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Jack & Danielle Mayer

Registration, Licensing, and Other Legal Stuff

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This section contains information on registering your HDT, licensing issues, a discussion of triple towing (towing a vehicle behind your 5er), and issues with driving your HDT home after your purchase.

Registration

 

We get the registration question a lot. Here is what we did - it is based on Texas registration, and doing this registration in Livingston where they are familiar with strange RV stuff; however, every state is different.

 

We chose to title the tractor as a motorhome. You can do this in TX if you show that the tractor is self-contained. The following link will show you the "Title and Registration Bulletin #069-02" that explains this registration option to the county tax assessors (registration in TX is done by the county tax folks, not the DMV). Look here: http://www.dot.state.tx.us/vtr/rtb/rtb2002/069%2D02.htm. The advantage of titling as a motorhome is that you are exempt from all CDL requirements (which you can escape other ways, as well), and that in other states, you will be exempt from running through the scales.  Some states require any truck over 8,000 lbs (or other weights) to cross the scales EVEN if you are not commercial. This is the major advantage of motorhome vs. truck in Texas.  Your insurance may be lower as well, but I have no data to support that.

 

Here is the process. 

  • You need a weight ticket for the tractor. Taxes are based on weight, and you also need it prior to inspection. If you are over 14,000 lbs there is also a one-time tax (about $149) on diesel engines. Try real hard to be less than 14K lbs.  I scaled at 14,040 lbs. If I had known about the tax I would have driven the truck enough to drop the fuel load so that I scaled less than 14K lbs. (Note, as of 2006 this tax has been repealed)
  • You need some pics of the tractor. Front and side views, at a minimum. I went armed with all four sides, but they only used the front view. You cannot register without this.
  • You also need pictures of the modifications you have made to the tractor to turn it into a motorhome. I used pics of the bed, the refrigerator, the microwave, and permanent shore power. Along with this you need a written statement of your modifications, and that they are permanent (I hand wrote it on the spot). There was no inspection of any of these items in my case, and I know of no one who has encountered inspections. It is the county tax people who issue the title and registration and they are mainly interested in your $, in my opinion.
  • Now, go to an inspection station and have the truck inspected. You need your weight ticket, and proof of insurance. It took 5 minutes and $12 in Livingston, but I have heard of other TX inspections that ended up requiring DOT inspections. I recently had my truck inspected in Kilgore, TX and they actually did a real inspection, including a brake test. Go to Livingston and you potentially avoid this.
  • Finally, go to the tax office and do the title/registration. They require all the things above to be done before they will process you. Come prepared with insurance papers, your pics and written statement on modifications, weight ticket, inspection papers and some proof of what you paid for the truck. If you run into resistance on the motorhome registration, ask them to call Austin, TX and check on it. It should not be a problem.

 

The entire process - taking the pics, getting them developed at Wal-Mart, scaling the truck, inspection, and registration took me less than 2 hours in Livingston.

 

The LLC Option

 

One registration option when buying an HDT (or an RV or other auto) is to establish a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) in Montana, transfer title of the vehicles to the LLC and register the vehicles through it. This will allow you to escape all sales taxes on the vehicles, and also provides you some liability protection. It is a perfectly legal method to avoid taxes.  You may maintain residence in your state of choice, however, there are some limitations to this.

 

This method seems best suited to full time RVers, since each state has limitations on how long an out of state vehicle can remain in-state before having to be re-registered in your state of residence. In the case of Texas (a popular residence for full timers) it is 30 days. If you inquire about setting up an LLC in Montana, the law firm you contact will forward you the laws covering your state of residence.

 

Some additional advantages to the LLC route:

 

  • The trailer can have lifetime registration.
  • An HDT can be titled/registered as a motorhome, and can also have lifetime plates after a certain age.
  • Insurance may be cheaper than your current state.
  • You can use the LLC to shelter other assets, if desired.

Disadvantages include:

  • It costs a fair amount to establish the LLC, and there is a yearly maintenance fee.
  • You are limited as to how long you can stay in your state of residence (if it is not Montana).
  • To terminate the LLC you have to file additional paperwork.
  • It may limit your financing options.
  • It may complicate taking the vehicle into Canada or Mexico.

 

A typical LLC setup costs about $1282.50.

$850 Setup cost for Bennett Law
$100 Filling Fee with the State of MT
$152.50. MT MH (Volvo) registration for the year
$180.00 MT Life time Permanent Plates for the 5th Wheel.

To explore this option in detail, contact:

 

BENNETT LAW OFFICE P.C.


John M. Bennett Thaddeus J. Brinkman Alain B. Burrese
Attorneys At Law
135 W. Main Street, Missoula, MT 59802
P.O. Box 7967, Missoula, MT 59807
Tel: 866.543.5803 Fax: 888.543.5804

www.bennettlawofficepc.com

 

Licensing

 

In order to be legal to drive your HDT you may need to upgrade the class of license you hold. It varies wildly by state, but is usually based on the GVWR of the vehicle, or the combination of vehicles when towing.  Some states, such as Washington, don’t require any upgrade of your license, as long as the truck is for personal use. Washington is also an example of a state that does not have an “upgraded” license class. You either have a “regular” license, that entitles you to drive any weight private vehicle, or you have a CDL.

