How classic car-friendly is your state?

License plate map of the United States

At the risk of stating the obvious, if you own a classic car, southern California would seem to be a pretty cool place to live, right? The mild weather means you’re able to drive your classic year-round, and the roads can be fantastic. Yet, California doesn’t always make it easy on car owners. For example, if you’re driving a Bandit-ready 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, it had better have all of the emissions equipment it had when it rolled out of the factory or it won’t pass a smog check. Then there’s the notorious traffic, which can make getting to those fantastic roads an exercise in drudgery. And the sales tax is high.

Well, how ’bout Vermont then? Yes, it snows half the year there and all the side roads are dirt, but Vermont also has a lot going for it. It doesn’t require a title to register a vintage car, doesn’t have an emissions requirement for older vehicles, and offers two-year registrations at a slightly reduced rate. Does that make it a better place to own a classic then? That’s what we decided to find out.

We wanted to determine which states are the most classic-vehicle friendly and then rank them by their overall consideration for owners of older cars. Some of our criteria were objective: Is there an emissions process? Is there a sales tax? How high is it? And some of it was subjective: How car-friendly is the weather? How pleasant are the roads?

Our methodology took these things into account:

Registration: For classic car registration restrictions, we looked to every DMV website, and in some cases the state laws that govern those cars. If there were no restrictions, the state received 100 points. If there were restrictions for “parades and special events,” the state received 75 points. If there were day-of-the-week and holiday restrictions, the score was 50.

Inspections: States either require safety and emissions inspections or they don’t. No is worth 100 points, yes is 0.

Taxes: If a state has no sales tax, it received 100 points. We subtracted 10 points for every percent of sales tax. Since it’s too difficult to build city and county taxes into the scoring, we did not include that—although we indicated it in the text.

Title Requirement: Some states (Vermont, for instance) don’t require a title for vehicles over a certain age. Those states each received 100 points. Some states allow a surety bond, so they got 50. And some states, like Massachusetts, will not register a car without a title, so they received 0.

Road quality and traffic: We turned to the U.S. News & World Report Transportation Ranking.

Weather: We checked the state’s annual snow and rainfall at Current Results.

Finally, we searched each state’s DMV website for information, and we spoke to classic vehicle owners wherever we could and asked for their opinion (that took some time). Then we assigned a number grade for every criterion and added them up for an overall score.

With nine categories receiving a maximum point total of 100 each, a perfect score would be 900. No state accomplished that, but three states finished with more than 800 points. There were also some, shall we say, clunkers. Two states didn’t manage to get 50-percent of the available points, and Massachusetts… oh, boy.

Which of our United States is the most classic-car friendly? You may be surprised. In fact, the entire top 10 might leave you scratching your head (Alaska is in there!). Listing the states from the lowest score to highest, this is what we found. Let the arguments begin.

50. Massachusetts

Massachusetts State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y Weekend only 0
Safety Inspection Y Annual 0
Emissions Requirement N 15-year cap 100
Sales Tax Y 5% on book value 50
Excise Tax Y $25/$1000 0
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 8 Months 60
Road Quality Poor 25
Traffic Poor 25

Total Grade: 260

Massachusetts isn’t a fantastic place to own a vintage car. The weather is the biggest disadvantage. Snow, ice, and salt litter the road surfaces starting as soon as late October, although recently the first major snowfall hasn’t happened until January. It can easily continue snowing well into April. As if that isn’t bad enough, the Registry of Motor Vehicles is notoriously awful, assessing a 5.5-percent sales tax not on what you paid for your car, but what some arbitrary price guide says it’s worth. Williamstown resident David LaChance registered a 1966 Volvo P1800 project car that he hauled home on a trailer and wouldn’t be roadworthy for years. “They taxed it like it was a Pebble Beach candidate,” he says. “Oh, yeah—they said don’t bother trying to appeal it.” 

The one nice thing about Massachusetts is its rolling emissions requirement. If the car is older than 15 years old, you’re mostly in the clear. The emissions equipment that came on the car is supposed to still be there, but the inspection stations—all privately-owned gas stations—aren’t likely to check. Monitored video cameras in the shops are supposed to catch violators, so if you roll in with the loudest exhaust known to man, you probably won’t get a sticker. 

49. California

California State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement Y 0
Sales Tax Y 7.25% 27.5
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 12 Months 100
Road Quality Poor 25
Traffic Poor 25

Total Grade: 427.5

Weather and the lack of a safety inspection is the only reason that classic car ownership in California is as good as it is. Everything else is a major impediment to driving a vintage vehicle.

