Bamboozled November 3, 2016: Are you paying the wrong vehicle registration fee?

 

Well New Jersey, you can’t blame the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) for everything.

One of our readers believed he, and potentially of thousands of other drivers, were being charged the wrong fee to register their vehicles.

His case shows that while his fee was indeed incorrect, it wasn’t the fault of MVC.

As for whether or not you’re paying the correct amount, finding out is your responsibility.

You see, most New Jersey drivers receive a registration renewal once a year.

If you buy a new car, you’ll pre-pay four years of registration fees. For a used car, and after four years for a new car, you’ll get a registration renewal form about three months before the renewal date.

Your fee is determined by the “Class” assigned to your vehicle, and it’s based on weight.

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A look at registration classes on the Motor Vehicle Commission website. 

If you’re driving a newer vehicle, then your vehicle is probably a Class 7 or Class 8, with the difference being whether the vehicle weighs more or less than 3,500 pounds. (There’s also a higher fee for cars that are less than two years old, and seniors and the disabled are eligible for a discounted fee.)

When Greg Gaskill and Faith Webb of Little Egg Harbor received the registration renewal for their 2014 Jeep Compass, it was listed as a Class 8 vehicle — over 3,500 pounds — with a $71.50 fee.

But Gaskill said their vehicle only weighed 3,200 pounds.

Gaskill Googled the vehicle and found a weight range of 3,097 to 3,345 pounds. That would make it a Class 7 with a smaller $46.50 fee.

Gaskill called MVC.

He said the first rep said SUVs are in Class 8, but Gaskill explained that his was a smaller SUV.

The rep transferred him to another rep.

This one researched the vehicle’s weight, Gaskill said, and the rep confirmed the vehicle was less than 3,500 pounds.

“He advised he needed to transfer me to the ‘database correction department’ but warned me that if I proceeded, I would need to go through a hassle of having the vehicle weighed at a weigh station and provide a weigh slip,” Gaskill said.

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Greg Gaskill believed his 2014 Jeep Compass was given the wrong registration class based on weight. 

But, Gaskill asked, shouldn’t MVC know the weight of each vehicle?

Gaskill was transferred again, and the new rep looked into his question and called back an hour later.

The rep agreed the registration fee was incorrect, but said she couldn’t change it, Gaskill said.

Instead, he would have to go to a weigh station and present the slip to MVC.

Gaskill thought the burden shouldn’t be on him to prove his vehicle’s weight, but that MVC should know.

“It disgusts me that this process is going on throughout our state, especially with the wide variety of SUVs and the increase in smaller size ones, and the commission is banking on the fact that many will simply send in a check or pay the fees, not knowing what exactly they are paying and why,” he said. “I can only imagine the amount of money the state motor vehicle commission has incorrectly charged people.”

Well, Bamboozled learned, Gaskill was wrong.

GETTING IT STRAIGHT

MVC, which has some 8 million registrations, said it would look at Gaskill’s complaint.

In the meantime, we learned about the registration process.

It’s correct that MVC registration fees are based in part on vehicle weight.

But MVC doesn’t determine your vehicle’s weight. That comes from either a car dealership or the individual car owner.

There can’t be just one weight for each vehicle different models with different options can have a significantly different weight.

We checked in with K.C. Colwell, senior technical editor for Car and Driver, to get the scoop.

He said the weight of a vehicle can extend beyond the advertised weight range.

Options such as all-wheel drive, sunroofs — especially the giant, multi-pane ones — and larger wheels can add considerable weight, he said. Upgraded stereos with extra amps and speakers, screens for the second row and USB ports in the third row are all weighty additions, he said.

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Greg Gaskill and his 2014 Jeep Compass.

“Literally, every option adds weight: an automatic trans is heavier than a manual, all the electronic nannies that people love today add countless sensors and yards — potentially miles — of wiring,” he said. “The extreme examples: floor mats weigh more than nothing and leather is heavier than cloth. It all adds up.”

Colwell said generally, consumers can trust an advertised weight because manufacturers have “a metric ton”  of rules and regulations and it isn’t good for them when they are caught fibbing.

If you’re not sure of your vehicle’s weight, he recommended you take your vehicle to a truck stop and weigh your vehicle on a certified CAT scales. He said it will cost $10 to $14, but that fee may be worth it if you think your car was put in the wrong class.

And remember not to take your vehicle for a weighing with a trunk full of golf clubs, Colwell said.

Colwell actually recently reviewed a 2016 Jeep Compass with a weight of 3,410 pounds — a weight to which Colwell said he’d testify to in court.

“This was the 75th anniversary edition, so it was fully loaded, but still 65 pounds heavier than the Google results,” he said.

Back to Gaskill’s situation. A few days after we put him in touch with MVC, his registration issue was resolved.

MVC’s deputy administrator for agency services left the couple a voicemail.

“The record for your vehicle has been corrected in our database and when you renew your registration next, it will be at the lower weight class and the lower fee,” the message said.

We’re grateful that MVC made the fix.

Making sure your vehicle is in the correct weight class is your responsibility, not MVC’s, but we wanted to know what other drivers should do if they have the same concern.

“We rely on the information that’s given to us,” said spokeswoman Mairin Bellack. “If there is a chance that information was provided to us wrong and it was brought to our attention, we will make every effort to correct it.”

“But we need the proof that it was provided to us wrong,” she said.

To do that, you have two choices. You can go to a weigh station and submit the slip from your visit to MVC, or you can contact your dealer, and it should be able to provide the proof.

So, dear readers, you can’t blame MVC for everything.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.