Why so many supercars in California have Montana license plates (2022)

By Hannah Elliott | Bloomberg

The 1987 Porsche 911 that sold on Bring a Trailer on July 26 was a coupe so dreamy that late founder Ferdinand Porsche would be sorry to have missed it. Its diamond blue metallic paint — a hue so subtle that at some angles, it looked lavender — and throaty 3.3-liter flat-six engine were enough to bring $141,000 and more than 120 comments on its listing.

Close observers would also have noticed a detail far more polarizing than the semi-lavender paint job:The Turbo came with “a clean Montana title in the name of the seller’s LLC,” the listing said.

In certain circles, Montana registration is a touchy subject. The practice of registering a collectible car there, regardless of where itislocated in reality, is done in orderto avoid paying taxes and shirkemissions standards. And it has attractedplenty ofdetractors.

“The people who have Montana license plates are like the people who put the fake handicap badges in their car,” says Paul Zuckerman, an attorney in Los Angeles and avid car collector. “They’re scum.”

(Video) Why Everyone is Registering Their Car in Montana

“I can’t believe so many customers have gotten away with this grift,” says Alex Ross, who owns Sharkwerks, a high-performance automotive tuning shop in Fremont, Calif. “No matter where in California, at every cars and coffee [gathering], look for the Montana plates. It’s comical.”

Randy Nonnenberg, the founder of BAT, is more circumspect, although he’s quick to say he has nopersonal vehicles bearingMontana plates. “It’s not a red flag; it’s something to note,” he says. “We don’t believe that it’s for us to lecture that person to do that or not. It’s a strategy that you can agree with or not.”

But withtighter emissions standards enactedinConnecticuton July 22, Colorado legislators slated next month to discuss requirements to significantly lower toxic air pollution by 2027, and a handful of automakers including BMW, Volkswagen, and Ford recently backing the USEnvironmental Protection Agency’sdecision to restore California’s ability to set its own strict tailpipe and zero-emission vehicle standards, debate is heating up over how far to go to avoid restrictions.

The Montana scheme

The debate about registering a car in Montana can seem like a lot of fuss overa piece of metal. But real money—andethical considerations—are at stake.

Car owners from Mendocino to Miami are titling collectible cars in Montana, even — especially, in fact — if they don’t live there. Some start an LLC in the state, which gets them a mailing address and residency status of sorts. Others acquire a mailbox address or property at which they can claim Montana residency.

“We see, obviously, a lot of sellers — many do it, and buyers are interested in doing it,” Nonnenberg says. “We run BAT shipping, so we see where people are moving all the cars around. And, yeah, there’s meaningful movement.”


In 2021, fully 10% of all McLaren P1s ever made — cars worth well over $1 million apiece — were registered in Montana, according to the Montana DMV. Four of the 100 Pagani Huayras ever made were registered in Montana. They were listed at $2.5 million each.

Montana offers two significant benefits. First, it does not charge sales tax on personal property. (Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire and Oregon are the other states that require no sales tax.) This means that someone who spends $500,000 on a new Lamborghini need not pay an additional $36,000 or so in taxes to acquire it. (California’s sales tax, for instance, is 7.25%.) This is not chump change, even for those who can afford it. Many see it as a smart move.

“It is such a well-known tax dodge, even my own accountant has suggested I use it to shield my vehicle from California taxes,” says Jeff Wright, an LA-based car enthusiast whoowns a ranch in Montana.

Second, Montana does not require vehicle emissions tests or annual inspections. This is because, with less than half the population of the borough of Queens, N.Y., it has no populated areasfederally classified as having “non-attainment” status tomeetthe Clean Air Act’sregulations. In California, by contrast, owners must ensure that all vehicles made after 1975 meet emissions standards and can pass safetyinspections.

Where 10 years agothe sight of a Ford GT sporting a blue Montana plate would be rare, adriveto the popular Friday morning car gatherings at Newcomb’s Ranch outsideLA reveals that even relativelypedestrian 911s carryMontana plates.