All 1975 and newer cars are required to have a smog inspection, and all original emissions equipment must be present. Frankly, we didn’t even check whether California requires a title from other states when registering a classic car, because the hassle of registering a post-1975 car from another state isn’t worthwhile. California is generally a classic car exporter rather than importer, solely because of the smog regulations. 

That’s not a bad thing for clean air, but it’s a really bad thing if you’re just trying to register a car for occasional use.

48. New Jersey

New Jersey State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 0
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 1996 or newer 100
Sales Tax Y 7% 30
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 9 Month 80
Road Quality Poor 25
Traffic Poor 25

Total Grade: 460

New Jersey is not particularly unfriendly to vintage cars. It offers historic plates and a lot of classic car owners seem to have them, likely because the registration fee is only $44, versus up to $84 for non-classics, depending on the year and weight of the vehicle. 

The state follows the OBD-II-era (1996-or-newer-only) requirement for emissions testing, which is great for most classic vehicle owners. Sales tax is steep at 7 percent, but there’s no annual excise tax. 

Greg Giacchi owns a Datsun 280Z, a second-generation Supra and a second-gen Trans Am, and says, “No complaints here in New Jersey. Cars older than 25 years have antique status, which means no safety inspections and registration renewals spaced out to either 3- or 5-year intervals. Overall, I find this state to be lenient on vintage car ownership.”

We searched high and low on the DMV’s website and couldn’t find any exemption for titles, regardless of year. That can pose a real issue if you’re buying a vehicle from a state that doesn’t issue a title for an older car. Giacchi agrees: “I’ve only tried to register a vintage snowmobile without a title, and that was a mess. They wanted me to place an ad in the newspaper public notices for four weeks before allowing me to proceed.” Ouch.

Also on the downside, New Jersey is congested, is a pretty small state, and is squeezed between New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, so there’s not much room to get away from the traffic, unfortunately. 

47. Texas

Texas State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions N 100
Safety Inspection Y 0
Emissions Requirement Y 24-year cap 0
Sales Tax Y 6.25% 37.5
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y Surety Bond OK 50
Length of Driving Season 12 Months 100
Road Quality Fair 50
Traffic Fair 50

Total Grade: 487.5

Texas likes to brand itself as a free-wheeling Libertarian paradise, but registering a vintage car is just as complicated and costly as any other state, and sometimes more confusing. 

We spoke to Peter McCullough, owner of River Bend Automotive in Houston, who provided a ton of information about the law and how it’s practically enforced in Texas.

Sales tax for vintage cars is calculated on your bill of sale, which is a lot more legitimate that using some bogus price guide. “Texas has a SPV (Standard Presumptive Value) system to calculate sales tax values on most vehicles, but they do not use this system for anything 25+ years old,” McCullough says. “They will instead just charge you 6.25 percent of your indicated sale price, like most states normally practice.”

The Lone Star State also has four different ways you can register a classic car. You can register it normally and pay a normal registration fee. You can register it as a Classic, which is for cars 25 years old or older, for $40 per year with no driving restrictions. Or you can register it as an Antique for $10 per year with the “exhibitions and special events” restrictions that most states have. Beware of that last one, however.

“Texas State Troopers have an absolute field day enforcing this,” McCullough says. “Counties like Harris and Fort Bend are cracking down through their own law enforcement policy. Most people who abuse Antique Plates use the ‘I’m driving home from my mechanic’ excuse, but the troopers have heard every excuse in the book. Unfortunately, enforcement is noticeably selective. The guy who drives his 1970 Nova to work and back every day will likely go a decade unscathed, but the dude driving a FB (first-gen) RX-7 wouldn't last a week. If and when you do get busted, the officer has the right to impound your vehicle and write you a citation for no registration.”

Texas ranks 37th and 38th in the U.S. for commute time and road quality, respectively, so when you do get your classic registered, it doesn’t sound like you’ll always have a great time driving it.

46. Vermont

Vermont State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 0
Safety Inspection Y Annual 0
Emissions Requirement N 1996 or newer 75
Sales Tax Y 6% 40
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 6 Months 50
Road Quality Fair 25
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 490

Vermont is deceiving because its numerical score is so low. It’s actually great for one reason: how easy it is to deal with the DMV. The staff is generally terrific, the lines are amazingly short. There’s also no title required for anything 25 years old or older, although there’s an “Exempt Vehicle Title” form to fill out. 