 

Many states have upgraded classes of license, based on the GVWR. I’ll use Texas as an example. In Texas, if the GVWR of the vehicle exceeds 26,000 lbs, or if the GVRW of the vehicle and the trailer together exceed 26,000 lbs (if the trailer is over 10,000 GVWR) then you need a Class A non-CDL license.  This is basically a Class A CDL without the parts pertaining to paperwork (such as logbooks and in-service times). This is true even if the HDT is registered as a motorhome. Note that even a large pickup, like an F450 may require this upgraded license, if used with a heavy trailer. It is based on the GVWR, NOT the actual scaled weights.

 

Some states (only a few) require a true CDL to drive an HDT.

 

Some states, but not all, require an air brake endorsement to your license to drive a vehicle equipped with air brakes.

 

Even if your state does not require an upgraded license for your situation, if it offers one you should study for it and move up to it. Often this will be the case if you title your HDT as a motorhome. Many states do not require an upgaded license to drive a motorhome. So as long as you are not towing a heavy trailer(10,000 lbs in TX, 15,000 lbs in CA; other states may vary) you will be legal to drive your "motorhome" without an upgraded license.  However, as soon as you hook up the heavy trailer you need the class A. The information in the tests is important to know and study if you are driving a large truck. My advice would be to upgrade your license if your state offers that opportunity.

 

There is also the issue of being stopped in another state and the officer not recognizing your license as being valid. This is especially true if you live in one of the few states that allow you to legally drive the HDT with a class C (or passenger vehicle) license. You do not want to be in the situation of having to fight a citation like this. If you do decide to drive your HDT with a “normal” license in other states then I would carry a copy of the appropriate state vehicle code with you. You don’t want to be put “out of service” by an overzealous officer.

 

If you want a good RV driving school, that can also teach you to properly drive your truck, check with Dick Reed. They come highly recommended. It is one-on-one instrucktion.  http://www.rvschool.com/

 

For copies of Texas drivers manuals and CDL study guide, download them from http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/ 

 

 

Getting Your Truck Home

 

Once you buy the truck you need to drive it home. Since the truck is typically registered as a commercial semi-truck the best possible situation is that you have a CDL. The truck remains a commercial truck until you re-register it as a private vehicle. If you can, and your state allows it, register the truck and obtain plates for it before you go to pick it up. Generally, if you have the VIN and a Bill of Sale you can do this. If you can not get it registered to your home state before you get it, make sure that you get a temporary tag from the originating state (dealer/seller)  that allows you to transport the truck. These are generally 30 day temp tags, but they may be shorter duration. If you have temp tags on, then you almost always have to go through the scales. I would not bypass them if I had temp tags. If red-lighted, present your papers and explain what you are doing. Do not offer your license unless required, but do offer insurance papers and bill of sale. The scale personnel are used to dealing with commercial vehicles. If they see a non-CDL they are VERY likely to shut you down. You will then be in the position of trying to get them to change their mind by convincing them you are non-commercial. You don’t want to be in that position.

 

If you are buying from a private party that currently has valid plates on the truck, see if you can drive home on those plates. Make sure you get a letter from the owner of the plates giving you permission to drive the truck. This may keep you from being stopped (since you have good plates on it).

 

Make sure you have a valid license of the proper class for your state. If your state allows driving a +26,000 lb vehicle on a “normal” license, then I would carry that statute with me. If your state allows for an upgraded license then I would try real hard to get that before buying the truck.

 

I drove my truck from Kansas City to Livingston, TX on the seller’s plates. All glad-hands were removed and the valves plugged, so if it became an issue I could point out I could not haul a semi-trailer (a weak argument, but an indication of intent). I had “Private RV Not for Hire” signs on the truck. I bypassed the few scales that were open and did not have an issue. If chased down I would have played dumb and hoped for the best. Probably not the best strategy. In the future, I will pre-register any truck I buy and put my own plates on.  I will have “Private RV Not for Hire” signs on the truck. If you have a properly registered truck (in your name) then you should not have any problems. Personally, I bypass scales and have never been stopped. But that is a personal choice.

triplecropped1web.jpg

Double Towing

 

Towing doubles (also called triple towing) involves towing a car or boat behind your 5th wheel. It is legal in many states, and many people do it. With a MDT or HDT you are probably towing with as safe a tow vehicle as you could have. An HDT certainly has enough power, brakes and stability to handle a double towing situation, where it is legal.

