Darrell Berkheimer: How California gouges truck owners
Today I’m writing to all families who have a pickup truck used as a second personal vehicle; and to all retirees who have pickup trucks. California should be ashamed of its money-gouging registration and tax structure for personal use pickup trucks.
In switching the registration of my truck from Montana to California, I learned that California taxes all pickup trucks with open beds as commercial vehicles — regardless of it’s age or how used.
By itself I think that is a discriminatory injustice. But the real injustice is the commercial weight tax charged when the truck is simply used as a personal vehicle.
I’m retired, 75 years old with an income mostly based on Social Security and some small investments, which provide me with less than $25,000 annual income. And I own a 1996 pickup truck used to pull a camping trailer. It’s a 2-door extended cab with an 8-foot bed.
Obviously, with that income and my age, my pickup is not being used as a commercial vehicle.
I have lived and worked in eight other states; and had pickup trucks registered in five of them. None of those states treated personal use pickup trucks so unjustly with a commercial weight tax, and I have never heard of any other state that does.
For the past 21 months I maintained residency in both California and Montana, and only recently changed my permanent and voting residency to California. So until then my pickup truck was registered in Montana, and had permanent license plates.
In Montana, if you own a vehicle more than 10 years old and pay a lump sum worth three years of registration, you can receive permanent plates and never need to register the vehicle again. In addition, permanent plates are issued for camping trailers.
Before heading to the local DMV office, I was advised to have my truck smog-tested. And I was told I might need to shell out a bundle of dough for that, depending on what my truck might need. Naturally I feared for the worst. With that warning in mind, I actually was somewhat glad to pay only $65 – after my visit into the “Twilight Zone” at the ancient service station of Karl’s Smog and Repair shop on East Main Street in Grass Valley.
Owner Bob Gaede, like me, has that curmudgeon emitting aura, and he displayed his years of experience when he quickly noticed a vacuum leak after the hood was lifted.
I bought my 1996 truck in 2014 from the original owner, who had ordered it with nearly every option available. It looked like it was only a couple years old with only 83,000 miles on it. And it still looks that way now with 95,000 miles on it.
The truck has a smooth running 8-cylinder engine. It’s the big 460 Lincoln engine, which provides plenty of power for pulling a travel trailer – only it has an insatiable appetite for gas. Is it any wonder why I prefer to drive my fiancee’s Honda SUV around town?
So when Bob immediately shined his pen light in a corner behind the engine and announced it had a vacuum leak, I asked, “Is that usually the first thing you check?”
“No,” he replied. He explained his trained ear heard the leak — over the whine of the engine.
I was impressed.
As Bob efficiently fixed the leak, he said it would have caused a smog test failure. He added the truck’s fuel mileage should improve a bit, too. That brought a smile to my face as I paid him.
I also was pre-warned I should expect to pay a hefty registration fee at the DMV office. But with a 21-year-old truck, I thought it surely would not be much more than $100. So my jaw dropped only slightly when I was told $166. But I was about to learn my cost for California registration would total more than twice that amount.
I was told I had to have my truck weighed. I was told the $166 probably was too low and that I likely would need to pay more after my truck was weighed. I was told that way I would not need to wait for a refund if I was charged too much before having it weighed.
I was sent to Hansen Bros. south of town, because I was advised it is the closest place to weigh the truck. After less than two minutes on the scales, I was charged $20.
I was shocked. I recalled paying less when I had my 18-wheeler weighed at truck stops.
I went back to the DMV office expecting to pay another $20 or $30 to complete the registration and get my plates.
But instead, I was told it would be $130 more!
The DMV employee saw my disbelief as I cited the truck’s age, my age and my fixed income. The staff member was apologetic over the state’s commercial policy as I was asked a few questions that might help to tweak the fee a bit lower. And the sympathetic worker did find a way to lower the additional fee to only $99 more.
That meant my California registration costs included $65, $166, $20, plus $99 – for a total of $350. And without the DMV worker’s tweaking assistance, it could have been $381.
In addition, I was advised to expect a $240 or $250 fee next year because of the weight tax.
In Montana, I paid $229 for three years worth of registration to get the permanent plates. That’s just $73 per year. I sure hated to give up those plates.
I have no problem paying for a registration fee each year. But it should decline significantly with a vehicle as old as my truck.
The commercial weight tax, however, is outrageous for a pickup not being used for commercial work. That should be obvious for senior citizen owners living of fixed incomes. And I don’t doubt that some seniors have had to pay even more than I did.
For families, a normal car doesn’t work well for hauling motorcycles, quads, snowmobiles, trailers, or materials needed for home repairs, gardening and hobbies. And borrowing someone’s pickup gets old quickly.
The commercial weight tax is a rip-off of huge proportions for thousands of California families and retirees. The magnitude of the issue becomes apparent when compared with policies in other states.
I repeat: Shame on you California for your money-gouging pickup truck policy.
Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. Contact him at email@example.com.
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