The problem is that the weather isn’t conducive to vintage vehicle operation from late October straight into May some years. Not only does it snow like crazy, most of the back roads are dirt, and they turn to axle-snapping mud for about a month and a half after the snow melts. Main roads can be completely buckled with frost heaves in the winter and spring. 

On the plus side, in addition to the affable DMV experience, traffic is generally pretty light outside of larger cities like Brattleboro and Burlington, and Vermont offers some of the greatest driving roads in New England when the weather is decent. 

“Vermont pretty much leaves me alone,” says Michael Eldred, who owns a handful of British cars that are registered in southern Vermont. “Neither of my two pre-1960 vehicles need to have seat belts retrofitted or must pass any kind of emissions test for their annual safety inspection. You can register your vehicle as an antique and pay a reduced fee, but that only entitles you to drive your vehicle in parades and to shows. As a result, few people register their classic cars as antiques.”

45. Tennessee

Tennessee State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection Y 0
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 7% 30
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 10 Months 90
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Poor 25

Total Grade: 495

“Tennessee is pretty good,” according to our vintage motorcycle collecting pal Somer Hooker. “Antique is over 25 years of age. You fill out an affidavit that it will only be driven on weekends or special events.” From there, the tag fee is a one-time event, with no renewal required. However, that’s only good for weekends and special events, and according to Somer, “If you are caught using on a regular basis your registration can be revoked.” The state notes that if that happens, you’re responsible for all the fees to register the vehicle as a general-use vehicle. 

Somer also notes, “Vehicles over 25 years old can be titled on a Bill of Sale.”

Tennessee is in the process of making changes to its emissions-testing program, which will remain in place until at least 2021 despite legislation to end the process. Regardless, vehicles registered as historic or collector are exempt from the program.

Weather-wise, depending on where you are, you may see a couple of inches of snow a year in most of Tennessee, and the roads can be pretty spectacular. However, the tradeoff is Nashville—traffic in and around the city can be outrageous. 

44. Missouri

Missouri State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 0
Safety Inspection Y 0
Emissions Requirement Y St. Louis Metro 100
Sales Tax Y 4.25% 57.5
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 8 Months 70
Road Quality Fair 50
Traffic Fair 50

Total Grade: 527.5

Missouri has some pretty stringent restrictions that come along with getting Historic plates, with no real obvious benefits for doing so, other than avoiding an annual registration renewal. The DMV’s website doesn’t say you can’t drive the car on a weekday, but if you’re driving it to a shop, it must be within 100 miles of home, and you’re limited to only 1000 miles of driving per year.

Taxation is also pretty brutal in Missouri, depending on your county. The state assesses a 4.25-percent sales tax, but then there are 24 pages worth of county taxes to research to find out how much more you owe. A cursory search reveals that your additional sales tax can be up to 5.513 percent.

One bit of good news is that Missouri allows an owner to bond a title if the original title isn’t present.

Historic registration doesn’t appear to get you out of the state’s biennial safety inspection, but you do avoid the emissions inspection in St. Louis County if your car is from the 1996 model year or older. Throw in an average foot of snow that lots of places in Missouri get every year and it’s not particularly friendly to old cars.

43. Hawaii

Hawaii State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions N 100
Safety Inspection N Ys 0
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 4.712% 53
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y Surety Bond OK 50
Length of Driving Season 12 Months 100
Road Quality Poor 25
Traffic Poor 25

Total Grade: 553

Hawaii is a weird state in terms of registering a car. There’s no state DMV, for example. Each island—essentially individual counties—runs its own licensing division. Trying to track down exactly what requirements they have is tricky. 

There doesn’t appear to be any classic car registration in the state, and there are no emissions inspections. You’ll have to do a safety inspection annually. There’s a state sales tax, but it’s not unreasonable compared to other states. 

There are some beautiful roads in Hawaii, but U.S. News & World Report ranks both the traffic and road quality near the bottom. 

39. South Dakota

South Dakota State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 4% 60
Excise Tax Y 4.5% 0
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 8 Months 70
Road Quality Good 75
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 555

South Dakota’s historic vehicle plates apply to cars 30 years old or older. The sales tax is reasonable at 4.5 percent, but there’s also a steep excise tax of 4.5 percent that makes this one of the most tax-heavy states in the Union when it comes to registering a car. 

South Dakota requires a title and doesn’t seem to be particularly helpful in providing information if you happen to own a car that either came from a state that doesn’t issue one for older cars or is missing its original title. That may or may not be a problem when the time comes to register it, but it’s tough to tell without documentation. 

