© 2002-2017 John Mayer. All rights reserved.
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In this section:
This section contains information on registering your HDT, licensing
issues, a discussion of towing doubles (towing a vehicle behind your
5er), and issues with driving your HDT home after your purchase.
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
We chose to title the tractor as a motor home. You can do this in TX
if you show that the tractor is self-contained. Search on the Texas DMV
site for form VTR-61. The Texas Title Manual contains the following:
Converted Trucks and Buses
Used trucks, truck-tractor and buses, which have been reconstructed
or converted to contain living quarters, should title as Motor Homes
and register with passenger plates. Owners should support the title
application with a photograph of the interior and exterior, a weight
certificate verifying the gross weight, and a Rebuilt Vehicle
Statement, Form VTR-61 explaining the alteration. The make, year
model, and vehicle identification number should be the same as that
shown on the title covering the truck, truck-tractor or bus.
Note: When the certificate of title is issued for this type of
vehicle, the notation “Reconstructed” appears.
The advantage of titling as a motor home 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
motor home 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 certified weight ticket for the tractor (or motorhome).
Taxes are based on weight, and you also need it prior to inspection.
- You need some pictures 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 motor home. I used pictures 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 vehicle 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 (tractor) inspections that ended
up requiring DOT inspections - this would not apply to motor homes or
regular trucks. 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 pictures 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 motor home
registration, ask them to call Austin, TX and check on it. It should not
be a problem.
The entire process - taking the pictures, 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 potentially 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.
In any case, if you intend to
set up an LLC you need experienced legal advice. Each state and
individual situation is different, so do not depend on this website, or
any online resource for legal advice.
An LLC 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 and advise
you if it is practical to use an LLC to avoid taxes in your state of
Some additional advantages to the Montana LLC route:
• The trailer can have lifetime registration.
• An HDT can be titled/registered as a motor home, 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.
• It costs a fair amount to establish the LLC, and there is a yearly
• 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 at the time this was written.
$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
Bennett Law Office
I got the following commentary from an attorney about LLC's. He
brings up some interesting points:
The first issue I would address is raised by many when the issue of a
foreign (meaning out-of-state) LLCs owning RVs to avoid in-state sales tax
There are those who condemn this practice as they somehow think tax
avoidance is illegal, immoral, or worse. There is a difference between tax
avoidance and tax evasion. To quote Denis Healey, "The difference between
tax avoidance and tax evasion is the thickness of a prison wall." Simply
put, tax evasion is taking action or failing to take action in violation of
the tax laws. Try tax evasion and the iron motel might be in your future.
Another quote from Justice Learned Hand, "Over and over again courts have
said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging one's affairs as to keep
taxes as low as possible. Everybody does so, rich or poor; and all do right,
for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands: taxes are
enforced exactions, not voluntary contributions." Arranging your affairs to
minimize taxes is tax avoidance as long as all laws are followed. And
finally, Justice Hand again, "In America there are two tax systems, one for
the informed and one for the uninformed. Both systems are legal."
States that have a state sales tax absolutely hate it when a resident
employs a perfectly legal means of avoiding the tax. As a result many are passing or
have passed laws to prevent residents from avoiding this tax. Some states
have laws that say if a resident owns a foreign LLC that in turn owns
personal property, the state ignores the foreign LLC for the purpose the
ownership and considers the resident as the actual owner. In the case of an
RV, this requires in-state registration and sales tax. Other states have
passed laws that say if the resident has the right to use the RV for more
than some time period such as 30 days out of the year, the RV must be
registered in the state along with the payment of sales tax. In both of
these examples, if the state has a personal property tax, that must be paid
as well. The net result is that in states that have these laws, creating a
foreign LLC does not avoid any tax and adds the costs associated with the
LLC. This problem is somewhat reduced if the LLC is set up by full-timers as
they can pick the state in which they are residents and they can pick a
state that does not try to find a way to collect these taxes. Of course, for
residents of Montana there is no problem but there is little need for an LLC
in this case.
Providing liability protection is often cited as a second reason for having
your RV owned by an LLC. The theory is that if your RV is involved in an
accident and a lawsuit ensues, only the assets owned by the LLC are subject
to forfeiture. This purported benefit is more an illusion than reality.