“It has gotten so out of hand, even people in Florida do the Montana tax grift,” Ross says. “And as a bonus, you evade smog[regulations].”

(Video) WHAT IS THE MONTANA PLATE ISSUE?!? (asked police)

Why so many supercars in California have Montana license plates (1)

A legal loophole

Technically, the practice is legal. Companies help facilitate it. Search for “how to register my car in Montana” and you’ll see a dozen sites offering services to help clients form LLCs. You needn’t even set foot in the state. They’ll remotely handle the registration titling and fees.

“Don’t buy a motor home, luxury car, boat or plane! Let your Montana LLC buy it!” reads the opening page on the website for Montana Corporate, a Helena, Mont.-based company that offers LLC formation for $625, “title handling” for $150, foreign registration and title acquisition for $840, and other amenities including “mail service” and “document retrieval.”

Law enforcement authorities and legislators are familiar with the scheme. (California State Police have started cracking down on the residential discrepancies of drivers pulled over for other infractions with California licenses and out-of-state plates.) In 2017, Montana legislators proposed a sales tax of up to 1% on cars and recreational vehicles worth more than $150,000; aimed at out-of-state enthusiasts, House Bill 650 was nicknamed the “Ferrari tax.”

At the time, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle estimated that the proposed tax could raise $2.5 million annually for the state. But car and RV dealers objected — strongly. Ultimately, an $825 “luxury” fee was added to ordinary registration costs for vehicles worth more than $150,000.

In addition to normal registration fees, individual counties in Montana may also impose a so-called local option tax of up to 0.7% of avehicle’sretail value, providingdirect revenue. As of August 2021,Big Horn, Deer Lodge, Flathead, Granite, Phillips, and Richland countieslackedthat local option tax. Not surprisingly, Flathead, Granite, and Deer Lodge counties have the largest amount of luxury vehicle registrations, according to data in a vehicle registration primer for the Montana DMV. All told, light vehicle registrations contributeroughly 4% of total revenue collections for the state, according to the primer.

Personal ethics and risk

Unless and until it becomes outright illegal, the decision to title something like a $2.4 million Ferrari F40 in Montana falls to the individual car owner making personal ethical choices. Many collectible cars are denoted as “gross polluters” in the state of California and do not pass emissions tests. To register them elsewhere is to effectively cheat the system that California officials set in place to help reduce air pollution for all.

(Video) The Montana License Plate Scam - Lehto's Law Ep. 5.16

Then there are the tax issues. If you can’t afford the taxes to register your supercar in the state where you live, perhaps you can’t afford the car, says Barry Ritholtz, a proud vintage Corvette and Defender owner and chairman of Ritholtz Wealth Management LLC. (Ritholtz also hosts the “Masters in Business”show on Bloomberg Radio.)

“I like paved roads and functional infrastructure,” tweeted Ritholz.“Gotta pay for it somehow.”

Ultimately, it comes down to each car owner’spersonal appetite for risk, becausesuch loopholes tend to beclosed eventually. There’s no guarantee that therelative leeway car enthusiastshave regarding Montana titles will last.

“I advise my clients to establish a Montana LLC only when the odds for a sales tax audit are minimal,” says Doug Trotter, the owner of Trotter, LLC, a firm that specializes in automotive consulting, acquisition,and financing. “It’s borderline tax evasion.”

“It’s a risk — a cheap thrill,” echoes Zuckerman, the LA lawyer. “I always feel better having my cars registered in California.”


Why so many supercars in California have Montana license plates? ›

Paul Zuckerman, an attorney and car collector based in Los Angeles, says the reason why so many supercar owners have their vehicles registered in Montana, regardless if they are physically in the state or not, is to avoid paying taxes and meeting emissions standards.

What state has the most supercars? ›

California is the state with the most luxury cars, with luxury vehicles accounting for 28.2 percent of the state's vehicle share.

Why do cars not have license plates in California? ›

Because the California Department of Motor Vehicles does not require new vehicles to display a license plate until after the vehicle is registered, and California residents have up to 90 days to register newly purchased cars (a few years ago the window was 6 months).

