Why million-dollar cars have Montana plates
By Ed Kemmick
I wrote last year about how people from all over the country were licensing their pricey RVs in Montana, to avoid paying the sales tax in their home states.
Well, a writer for Autotrader.com says the owners of high-priced exotic cars are doing the same thing. Here’s how Doug DeMuro starts the article:
“I recently attended Monterey Car Week, which is this wonderful automotive event that brings together car enthusiasts from all over the world and exotic cars from all over Montana.
“I say this because virtually every high-dollar exotic car you see during Monterey Car Week has a Montana license plate. LaFerrari? Montana license plate. Porsche 959? Montana license plate. After a while, you start to wonder if maybe next year they should scrap the whole Monterey Car Week thing and simply hold the event in Helena just to make it easier on everyone.”
And here’s the why:
“Walk into a DMV in California to register your new $1.5-million McLaren P1, and you’ll pay something like $120,000 … for a license plate. That’s like $17,000 per letter or number. It’s $10,000 per inch of license plate. …
“On the other end of the spectrum, you have Montana. Rural, comfortable, relaxed Montana, where there’s no sales tax, and registering that very same McLaren P1 costs you something like $200 in registration fees. This cost difference—for those of you without handy access to a calculator—is roughly $119,800.”
He goes on to explain, as I did in my story last year, that Montana is also attractive because you don’t have to register your vehicle in person, and because all sorts of businesses exist solely to help the owners of high-dollar vehicles and RVs avoid sales taxes.
And here’s another curious fact: In the photos accompanying the article, you can see county numbers on just two plates, and they’re both registered in Granite County (46), the county seat of which is Philipsburg. Does P-Burg offer even better deals, somehow?
The only wrinkle, of course, is that it’s illegal to register your vehicle in one state and actually reside in and drive your vehicle in another. But it’s clearly worth the risk for a lot of people.
The story has a fine ending as well. After warning tax cheats to be careful, DeMuro adds:
“Unless, of course, you actually live in Montana with your LaFerrari. Then your license plates will blend right in. Your car, however, may raise a few eyebrows.”
I’m afraid he’s probably right about that.
Ed Kemmick has been a newspaper reporter, editor and columnist since 1980 and is the founder of Last Best News in Billings.