Closing the Antique Vehicle Designation “Loophole”

One way to save money and avoid yearly hassles, is to opt out of paying the annual “registration” fees and skip the annual “safety” and “emissions” inspections that many states require for newer vehicles.

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 with no annual “renewal” and becomes exempt from both “safety” and “emissions” inspections/extortion.

The savings can be considerable.

My 1976 Trans-Am has been exempt from vehicle registration fees and inspection 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 “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 of Virginia, there is another annual fee applied to all registered vehicles. It is styled honestly, at least, the property tax on motor vehicles. You are compelled to pay this tax each year to the state government 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.

At which point, who owns what becomes clearer. 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 so, they were “loopholed” and left 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, to reduce the sum of money paid in fees and taxes for the privilege of ownership.

Assuming I can.

The age minimum to qualify for Antique tags will likely be raised 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 to keep that 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 our state governments continue to have money woes, they will inevitably seek more of it. One way might likely be by making it much more difficult for a car to qualify for antique tags.

It was fun while it lasted.

Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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