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Registration Weight Does Not Determine Sales Tax Exemption

Jun 07, 2004

Dealers should be aware that eligibility for the sales tax exemption for vehicles weighing over 26,000 pounds does not depend on the “gross weight” designated on the vehicle’s registration. The exemption is only available if the manufacturer’s designated “gross vehicle weight rating” (GVWR) is over 26,000 pounds.The “gross weight” is notnecessarily the same as the “gross vehicle weight rating.” NJ CAR has received reports that some purchasers have tried to avoid paying sales tax by registering their vehicle as a commercial vehicle and listing a “gross vehicle weight” on their registration application in excess of 26,000 pounds.Dealers should not accept a sales tax exemption claim in these circumstances unless the GVWR as indicated on the manufacturer’s certificate of origin also exceeds 26,000 pounds, or unless the vehicle is capable of towing a trailer and the combined loaded weight of the vehicle and trailer would exceed 26,000 pounds. There has been some confusion about this issue because the rules governing commercial registrations and the rules governing the sales tax exemption use different terms, with different definitions, when referring to the weight of a vehicle.The statute governing commercial vehicle registrations and weight categories, N.J.S.A. 39:3-20 refers to the “gross weight,” which is defined as “the weight of the vehicle or combination of vehicles, including load or contents.” This “gross weight” is not limited to the GVWR designated by the manufacturer.In some cases, there is a legitimate reason to designate a “gross weight” in excess of the GVWR. If a pickup truck is to be used to tow a trailer, for example, it would be proper to designate a “gross weight” equal to the combined weight of the truck and trailer. Eligibility for the Sales Tax exemption available under N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.43, in contrast, does not depend on the “gross weight” set forth on the registration. Sales tax status is determined by the GVWR.That statute provides as follows: “Gross vehicle weight rating” means the value specified by the manufacturer as the loaded weight of the single or combination vehicle and, if the manufacturer has not specified a value for a towed vehicle, means the value specified for the towing vehicle plus the loaded weight of the towed unit. Because it appears that some individuals may be designating a high “gross weight” for registration purposes in the mistaken belief that this will make them eligible for the sales tax exemption, dealers should be extremely cautious in accepting a claim of sales tax exemption based on an inflated registered weight.Purchasers claiming an exemption under N.J.S.A. 54:32B-8.43 are required to complete and sign a Form ST-4 to prove their eligibility for the exemption.A dealer is only released from the obligation to collect sales tax if they accept this form in “good faith.”This means that the dealer can only accept this form if they have no reason to know the vehicle is not entitled to the exemption.A dealer who accepts an ST-4 claiming an exemption for vehicles over 26,000 pounds for a pickup truck with a manufacturer’s GVWR of 6,000 could wind up liable for failing to collect sales tax.