real original ideas and simply let things go on and not necessarily make it worse but never made it better.

              It wasn’t long before I was changing channels when he’d speak. It’s easy when you know basically what somebody is going to say.

  3. more and more cars classifying as antique, either it shows how much better cars are getting, or how much poorer people in the west are getting. I mean as a child in the US I remember the oldest car my parents would have was around 6 years (usually held from the 2year old to 6 year old age as they never like the new car premium, but as we drove a lot and dad got very busy never had time to maintain older cars)…. now people are considering 25 year old cars as daily drivers goes to show something….

    • Hi Nasir,

      It’s both. Cars are much more durable than they were in the past – at least, in terms of how long they last before they begin to need major repairs. This is commonly 12-15 years. Which is about five years longer than was typical back in the ’70s and ’80s. Hence, people tend to hold on to them longer. But they also do so because of the money they put into them – the much higher cost – on average – of new cars. It takes longer to amortize that. And many cannot afford to buy another new car. So they keep on driving what they’ve got, for as long as they can.

      • And, in a lot of cases, the new vehicles aren’t necessarily any better-looking, and some of the particular vehicles classes have been DISCONTINUED. Just try to find a domestic compact, or even a minivan, which once were ubiquitous around any schoolhouse and probably saved Chrysler from going under back in the ’80s. In the case of trucks…there’s only such much one can do, yes, likely the “quad cab” is the biggest overall improvement for finding the happy medium between family ride and hauler of goat manure, but again, many extended and crew cabs pickups have been out there for the past forty years. There’s just not much about a truck, primarily intended for UTILITY, that’s changed in sixty years or so, so why the hell should anyone spend a minimum of 45K for a decent pickup, and that’s not even in the “Cowboy Cadillac” class, when even a complete engine and drivetrain rebuild will keep that old truck going for years to come?

    • Most cars used to be completely falling apart before they were 10 years old, unless extreme measures were taken. And rusted to pieces too, unless they were located somewhere arid.

      Now, most are not terribly rusted out, and perfectly serviceable, for about 15-20 years with basic maintenance. I once had a Corolla die on me at 13, but that was more the exception than the rule. Actually the drivetrain was just fine, it was everything else that fell apart (and it had clearly been abused before I got it).

      • Fairly much, most rides will, if properly maintained and not abused by an immature and/or negligent driver, last 10-12 years. Longer if GARAGED, and if they can be kept under cover (parking garage or equivalent) while at work, so much the better, or at least diligent use of a car cover and/or sun shades. At that point, even if the engine and drive train are decent, something can happen to make the vehicle unrepairable outright, as when the parts and/or repair knowledge are “unobtainium”, or cost-prohibitive.

        What can be frustrating is that some years ago, a “shade tree” mechanic, could, in the course of a few weekends, with a few pizzas and cases of brew for his buddies, install a rebuilt automatic transmission, replace a clutch, or even drop in a remanufactured short block and do some head work, and the car would be good for another 100K miles, with doing things like replacing a bad starter, alternator, shocks, or a master cylinder which again, could be done on a Saturday afternoon. Now, the complexity of modern rides tends to preclude doing what were once simple repairs like that, IF you can get the parts…IF. Never mind that many municipalities and even states are doing their best to outlaw repairing one’s own vehicle at home, for various BS reasons like “Code Enforcement” or “Hazardous Wastes”.

        What one has to do is get something that was very common in its heydey and there’s STILL a large aftermarket to keep them going, and they’re SIMPLE enough to fix…like an old school VW Beetle or a Plymouth Valiant or Chevy II.

  4. In the UK the age to get a tax exemption on cars as “antique” is 40 years. I suspect the US will do something similar soon as you’re right – many of the more simple cars from the 90s / early 2000s can last a long time without issues…

  5. Eric, I wish you would do more “retro reviews” of classic cars. No matter how I try, I just can’t get the least bit excited over any new cars, even the good ones like the TRX you did recently.

  6. A little different than what this article is about but……………
    When I lived in the States a long time ago, I purchased a new car from the Dealer in the city in which I lived. I had some phony paperwork showing I lived out-of-State so I could take delivery of the car without paying Sales Tax. I then Titled and Registered the car in a State without Sales Tax and very low annual vehicle license costs. To insure the car, I had a Driving License from that State. Within days, I Dual Registered the car in another low annual License Plate fee State and made phoney insurance papers to reflect the address I used in that State in case I were stopped. I had another a Driving License issued to me from State in the Mid-West so, if I were stopped, I had the Plate and Insurance from the 2nd State which I said I kept at my 2nd house in that State. If the revenuer wrote me a ticket, it was recorded on my Mid-West license and not my License-of-Record the Insurance Company had in the 1st State. If I had an accident, I always had the documentation from the 1st State with me. Also,
    Had I played by the rules, the Taxes, License Fees and Insurance for the first year would have been over $7000. The way I did it, the cost for Taxes, Title, License Plates in both States and insurance was less than $1200.