First of all, if you are driving your RV and you are involved in an accident
that gets you sued, in all likelihood both the LLC as the owner and you as
the individual operator are going to be sued. That means that your assets
and the LLC's assets are at risk. Furthermore, for an LLC to be treated as a
separate entity by the legal system, the owners must treat it as a separate
entity. That means that the LLC would need to have its own bank account and
pay its own bills. It could rent the RV to you and the rent monies could be
used to pay things like insurance, fuel, and maintenance. How many who set
up LLCs do anything like that?
As states are constantly seeking means to increase tax revenues, what you
learn today about how your state of residency treats foreign LLCs might be
different tomorrow. You can't just learn the law today and assume that you
are good to go for all time. The law can change, you can go merrily on your
way only to discover that you have become a tax evader.
Another problem that might be encountered with a foreign LLC is that you can
have problems if you are stopped by a law enforcement officer (LEO) and your
driver's license state differs from the state of vehicle registration. There
is nothing illegal about this but some LEOs don't understand it. You might
have to prove that you have the right to be driving the RV, which is not in
your name and registered in a state in which you are not a resident.
One last problem is that financing and insuring an RV owned by an LLC is a
little more complicated than if you owned the RV in your name.
In order to be legal to drive your HDT (or motor home, or
pickup/trailer combo) 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. You can find a summary of
licensing laws on the
Changing Gears website.
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 GVWR 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 - otherwise known as a Class A "Exempt" 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 motor home. 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. For Texas, the test is pretty simple. Study Chapter 14
of the CDL licensing handbook. You then take a written test - you must
get 14 of the 20 questions correct. After that you have to take a road
test with your truck and trailer. In many locations this may take up to
two to three weeks to schedule. The road test in Livingston is pretty
simple - there are several tight turns, but it is basically driving
around town. In some locations you have to parallel park the trailer -
yes, you read that right. But in Livingston the most that you ever
have to do is back in a straight line.
In Texas if you drive a motor home over 26,000 GVWR then you need a
Class B Exempt license. If you tow a trailer with that motor home that
is over 10,000 lbs GVWR then you need a Class A instead of the Class B.
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. Texas does not
require an air brake endorsement for an RV.
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 motor home. Many
states do not require an upgraded license to drive a motor home. 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
"motor home" 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 get a ticket for an "out of class" license. Bear
in mind that licensing and registration is reciprical between the states
- so if you are legal in your state of domicile you can drive legally
If you want a good RV driving school, that can also teach you to
properly drive your truck, check with the RV Driving School. They come highly
recommended, and it is one-on-one instruction. http://www.rvschool.com/
For copies of Texas drivers manuals and CDL study guide, download
them from http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/
. For a Class A or B exempt license study the CDL guide and especially
the rules and regulations in Chapter 14. You have to know the lighting
positions on the truck and you have to know about combination trailers
(Chapters 5,6,7) . So be sure to look at those sections. Other than
that, the test is pretty simple - use the study guide questions to test
The driving test is pretty simple - but you WILL have to take a new
driving test. In some locations they do make you parallel park the RV.
In Livingston they usually do not, but in all locations you will need to
be able to back up 100' in a straight line. The rest of the test is just
common driving. Make sure you signal properly, especially leaving the
station, where you will likely be parked roadside. If you have an air
brake vehicle you should know how to do an air brake test - although
they typically do not ask you to do one. But you need to know how,
anyway. So practice it.
I hear it all the time - "I don't want to register in TX because they
have state inspection, and I don't want to have to go back every
year for inspection - it is too much trouble."
You do NOT have to go back to Texas every year for inspection. When
you do go back, you have three days from arriving at your in-state
"destination" to get inspection done. If you stay out of state you can
drive with expired inspection stickers. Police from other states do not
care - and have no authority - to enforce TX state inspection rules. It
is simply not an issue.
In 2015 Texas started combining the inspection with registration
renewal. You have to show that you have a current inspection BEFORE they
will issue your new registration. However, if you are out of state you
can still "self certify" that fact, and not be forced to come back to
Texas. Use the online registration website and there is a section during
registration to self certify your "out of state" status. Really, the
inspection process is not an issue at all.
The information below is from the Texas
Department of Public Safety website (Inspection
I'm returning to Texas. How much time do I have to get my car
inspected, once I cross over the state line?
Time allowed to acquire inspection certificate.
