‘Beaters’ Cause Multi-State Vintage: Vehicle Crackdown

Back to Driving Force, Summer 2017

By Colby Martin


  The third-generation Ford Mustang, commonly referred to as the “Fox Body,” has become highly desirable with enthusiasts in recent years. With its lightweight construction and powerful drivetrain, the Fox platform allows one to learn the art of performance on a lower budget. This ’88 McLaren edition is already considered a rare collectable.

The qualifications that make an old car or truck worthy of consideration as a “classic” or “historic” are widely debated in the auto enthusiast community. In many states, vehicles that are 25 years old and older are currently eligible to receive a variety of specialty vehicle benefits and accommodations. However, a number of legislatures in recent years have introduced proposals attempting to redefine which vintage rides qualify for specialty registrations. Driving Force readers will recall the topic was previously discussed in the Summer 2015 issue’s cover story, titled “When Is an Old Car Just an Old Car?” These measures are generally targeted at vehicle owners who “abuse” the specialty tag privilege. Offenders are easy to spot, just like the vehicle featured on this issue’s cover—daily drivers, commercial trucks and otherwise poorly maintained autos wearing a specialty tag. Not a pretty picture, is it?

It is no secret that there are instances of abuse of the special registration categories intended for hobby cars and trucks. Many seek lower registration fees for older daily-driver vehicles or attempt to avoid emissions and safety inspections. The SEMA Action Network (SAN) does not represent these abusers. True enthusiasts often feel that the value of these specialty plates is diminished when misrepresented by an unworthy “beater.” However, in seeking to punish the abusers, these bills often unfairly affect and inconvenience owners of legitimate classic vehicles. In fact, state motor-vehicle departments are already authorized by regulation to suspend the registration of any vehicle for use that is inconsistent with the registration requirements.

The number of legislatures targeting the vintage segment of the auto hobby has been on the rise. Last year, Maryland may have finally ended its struggle with historic vehicles after enduring a battle that lasted multiple legislative sessions. With the SAN’s consent, legislation that ultimately made minimal changes to the state’s current historic requirements was signed into law in 2016. The new law only prohibits the use of historic vehicles for employment, transportation to employment or school and for commercial purposes. The bill also subjects historic vehicles of model-year ’86 and later to equipment repair orders for safety equipment that is in disrepair. Earlier this year, harsh and unreasonable legislation was killed in less than 24 hours in Oregon and Arkansas after an onslaught of objections were lodged by vehicle owners in each state. Additional threats in Connecticut and Nevada also appear to have been neutralized for the moment.

  Perhaps not a traditional “classic” yet, models such as this ’86 Jeep Grand Wagoneer may become sought after once appearing in a unique role. A similarly clean example was a staple on the TV show “Breaking Bad.”

Universal solutions to the challenges posed by the specialty tag issue have been difficult to reach. The SAN has been confronted with finding a compromise solution while protecting the interests of genuine car collectors. As legislatures continue seeking an end to misuse, the SAN has opposed an unnecessarily severe approach favored by some lawmakers. Instead, reasonable alternatives have been offered. “We believe that certain proposals will go far in curtailing illegal use of these tags while protecting genuine collectors,” explains SEMA Vice President of Government Affairs Steve McDonald. “For example, states should consider prohibiting the use of specially licensed vehicles in connection with a business or other commercial purpose and require access to a daily-driver vehicle. If state law contains a mileage restriction, a provision can be included to allow owners to self-certify an odometer reading for miles accumulated within state borders.”

Now more than ever, a fair conclusion on the vintage registration topic must be reached. While the issue in Nevada is on hold, its future is still a concern. The bill was withdrawn only after several conversations between its sponsor, SAN staff and members of the collector car hobby. As a result of those talks, the SAN has agreed to host a meeting of stakeholder groups in the state later this year to discuss practical methods by which the law can be applied to better identify and target the abusers. The SAN is seeking further consensus on the issue as they emerge in states around the country and would like your input. Is abuse of the classic, historic or other specialty tag a problem in your state? If so, what factors do you think would solve the problem? Please send your thoughts on the topic via email to SAN@sema.org.