  7. Last summer I noticed a friend had a historic plate on his fox body Mustang (his first car, that he bought NEW back in the day as a sophomore in high school). Time flies doesn’t it?

    After I made the joke about getting old fast, he admitted that he would be saving a small bundle by having that plate instead of a regular one. He still drives it pretty often, though it’s no longer a daily driver (and is stored winters now).

    If I had a 25+ year old car, I would probably do that plate too. Though Indiana limits the mileage driven per year, since it’s supposed to be limited to car shows, “testing” purposes etc, so you would have to evade that by not being noticed. One nearby community has lots of cameras, so that city would have to be avoided regularly.

    • “since it’s supposed to be limited to car shows, “testing” purposes etc”

      Really? I test fine carburetor/timing adjustments frequently. Who’s to say wherever you go, whatever you are doing is not “testing”?

  8. I’d really like to do this with my ’94 S10, but I don’t believe Arizona has anything analogous to these antique vehicle loopholes.

    • > I don’t believe Arizona has anything analogous to these antique vehicle loopholes

      My parents lived in Phoenix for a bit in the previous decade. Dad’s ’73 Cutlass (his first new car, purchased when I was 18 months old) qualified. Arizona’s old-car plate is a copper-plated steel plate with stamped red lettering. IIRC, it was a one-time fee for the plate, though I’m not entirely certain if the plate conferred a smog exemption. They’re now in Ohio, and the system there is similar to what Eric describes Virginia as having: one-and-done for the plate, no ongoing inspections or anything. I don’t know if they hit people up for property tax on their cars, though.

      I’m in Las Vegas. Nevada has several different old-car plates with different requirements; I had “classic rod” plates on my ’77 Cutlass Supreme once it was no longer my daily driver. They needed to be renewed every year like any other license plate, but you were smog-exempt if you kept mileage under a certain limit (was 2500 miles, then 5000). Nevada has a fairly steep property tax on newer vehicles (spend $30k on a new car, spend the better part of $400 per year for license plates the first couple of years), but after 10 years it depreciates to some nominal value such that the total cost of registration is about $65 (plus another $20 to get smogged).

      • Hey Scott,

        Yes, I know you can get a “historic vehicle” plate as you describe, but I don’t think it qualifies the vehicle for any special treatment. I think it’s just like the numerous other “specialty” plates we have here.

        My primary issue is avoiding the emissions BS, which is stopping me for using the reasonably fuel-efficient truck as a daily driver. I’m sure, though the emissions systems might not be in exquisite working condition, that it likely puts out less in pollution than my 350, V8-powered Chevy. But what good are facts to these buffoons?

        Also, the vehicle property tax, as you and Eric describe, sound entirely unreasonable. There shouldn’t be a property tax on land or housing either, but that is ubiquitous these days.

        I believe the original phrase was “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Property”. And well, I guess government never stops pursuing your property.

  9. We lived in NY and Florida and were never charged yearly ‘tax’ on our paid for and owned vehicles, so I was floored when I saw the fee for ‘property tax’ on our registrations here in NC. I really find this claim of ownership on MY property very offensive. Then again the having to jump thru hoops every year to maintain our 7 vehicles (two trucks, three motorcycles and two trailers) appalling as well. All year long, renewals and inspections. At least our trucks are big, old and exempt from emissions checks.
    I saw a good deal on a motorcycle I’ve wanted the other day. Got excited for a moment.. Then thaught about another registration, insurace bill and inspection and realized it just isn’t worth it.

      • Yup, except for the goobermints NC and Va are beautiful places to live. Bummer because we live right here where the very first shots (battle) of resistance were fired leading to the war of independence. These men called themselve Regulators, all here in NC. Pretty sad.

      • Might be a good way to have something useless hauled away without needing to pay for it on your own. Just stop paying nc the tax for that specific “property” and let them come and “repossess” it.

        • The only reason it came to my attention is that unregistered cars become an element of your overall annual property tax declaration if stored on your property. I’m guessing that failure to pay the consolidated bill in full on time could lead to liens or sheriff’s sale. Don’t really want to find out, though. Not sure what happens if stored elsewhere. They might be assumed to become someone else’s “property” for tax purposes. I think truly dead junk cars on the lot of a “registered” junkyard type operation are exempt.