The Department of Public Safety extends the time within which
a certificate of inspection shall be obtained by a resident owner or
operator of a Texas-registered vehicle, when the vehicle has no
valid inspection certificate. The extension will be granted only on
the first occasion of operation in this state during an inspection
year and only until the resident owner or operator of the vehicle
has arrived at his home, station, or destination in this state and
for three days thereafter.
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
Towing doubles (sometimes,
incorrectly, 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.
We do double tow, although I have to admit it makes
me nervous. I am much more relaxed when towing just the trailer. If
building an HDT from scratch, I would seriously consider piggybacking a
vehicle. You can configure an HDT to carry just about anything, but if
you are just looking for a runabout then a Smart car cross loaded is
The main legal issue
involved with towing doubles 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 as long as they permit towing
doubles. Especially if you stick to
interstates and the national network. 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.
Towing laws are also available in some of the Road Atlas', and
Woodall's has a good summary as well. I'm not
advocating towing over length 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 sporadic 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
over length 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 our 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 towing laws. You can try that
argument alongside the road, but I doubt you will get far. Be prepared
to unhook. Again, there is NO
reciprocity between states on towing doubles, or on length laws!
Another consideration in
towing double, knowing you may be over length 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
strictly my opinions - take them for what they are worth.
- 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
- 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. You must have gussets at every direction
change on the hitch and framework.
- 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
The tow hitch system you
select is really a personal choice. Setups vary on ease of hookup
and visibility of the base plate on the vehicle. 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.
- 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. In other words, the tow bar can point "up"
from the car to the trailer, but by no more than 4". You do not want
the car to over-ride or under-ride the hitch in a hard braking
- Make sure you have a
brake system on the car. This is not optional, despite what you
might hear about motor homes 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.
- Personally, I want a
camera on the back of the trailer. Without it, you have no idea what
is going on back there.
- A tire monitoring system
is a requirement, not an option, 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 or a repeater in the trailer. If
you have an unattended flat on the vehicle you WILL eventually have
a fire at the tire. And you likely will not be able to control it.
We know a person who lost their towed vehicle this way -and almost
lost their motor home.
- If you do not have disc
brakes on the trailer, I would seriously consider them. We upgraded
our trailer to disc brakes after several years. Even with the HDT -
which brakes VERY well - the difference was very noticeable.
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 - six second
interval between me and the vehicle in front. A 50% increase to 6-8
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.
Here is what I do, for what it is worth:
I never tow at night
I try not to tow in rain or other slippery
conditions. If it starts raining I get off the road as soon as
I generally do not tow in wind over about
35-40 mph. An HDT handles wind far better than a pickup - in fact I
barely notice 30 mph winds - but I try not to push my luck.
I drive about 60-62 mph. This keeps me out of
"packs" of vehicles. At that speed they all pass you. It makes it
easy to keep your distance from other vehicles.
I stop every 2 hrs for a safety inspection.
I have a brake monitor light in the cab of the
truck. This tells me when the brakes on the Jeep are activated. That
way I KNOW the system is working, or if the brakes are dragging.
The equipment we are
using is: Blue Ox Aventa II tow bar (10K lbs rating), SMI Air Force One
air-based brake system (this is a "live pedal" system), a color camera on
the 5er to monitor the Jeep, and some additional tire monitors on the Jeep (with an external
antenna on the truck). On the Royals International that we started
towing doubles with, we reinforced the trailer hitch with heavy steel
plate - it is definitely not coming off! On the trailer we own now -
the New Horizons that we had custom built - we had the hitch area
"overbuilt" at the factory.
A note about the brake system. We originally used
the Blue Ox Toad Stop II system, and I DO NOT recommend it. It never worked to my
satisfaction on my Jeep, although it does work well on a friends Acura.
The more popular, and in my opinion better, brake systems for use with
an HDT are the SMI Air Force One, and the M&G system. Both use the
service brake air supply to drive the toad brake system, and are
permanent live pedal systems. Both have a track record in use on HDT's
towing doubles. We upgraded to the SMI Air Force One when we purchased
the New Horizons. The Air
Force One is easier to install and works well. Both require service
brake air to be fed to the toad.
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. In addition, British Columbia does not allow towing doubles of
any type, so if you are using that route to Alaska you need to be aware
of that. Click on the map to expand it.