U.S. News & World Report ranks South Dakota #1 in America for length of commute time, so traffic isn’t an issue, according to U.S. News & World Report. It ranks about mid-pack in terms of road quality. The 45 inches of snow the state accumulates every year probably doesn’t help.

39. Maryland

Maryland State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 1996 or newer 100
Sales Tax Y 6% 40
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 10 Months 90
Road Quality Fair 50
Traffic Poor 25

Total Grade: 555

Maryland has the same “weekends, holidays, and special events” clauses that most other states have, which means that you might not want to bother getting the antique or street rod plates if you plan on driving it to work occasionally. 

What’s nice about Maryland, though, is that it assesses its 6-percent sales tax on the value stated on the bill of sale if the vehicle is over seven years old. That’s a nice advantage when the NADA book value on a classic vehicle assumes that it’s in concours condition, while you bought a $1500 beater that you’re hoping to drive someday… as you restore it.

The weather is decent in coastal Maryland most of the year, and snow isn’t much of a concern overall, but Oakland County (in the western part of the state) receives an average of 80–100 inches of snow a year, leaving classic vehicles in the barn for a good chunk of the year.

39. Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N With classic plates 100
Emissions Requirement N 1996 or newer 100
Sales Tax Y 6% 40
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 10 Months 90
Road Quality Poor 25
Traffic Fair 50

Total Grade: 555

Pennsylvania has two different vintage vehicle designations (Antique and Classic) with different restrictions. Tags for classics are available for anything older than 15 years old. Antique plates are for 25 years old or older. 

The restrictions define “occasional use” of a classic or antique vehicle as “no more than one day a week” (in bold letters), which seems extremely restrictive. “Classic cars have a permanent registration but require yearly inspection,” says Brian Padnes, who owns a 1984 Land Rover. “Inspections can be done by any licensed shop, so most are kind to older vehicles. Antique are emissions-exempt, and I believe classic are too since they fall into the ‘drive less than 5K miles’ category.”

Taxes are significant, too. There’s no excise tax, but the state sales tax is 6 percent. Registering a car in Allegheny County means you’ll pay an additional percent on top of that. If you register in Philadelphia, add 2 percent. “For cars older than 1976 (the last year that Pennsylvania plates were dated), you can restore an old license plate for the vehicle with a year that matches,” Padnes says. “I got my father an old dealer plate for his 1972 Volvo P1800ES.”

39. Indiana

Indiana State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 75
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement Y 1975 or newer 75
Sales Tax Y 7% 30
Excise Tax Y $12/year 0
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 9 Months 75
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 555

Indiana has a historic vehicle registration program that requires you don’t use the car for daily transport, but other than that, it doesn’t place any restrictions on days of the week or holidays. The state has an emissions program in two counties (Lake and Porter) and every other year it inspects cars built in 1975 and after. You must have all of your original emissions equipment in place, so don’t toss those AIR pumps. 

Tax is pretty hefty at 7 percent, and on top of that you owe an excise tax every year, but for vehicles older than 1980, it’s a $12-per-year flat tax. 

Indiana requires a title to register your classic car, and there doesn’t appear to be any exemptions, so get that paperwork in order. With 22 inches of snow and 39 inches of rain every year, Indiana’s weather isn’t the greatest, but the roads outside of the cities are well maintained, and traffic isn’t absurd.

36. Rhode Island

Rhode Island State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 75
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 7% 30
Excise Tax Y Ridiculous 0
Title Requirement Y 2000 or newer 100
Length of Driving Season 9 Months 80
Road Quality Fair 50
Traffic Poor 25

Total Grade: 560

Rhode Island gets a decent numerical grade, mostly because of its relaxed Antique Vehicle requirements. If the vehicle is 25 years old or older, you can register it as an antique and skate on the state’s safety inspection requirements. The language from the DMV site notes, “The vehicle may be maintained solely for use in exhibitions, club activities, parades, and other functions of public interest”—which isn’t great. 

However, the very next sentence says, “The vehicle may also be used for limited enjoyment and purposes other than the previously mentioned activities but may not be used primarily for the transportation of passengers or goods over any public highway.” Which means, as long as you’re not using it as a limousine or cargo vehicle, you should be fine. David Dennis has a warning, though. “If you have a car that’s 25 years old but isn't considered a ‘classic’ [think Honda CRX or any average car from 1994], the police generally don't know the actual rules and it can be a pain. I haven't been targeted specifically, but I have a friend who regularly has arguments with officers who are trying to ticket him unlawfully, despite the folder of information he carries with him at all times.”