What city in the US has the most supercars? ›

What city in the US has the most supercars? Miami turned out to be the most supercar-obsessed city with no less than 1,514 Instagram posts for every 1,000 registered vehicles. Of all supercars, the Ford GT emerged as the most popular with over 600,000 tags. Which state has the most Lamborghinis?

What is the supercar capital of the world? ›

In first place by a considerable margin is Monaco, with a whopping 3,051 shiny supercars per 1,000 drivers. The results are, of course based on Instagram photos and hashtags, but they reflect the truth nevertheless, and Monaco is the world capital of supercars yet again.

Is it illegal to have out of state plates in California? ›

The state vehicle code is clear. California residents who buy a vehicle with out-of-state license plates for use in California are required to apply for registration and pay license and registration fees within 20 days of purchasing the vehicle. Failure to do so can result in penalties.

Is it illegal in California to drive without a front license plate? ›

In California, it is LEGAL for a vehicle registered outside of California to be driven without a front license plate. Police officers cannot pull that vehicle over if it does not have a front license plate unless the police know that a particular state requires both a front and a rear license plate.

Why do Teslas not have front license plates? ›

Another large group says they don't want to go through the hassle of installing a special bracket to affix a front license plate to the car or don't want to use the current stick-on bracket. A few owners claimed the front plate interfered with Tesla's auto-pilot self-driving feature.

Which US state has the most Lamborghinis? ›

The state with the most number of Lamborghini locations in the US is California, with 8 locations, which is 20% of all Lamborghini locations in America.

What is the most sold supercar? ›

10 most popular supercars in the world
  • Porsche 911. Now on its 992 Series or eight generation, the 911 is without a doubt Porsche's most popular car. ...
  • Ford GT. ...
  • Ferrari Enzo. ...
  • Bugatti Veyron. ...
  • Ferrari LaFerrari. ...
  • Lamborghini Huracan. ...
  • Audi R8. ...
  • Ferrari 488.
Mar 25, 2021

Which city has most Lamborghinis? ›

New York:

New York City (NYC) is the fourth car capital in the world with an amazing 3,702,966 supercars cruising its streets. As always, Lamborghini comes first with 1,166,064 cars, Ferrari next with 1,004,079, and in third place is Porsche with 884,916 of its supercars on the streets of NYC.

Which country owns the most supercars? ›

1. Luxembourg. Luxembourg ranks in first place as the world's hotspot for luxury cars. With 48,584 luxury car sales and 625,978 people living in the country, it is estimated that there are 13 people for every luxury car.

Which city in the world has the nicest cars? ›

London Named the Supercar Capital of the World, Analysis Based on Instagram Images.

Which country makes the best supercars? ›

1) Italy. Major players- Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Pagani. It's no surprise to see Italy sitting at the top of the pile. The Italians have always set the benchmark in the supercar market with their passion and verve showing through so obviously in their creations.

How long can you live in California with out of state plates? ›

"If you're moving to California and you're becoming a resident, you are required to register your vehicle at the California DMV within 20 days of moving," she said.

How long can you drive in California with an out of state registration? ›

Everything you need to get set up in California

A nonresident vehicle is a vehicle last registered in another state or country. Registration fees for nonresident vehicles must be paid to DMV within 20 days of the date they become due.

How long can I drive in California with an out of state license? ›

If you are 18 years old or older and have an out-of-state driver's license, you can drive in California for the duration of your visit. However, if you are 16 or 17 and have an out-of-state driver's license, you can only drive in California for a maximum of 10 days.

How much is a ticket for no front license plate in California? ›

Question: What is the law in California regarding license plates? Answer: The state vehicle code requires motorists to display plates on the front and rear of a vehicle. The penalty: a $25 fix-it ticket.

Do Teslas need front license plate in California? ›

Legally front plate is required but enforcement is lax. Though if you are pulled over there's a high chance you will get a ticket for not having one. Also parking attendant seems to be on the look out for this.