      • And NC has the temerity to put “First in Freedom” on the ear tags for cars. Methinks ye dost protest too much. Greed is thy name, GovCo.

    • ‘All year long, renewals and inspections.’ — Bear

      Taxes on personal time are a form of statist corvée, not unlike being press-ganged into the road maintenance crew for a week.

      Serving the state being an exceptionally low priority for me, I got dinged plenty of times for license and inspection ‘offenses’ — once, literally upon exiting the driveway when a passing patrolman spotted that the inspection sticker wasn’t merely last year’s color, but the color from several years ago.

      ‘How did you get away with this for so long?’ he asked in genuine awe.

      ‘I only come out at night,” I deadpanned.

      Some states have dropped mechanical inspections entirely. When a DMV bureaucrat told me I was free — THANK DOG ALMIGHTY, FREE AT LAST — of mechanical inspections, a little tear of joy rolled from the corner of my cynical old eye.

  10. Be sure to read the fine print for your state. In Missouri (quoting the Department of Theft):

    A vehicle that is registered as a historic vehicle may be driven:
    1. To and from exhibitions and educational events without any mileage limitation;
    2. To repair facilities within a 100 mile limit; and
    3. Up to 1,000 miles per year for personal use.
    The owner is responsible for keeping a log of the miles driven for personal use each calendar year. The log must be kept in the vehicle when the vehicle is being driven on any state road.

    My Dodge Cummins pickup is old enough, but the constant threat of having to show my papers would be quite unpleasant. No cop is going to assume I’m on my way to a kindergarten show-and-tell.

    • I concur. Being a resident of Missouri, though I do have a vehicle that would qualify, it appears to me one might as well run without plates rather than spending the money on historical vehicle designation and being Gestapoed over it. I have no idea what difference, if any, there is between the penalty for one or the other.t

      • Yeah, my “historic” diesel transfer tank on the back for the tractor and lawnmower would scream “Check my log!”

      • John, it’s been some years back that Texas came up with a plan where you got an inspection and then tags that were issued only if you presented the inspection. When you buy a vehicle, what you pay for it isn’t a factor, Texas tells you what it’s worth and charges you by that number. They really fuck you when you buy an older vehicle. You have tax on the payment(their price), payment of licensing and payment of inspection. I got to the point I only had pickups and registered them as “farm vehicles” on the tags. It saves some money but you won’t get rich from it.

    • I drive the hell out of my classic car, yet only seem to put a few miles on it every year when the insurance mafia want to know the updated mileage. Strange how that works. Like magic!

      I also have a vintage OK plate that looks cool that I use. I bought it off of the internet from a guy who refurbishes them. I tried to register the plate, but they sent me a letter telling me that I couldn’t use it due to the plate number already being registered. I’ve been driving around with this bogus plate for about 5 years now.

      • Hi Philo,

        Ditto. While I don’t drive my TA that much – weather, you know – I do ride my ’83 Honda Silverwing a lot. I’ve never had an issue with an AGW over the Antique tags. I think the only worry as regards these tags would be if you happen to drive/ride by an AGW – the same AGW – all the time and he takes notice of you.

        The other worry is ALPRs – which take notice of everything.

        • My thought is – they told me the plate is registered (to someone else) – when those ALPRs see me, they simply think I’m someone else.

          I’ve had cops follow me for a bit. I’m assuming they looked “me” up and everything was in order? Who knows… I don’t care. If one of them gives me shit over the plate, I will pretend that I had my “car show” plate on and forgot to put the other one back on. Let them ticket me and I’ll get out of it through the courts if I have to. As long as they don’t try to steal my car, everything will be fine.

  11. I have been considering this for my 96 ranger. It barely passes the emissions inspection because the truck has a constant check engine light on. It maybe moves 1000 miles a year and costs $75 in jersistan to register. Although we don’t pay property taxes on cars i’m assuming st some point soon as the state goes further into insolvency that will change.

    • My 2 vehicles, both 20+ years old now, cost $400 each to register in the state of dictatordaniStan* located in the southeast edge of Australia. These rates are pensioner rates, 50% of the rates paid by the working people. Our historic car regs take effect at 25 years. And you do have to keep a log and show it each year to renew your rego.
      * Formerly known as Victoria until the plandemic of 2020 was brought in by our Federal and State psychopaths.

  12. The only difference between taxes and money paid to an organized crime “protection” racket is that the “protection racket” actually will protect you, as long as you continue to pay the required bill, and they won’t drive you out of business in the process. Tax collectors are clueless that taxing people out of business REDUCES THEIR TAX PROFITS. More like vultures rather than hawks.


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