Where everything falls apart is taxation. The state places a 7-percent sales tax on every vehicle, and you pay the higher of either the purchase price or the CPI Black Book price. We’ll let you determine whether CPI’s values are legit or not. 

The Ocean State also assesses a labyrinthine excise tax every year. Good luck figuring out how to determine how much you owe, because we failed algebra, and you’ll definitely need some skills. Seriously, the equations are absurd.

36. North Carolina

North Carolina State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions N 100
Safety Inspection Y 0
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y Property Tax 50
Excise Tax Y 3% 70
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 10 Months 90
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Good 50

Total Grade: 560

North Carolina is really light on the information on its DMV site. We heard from Eric Seeger that the state is “rather friendly to antique cars. I learned this with a 1989 Grand Wagoneer and a 1992 BMW 525i wagon. If your vehicle is pre-OBDII, they require an annual safety inspection, which can be done at any number of state-licensed privately-owned shops for probably less than $25. The inspection consists of a technician making sure that basic things are in order: tires are not bald, blinkers and wipers work.” Period-correct emissions equipment is supposed to be in place, as well, but that’s largely left up to the shop doing the inspection.

Sales tax is also remarkably low at 3 percent of the purchase price (up to a maximum of $475), and the Tarheel State has a “Highway Use Tax” of 3 percent, which is lower than the state’s 4.75 percent sales tax. That’s cool, but you’re also responsible for property tax on your car every year, based on the car’s value, and it varies based on the city and county. The state has a Property Tax Estimator online. We plugged in a $10,000 value in Charlotte and came out with an estimated tax of $167.87. Over a period of years, that’s a pretty hefty tax liability, especially if your car is worth some money.

36. New Hampshire

New Hampshire State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 75
Safety Inspection Y Annual 0
Emissions Requirement Y County required 75
Sales Tax N 100
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 8 Months 60
Road Quality Poor 25
Traffic Poor 25

Total Grade: 560

Go one state north of #50 Massachusetts and the weather gets even worse, locking a good percentage of the state in snow and ice for almost half the year, from just north of the state capitol in Concord all the way to the Canadian border. But the weather, New Hampshire’s refusal to register vehicles to out-of-state residents, and its annual safety inspection are its only real faults.

Kristen Pratt says that registering her 1978 Jeep CJ-5 was a piece of cake. “Super easy—just need title (or bill of sale, if applicable) for registration tags. Inspection is just like my 2018 Jeep: lights, tires, brakes, etc.—no emissions requirement.”

The title requirement is only for vehicles 20 years old or newer. New Hampshire doesn’t issue a title for vehicles older than that, either, so you save the title fee when you register. “New Hampshire has no sales or excise tax, just one registration fee, which is scaled according to age and value,” Pratt says.

Traffic and Road Quality are great in the northern part of the state, but there’s congestion all the way to Concord, which lowers the ratings.

35. New York

New York State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 75
Safety Inspection Y 0
Emissions Requirement N 1996 or newer 100
Sales Tax Y 4% 60
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 1972 or newer 75
Length of Driving Season 9 Months 80
Road Quality Fair 50
Traffic Poor 25

Total Grade: 565

New York is rather notorious for its sales tax, but the state only assesses 4 percent. The issue is the additional-use tax that’s tacked on by the county, which can be up to 4.75 percent. However, that means you don’t have an annual excise tax bill to pay, so when you compare it to a state like Massachusetts, it’s not all that bad.

The title situation isn’t great, either. Where most states in the Northeast have a 20- or 25-year-old-or-newer title requirement, New York rolls that all the way back to 1972, making a valid title required paperwork if you’re looking to buy a vehicle out of state. 

We gave New York a “Good” rating for Traffic and Road Quality, despite the New York metropolitan area being one of the most traffic-congested regions in America. That said, it’s a huge state, and it offers some amazing driving once you get outside of New York City and Albany. The run west along the Erie Canal basically parallels I-90, but get off the highway and explore some of New York’s state highways, like NY Route 31 to the west, NY Routes 5 and 5S in the Mohawk Valley, NY Route 4 along the Champlain Canal, and NY Routes 48 and 481 and County Route 57 along the Oswego Canal.

34. Illinois

Illinois State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 75
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 1966 on 100
Sales Tax Y 7.25% 27.5
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 7 Months 65
Road Quality Good 75
Traffic Fair 25

Total Grade: 567.5

Kudos to Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White for providing a thorough brochure on vintage-car registration. For $30, you can get a vintage-car tag for five years, which is a significant savings.