 

The main legal issue involved with double towing is the combined length of the three pieces. Most states allowing double towing have length restrictions on the total length. Some have length restrictions on individual pieces. You need to check the referenced links for particular state restrictions. But in general, length restrictions are rarely enforced, and you can probably tow through most states without any issue. Especially if you stick to interstates. We have only heard of one person being cited for over length. If you are stopped, you are usually told to separate the car, so you should be prepared to do so.  Check the Blue Ox site at  http://www.towingworld.com  for general towing info, products, and towing laws. A summary table of towing laws (related to size) is available at http://www.wecamp2.com/size.html. Towing laws are also available in some of the Road Atlas'.  I'm not advocating towing overlength or towing doubles through states that do not permit it. You have to make your own decisions about those issues. The fact that enforcement is sporatic does not mean that it is legal to exceed length laws, or state towing laws restricting towing doubles.

 

With an HDT and reasonable size 5th wheel you are most likely going to be overlength in the majority of states. Our short wheelbase (182”) truck with our 38’ 5th wheel is almost 60’ when combined. Adding a car and tow hitch easily pushes that to an additional 15’, depending on the vehicle. In our case we are 74' 10". Most states have lengths restricted to 70’ to 75’, putting that combination over in many situations. Some argue that if your “home” state allows the length that you are towing then all the states you pass through need to honor that under state reciprocity. That is not true. Each state can enforce its own length restrictions, as well as double laws. You can try that argument alongside the road, but I doubt you will get far. Be prepared to unhook.

 

Another consideration in towing double, knowing you may be overlength in a certain situation, is liability. What would happen if you were involved in an accident? Would your liability increase because you were “illegal”? Would your insurance carrier deny a claim because you are "illegal"? It is something worth considering in deciding if you want to double tow.

 

There are many people – probably thousands – who have double towed all across the country for years without a problem. From a technology perspective, double towing with an HDT is safe if your equipment is properly set up. You need to educate yourself on the state towing laws, and watch out for those states that strictly enforce double towing laws.

 

So what do you need to do if you want to double tow? Here is what I would recommend. These are stricly my opinions - take them for what they are worth.

 

  1. First, ensure the vehicle you want to tow is relatively light, and is able to be towed 4-wheels down. Relatively light to me means under 4000 lbs (or right around that).
  2. Make sure your trailer has a hitch that is capable of handling the stress of double towing. It is not just the vehicle hitch weight (which is relatively light) that counts – the effect of the vehicle pushing on the trailer must be accounted for, even when using a braking system on the toad. The typical hitch on a 5th wheel will have to be reinforced. Make sure it is tied into the frame.
  3. Make sure the safety chain hookup points on the trailer are not just part of the hitch assembly. That way if the hitch assembly separates from the trailer, the safety chains will not go with it. This may take a little extra effort, but is worth it for the extra safety. Same thing for the breakaway system.
  4. The tow hitch system you select is really a personal choice. Setups vary on ease of hookup and visibility of baseplate. Just make sure there is a good breakaway system. Personally, I think any of the good “no-bind” systems that store the tow hitch on the trailer are the way to go.  
  5. Make sure that the height of the hitch on the trailer is no more than 4" higher than the hookup point on the towed vehicle. The closer you can exactly match them the better. The towed vehicle hookup point cannot be higher than the trailer hookup point.
  6. Make sure you have a brake system on the car. This is not optional, despite what you might hear about motorhomes towing cars without them. In a double towing situation if you brake hard on a slippery road the forces of the car pushing on the trailer will likely cause a jackknife. I want the brake system to have a good application monitor in the truck. That way I know if the brakes on the car are being applied, or if they are dragging.
  7. Personally, I want a camera on the back of the trailer. Without it, you have no idea what is going on back there.
  8. A tire monitoring system is a requirement, in my view. There is no way for you to see if a tire is flat, or probably even to hear a blowout. The rig is just too far away. For most tire monitoring systems to work you will need an external antenna on the truck.

 

Driving doubles is not really much different than normal towing. The car will track within the trailer tracks, so corners are not really an issue. Of course, there is no chance of backing up, so you better be sure of your clearances when turning. You do have to allow additional stopping space, so I would increase my following distances. Normally, I allow a four second interval between me and the vehicle in front. A 50% increase to 6 seconds, where possible, is a good idea.

 

You need to be cautious in bad conditions. In heavy wind if the trailer were to whip at all, the car would be affected at a greater rate. In any slippery road condition I would consider breaking the double and driving the car separate. Especially in snow or ice, your chances of getting into a jackknife situation increase with the double tow.
 
The equipment we are using is: Blue Ox Aventa II tow bar (10K lbs rating), Blue Ox Toadstop II brake system (this is a "live pedal" system), an X10 color camera on the 5er, and some additional tire monitors on the Jeep (with an external antenna on the truck). We reinforced the trailer hitch with heavy steel plate - it is definately not coming off!

The map below shows the states that allow towing of doubles. If the state has a number in it, it allows doubles, and the number indicates the overall length. States with "NO" in them, or states with no numbers in them do not allow towing of doubles. Click on the map to expand it.

States that allow "triple" towing
tripletowinglaws.jpg