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Motor vehicles in every state must be registered annually with a state’s department of motor vehicles or the equivalent transportation agency.

A vehicle registration plate, aka the license plate, is attached to motor vehicles for identification purposes. But how much one pays each year can vary widely from state to state.

“Why are auto license tabs so high in Minnesota?,” a reader asked Curious Minnesota, our community-driven reporting project. “As Florida residents, we pay $37.50 for each auto. The one left in Minnesota is $400.25.”

States use a variety of methods to calculate registration fees, including a vehicle’s age, weight, value or a flat rate. In Missouri, rates for passenger vehicles are determined by horsepower. In Iowa, drivers pay 40 cents for every 100 pounds a passenger vehicle weighs plus a percentage of the list price of the vehicle, which depends on its age.

In Florida, residents pay a $225 tax the first time they register a vehicle in that state, and a yearly fee based on the vehicle’s weight. The Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ website lists a fee of $32.50 for a vehicle weighing 3,500 pounds or more. It also says the “fees represent the base vehicle tax only. Other statutory fees apply,” which may explain the $5 discrepancy between the listed price and what our reader pays.

Minnesota has a more complicated formula. First a $10 tax is assessed for a passenger vehicle. Then, when a vehicle is registered in the state for the first time, Minnesota charges 1.285% based on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP). That is a recent increase. Vehicles registered before Nov. 16, 2020, are subject to a 1.25% charge, plus the destination charge, according to the Minnesota Driver and Vehicles Services (DVS).

The registration fee is calculated at 100% of the MSRP in the first year, then drops about 10% a year until the vehicle is 11 years old. At that point, the registration fee is $25.

Under the state’s formula, the lowest any vehicle owner could ever pay is $44.25. That includes a registration tax of $10, plus $25 for a vehicle 11 years or older, a $7 filing fee and $2.25 technology fee.

The state’s DVS office uses a system called Polk VINtelligence to obtain vehicle information, including MSRP, said spokeswoman Megan Leonard. DVS asks the dealer that sold the vehicle to provide the MSRP when that information in not available through Polk at the time of registration, Leonard said.

In addition to state fees, motorists may be charged a $10 to $20 wheelage tax, which is money collected by a county or municipality to pay for road construction or transit projects.

In 2019, registrations brought in $725,687,354 according DVS. The money is used to cover projects on more than 200,000 miles of highways, county roads that get state aid and municipal and township roads. 

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