An ounce of sense will save you an impound of grief if you live in Utah but don't have your car registered here.
Today new, tough fines take effect aimed at getting Utah drivers to pony up on Utah vehicle property tax. If you're smart, you'll find the money somewhere and buy a proper state registration.If you've registered your car in Oregon or Idaho to save taxes, beware. If your registration was due in January, but you've dogged it for months, take care.
If caught by the law, the fine for an improper registration has gone from $200 to "a minimum of $1,000." A displeased judge could actually fine you more, Janice Perry Gully of the State Tax Commission says.
"If you're stopped on the road" by law enforcement and don't have proper Utah registration, your car will be impounded until taxes, registration, towing and impound fees are paid, she added.
But if you have broken the state's vehicle property tax law, the good news is: You can quietly go to your local state/county registration station and pay up. Depending on your circumstances, you won't get any additional fine, and you won't go to jail. (Yes, it actually is a Class B misdemeanor to drive an improperly registered car in Utah).
On July 1 the new, tough registration law took effect. But legislators wanted to give a grace period for wayward Utahns to register their cars. So, they said, the tougher fines wouldn't take effect until Oct. 1.
Now, no more Mr. Nice Guy.
Using the state's vehicle insurance detection computer database - operated by private contractor Insure-Rite - state Tax Commission officials are tracking who has taken out insurance on a vehicle that isn't registered in Utah.
The natural conclusion is that the car, truck or motorcycle is registered out of state or not registered at all. Why would you insure a car you're not driving or don't own?
According to Gully, if you've registered your car out of state, you re-register it in Utah without problem - paying only current property taxes and registration fees.
"There is really no way for us to know how long you've been living here" and registering a car improperly out of state, she said.
If you've let your Utah registration lapse - say it was due in January but you only register it now - you pay no fine or back taxes.
But if your Utah registration is more than one year late, your local county assessor could ask you to pay back property taxes on your car. By law, he can ask for four years back taxes. By practice, however, he usually only goes back two calendar years, Gully said.
Since last July, tax officials have sent out letters to those identified as carrying insurance on a vehicle in Utah but not registering that car here. Gully said at this point, no attempt has been made to match those letters with new registrations to see if the letter-writing campaign has been effective.
Gully said it's up to local county assessors and local law enforcement to go beyond the warning letters. All the taxes on vehicles go to local governments, so it is mainly their responsibility to spend money in enforcement. They have access to the non-registered car owner lists, Gully said.
Gully said several years ago one county assessor hired a teenager to ride around some neighborhoods and write down out-of-state license plates on cars parked in driveways. The assessor then checked who owned the home. If the homeowner was taking the allowed primary residence property tax deduction, the assessor called the homeowner to tell him he could either register his car in Utah (as required if you live here) or lose that homeowner deduction worth hundreds of dollars a year. With the new lists, the teenager isn't needed, and county officials could start similar collection programs.
Car owners can find out more about who must register their cars in Utah by accessing the Tax Commission's vehicle registration Internet homepage: www.tax.ex.state.ut.us/pr/RegNow!.htm.