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You Can’t Have Your Cake

Think about the last purchase of your car’s license plates or registration renewal sticker. For most people, it’s as simple as entering credit card information into the Secretary of State’s website and clicking submit. Likely, the hardest decision to make regarding license plates was whether or not to spend the extra cash on a Chicago Cubs specialty plate at the risk of looking like a bandwagon fan. These are the same issues thousands of Illinois vehicle owners face every day. These issues, however, are almost laughable when compared to the process owners of commercial vehicles go through when purchasing registration.

There are many angles an owner of a commercial truck needs to consider before shelling out hard earned cash to Jesse White. How much does the truck weigh empty? How much will it weigh loaded? What kind of special plates does it qualify for?

These are just a few of the many questions which need to be asked before a purchase is made. If these questions aren’t asked and answered appropriately, the monetary consequences can be significant.

In Illinois, the cost of registering a truck can range from $101 to about $3200. While it can be expensive, the logic is easy: the more you pay, the more you can weigh.

This simple rhyme is easy to remember and is relatively accurate when referring to flat weight Illinois truck registration. However, it is not all inclusive as Illinois does offer special types of registration for certain vehicles.

Special plates are typically offered at a significantly reduced cost from flat rate registration plates. The caveat is use restrictions. Restrictions such as the type of equipment which can be carried on the vehicle, the miles traveled annually or the distance traveled from the owner’s registered address.

Owners applying for special registration plates must sign an affirmation statement acknowledging all of the provisions of the special plates and associated fines (and possible revocation of privileges) for violations.

So what is the benefit to purchasing special plates? A huge cost savings to the owner if they are used appropriately. In the case of mileage tax plates (when vehicles are restricted by annual mileage) the cost of an 80,000 pound plate is about half of the cost of a flat weight “Z” truck plate. In the case of a truck registered with farm machine (FM) plates, the cost of an 80,000 pound plate is only $13 every two years!

When vehicles qualify for these types of plates, it is an outstanding deal. But remember, with great deals comes great responsibility.

Reduced rates come with a different type of cost in the form of strict regulation. If any of the restrictions listed on the affirmation statement are violated, the plates are being used unlawfully and the vehicle may be considered unregistered.

In Illinois, any second division vehicle which is operating on a roadway while unregistered is considered overweight on registration from zero pounds. The vehicle can be weighed by a law enforcement officer and fined the amount that would cover the cost of the appropriate registration as listed in 625 ILCS 5/3-815. This means no more special deals or discounts. Only the price of a flat weight plate to cover the weight of the vehicle as it sits on the scale.

Recently, an ITEA officer stopped a vehicle bearing expired special plates. Since the vehicle was considered unregistered, the officer weighed the truck and assessed a fine which would have covered the appropriate registration.

The fine exceeded $2,000. The company argued if they had renewed the specialty plates, the plates would only have cost $270. They further believed the $270 should meet the definition of “appropriate registration”.

While this theory may seem logical, the fact is the company is not entitled to the benefits of the special registration if they have not paid to renew them. Similarly, they would not have been afforded the benefits of those plates if they were valid and it was determined that they were not operating under the guidelines of the affirmation statement. The law is clear – this vehicle falls under the flat weight registration fees in both instances.

The moral of the story is you can’t enjoy the benefits of special plates, if you don’t want to play by the rules set out by the Secretary of State. In other words, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

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