How much is a ticket for no license plate in California? ›

What Is the Penalty of No Front License Plate? A License Plate Display Failure ticket will cost around $196.

What does it mean to have a black license plate in California? ›

The black license plate with yellow lettering was used in California in the 1960s. It's the first plate to reach the minimum number of preorders needed to make it available to motorists under the state's new legacy license plate program.

Can I put my front license plate on my dash in California? ›

Still, the Ticket Snipers website also offers sobering advice: “Some drivers may opt to put the front plate on their dashboard or attach it to the visor. “Unfortunately, neglecting to properly install a front license plate on your vehicle registered in California is a violation of the law.”

Does Montana have front license plates? ›

(b) (i) Except as provided in 61-4-120, 61-4-129, and subsections (1)(b)(ii) through (1)(b)(iv) of this section, all motor vehicles must have one license plate displayed on the front and one license plate displayed on the rear of the motor vehicle.

Which US state has the most Lamborghinis? ›

The state with the most number of Lamborghini locations in the US is California, with 8 locations, which is 20% of all Lamborghini locations in America.

Which state has most luxury cars? ›

  • California. California is no surprise to have heaps of nice cars driving around. ...
  • Florida. Florida is quite smaller than California, but also has an amazingly high number of exotic and luxury cars thanks to cities like Miami that are an international hot spot. ...
  • Texas. ...
  • New York. ...
  • Nevada.

Which US city has most luxury cars? ›

Los Angeles: Kings and Queens of Sport Cars

Coming in at the top of the list, it's no surprise at all that the top city with the most luxury cars is Los Angeles.

Where are the most supercars sold? ›

1. Luxembourg. Luxembourg ranks in first place as the world's hotspot for luxury cars. With 48,584 luxury car sales and 625,978 people living in the country, it is estimated that there are 13 people for every luxury car.

What state sells the most BMW? ›

Yet this isn't the case. Braman, a top Florida BMW dealer isn't surprised that the Sunshine State is one of the top-selling areas for BMW. The others include California, Texas, and New York. In fact, Florida is at the top of the pack.

Which state has most Rolls Royce? ›

The state with the most number of Rolls-Royce locations in the US is California, with 7 locations, which is 19% of all Rolls-Royce locations in America.

What state has the most Porsches? ›

The state with the most number of Porsche locations in the US is California, with 28 locations, which is 14% of all Porsche locations in America.

What state drives the most? ›

Wyoming is pulling far ahead of the competition when it comes to which U.S. states do the most driving. According to numbers by the Federal Highway Administration analyzed by website Green Car Congress, vehicle miles exceeded 18,000 per Wyoming resident in 2018.

Which state sells the most Mercedes? ›

The state with the most number of Mercedes Benz locations in the US is California, with 49 locations, which is 12% of all Mercedes Benz locations in America.

Which city has most expensive cars? ›

Delhi remained the largest market for luxury cars in the country, while Mumbai too held on to its second place on the list. Ludhiana and Surat have become two of the 10 biggest markets in India for luxury cars.

What race buys the most Mercedes? ›

Overall, the largest markets for Mercedes-Benz were China, Germany, and the USA, followed by Great Britain and South Korea. The GLC was the top-selling Mercedes-Benz model worldwide.

What is the most sold supercar? ›

10 most popular supercars in the world
  • Porsche 911. Now on its 992 Series or eight generation, the 911 is without a doubt Porsche's most popular car. ...
  • Ford GT. ...
  • Ferrari Enzo. ...
  • Bugatti Veyron. ...
  • Ferrari LaFerrari. ...
  • Lamborghini Huracan. ...
  • Audi R8. ...
  • Ferrari 488.
Mar 25, 2021

Who owns the most supercars in the world? ›

With the highest per capita Gross Domestic Product, Monaco also has the most supercars. According to the Australian website “Chasing Cars,” the Monegasques have 3,051 supercars per 1,000 motorists. Has this figure been peer-reviewed?

What state has the most Bugattis? ›

Automobile registrations in the United States in 2020, by state
CharacteristicNumber of registered automobiles
9 more rows


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