What is Car Taxation?

Mary McMahon

Car taxation is the collection of taxes on motor vehicles, usually to fund activities like road maintenance, provision of public transit, and related matters. Many governments assess car taxes, and these can vary in nature, depending on the government and the type of vehicle. These are part of the ownership costs of the car, along with insurance, parking permits, maintenance, and fuel, and should be considered when people are weighing whether they can afford to buy a car.

Insurance, maintenance and car taxation are among the expenses associated with owning a car.
Insurance, maintenance and car taxation are among the expenses associated with owning a car.

Typically, car taxation starts when a driver purchases a vehicle and prepares to register it. The buyer may pay sales tax on the purchase price of the car, and will also have to pay a registration fee, usually based on the value of the vehicle, before she can legally drive it on public roads. Each year afterward, the driver will receive a renewal notification, requiring her to pay the fee again to drive the car for another year. When drivers sell their cars and transfer the title, the new owner is responsible for the tax.

Governments can use other methods for car taxation. In regions with heavy congestion problems, the government may order drivers to pay a congestion tax. If people want to drive on particular roads during peak periods, they will need to pay a fee. The funds go to public transit, with the goal of reducing demand for private cars, and can also pay for services like widening roads to add lanes. In some regions of the world, people will also be subject to car taxation if they bring a car across state, provincial, or national borders, allowing governments to collect fees from travelers to help pay for road upkeep.

Car taxation is usually progressive. Drivers will pay varying amounts, depending on the type of vehicle and the value. Cars and light trucks will be assessed on one rate schedule, while heavy trucks and large equipment will pay a higher rate, based on the increased wear and tear they create, as well as their typical high annual mileage. In some regions, car taxation based on total distance driven is available, and drivers will pay less when they drive less. This acts as an incentive to limit car trips, cutting down on congestion and pollution.

If a driver does not pay the car tax, she will be subject to fines. The government will assess the amount of tax owed, plus interest, which accrues for each month the payment is late. It is important to retain documentation proving payment, and to ask for replacements if the documents are lost or stolen.

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Discussion Comments


Taxes are one of those things that are never fun to pay! It seems like we are taxed on everything we do! I know there have been incentives for people to purchase hybrid cars to cut down on the amount of gas that is used. You can usually get some kind of auto tax credit on your taxes if you have bought a hybrid car.

I have thought about it several times, but do not have one. I can see how we will be moving to more hybrid and/or electric vehicles in the future.


I know the car tax regulations are different for every state. In our state we can deduct the amount we pay for some vehicle taxes on our income taxes which is nice.

I have never heard of car taxation being based on total miles driven, but I can see how that would be an incentive for some people to make fewer trips. I wonder if this is something that is used to figure company car taxes, or if it is for personal use also.


Whenever I purchase a different vehicle I always keep in mind how much I am going to have to pay in taxes for that car! There are several websites available that have car taxation calculators that will help you figure out what it will be.

If you purchase a car through a dealer, they will usually take care of all of this for you. If you buy a car from a private person, then you have to go to your county treasurers office and make this payment yourself.

It is always nice to know ahead of time just how much this is going to cost you, then being surprised when you get there!

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