You have pay for that fancy graphic design on the pamphlet somehow, however—sales tax is how it’s done. Illinois has a 7.25-percent sales tax to begin with, and the county can ring you up for another quarter to three quarters of a percent. If you live within the city of Chicago, there’s another 1.25 percent added on.

Despite Ferris Bueller’s adventure in the Ferrari, the weather and traffic in Chicago is brutal on a vintage car. Once you’re outside the city the roads open up, but it’s still a pretty short season, with 38 inches of snow in the middle of the state.

33. Virginia

Virginia State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 25
Safety Inspection N With antique plates 100
Emissions Requirement N 25-year cap 100
Sales Tax Y 4.15% 58.5
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 10 Months 90
Road Quality Fair 75
Traffic Poor 25

Total Grade: 573.5

Virginia is pretty clear about its antique plate usage, and it isn’t great news for people who enjoy driving. First of all, the statue says you can’t “exceed 250 miles from your residence.” Secondly, you can use your car for general, daily transportation, which “includes, but is not limited to, driving to and from work.”

Nevertheless, there’s a significant advantage to obtaining antique plates: you avoid the state’s annual safety inspection. Older vehicles are also exempt from the state’s emissions testing program, although unlike many states that only make cars from the OBD-II era comply (beginning in 1996), Virginia pushes that back to 25 years. 

Sales tax is relatively low at 4.15 percent, and it’s calculated on the sale price listed on the bill of sale, so you’re not at the mercy of the inconsistent values in a NADA price guide, especially if your car is less than perfect. Like Maryland, a lot of places in Virginia get snow in the winter, so you’ll have your classic car stored at least a few months during the year.

32. South Carolina

South Carolina State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 5% 50
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 11 Months 90
Road Quality Fair 50
Traffic Fair 50

Total Grade: 590

South Carolina is a pretty great place to have a vintage vehicle. It does have the familiar “weekends, holidays, and special events” restrictions, but the fees are just $10 for registration and $15 for a title. 

Beyond that, the Palmetto State did away with its safety inspection back in the mid-1990s. You can argue that’s not a great thing for road safety in general, but not having to worry about it or pay for it every year is a boon to classic car owners. There’s also no emissions requirement, meaning South Carolina vintage car owners skate on all the annual annoyances, regardless how old their car is. 

Sales tax is moderate at just 5 percent, and outside of Charlotte, the roads are in comparably decent shape and uncrowded. The higher elevations get snow, but for the most part, South Carolina’s coastal communities will go years without seeing the white stuff. 

30. Florida

Florida State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 6% 40
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 12 Months 100
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Poor 25

Total Grade: 615

Florida’s weather alone makes it friendly to vintage cars. The state has several designations for older cars—including Antique, Street Rod, and Horseless Carriage for cars manufactured before 1945. 

On the one hand, it’s hard to see why anyone would bother, since the state has neither a safety nor an emissions inspection program, never mind for vintage cars. But you’ll want one of those special plates to save on what Florida calls the “Initial Registration,” a hefty $225 fee it collects the first time you register your car in the state. That fee is waived for cars bearing antique plates, and the fees for Antique, Street Rod, and Horseless Carriage tags are permanent, meaning you pay them once and you’re good for the entire time you own it.

Florida gets essentially no snow every year, and outside the cities the roads are in great shape.

30. Maine

Maine State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions N 100
Safety Inspection Y Annual 0
Emissions Requirement Y 20-year cap 75
Sales Tax Y 5.5% on book value 55
Excise Tax Y Sliding age scale 50
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 8 Months 60
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Good 75

Total Grade: 615

The Pine Tree State wavers from wide open to heavily restricted, depending on which of the ranking criteria you’re looking at. Outside of having a requirement that you must have a daily driver to get antique plates, Maine is pretty light on antique plate restrictions, but it does require a safety inspection of all vehicles. Emissions are only required in Cumberland County (basically, in Portland) and only for cars newer than 1996. There’s a sales tax and excise tax, but you don’t need a title for anything older than ’96, so if you buy an older car from Maine, you’ll only need a current registration and a bill of sale. 

One fact that might be interesting to owners of trailered cars is that anyone can register a trailer in Maine, regardless of your state of residence. The fees are super cheap, so if your state dings you for registering your car trailer, give Maine a shot. 

Andrew Baca has a bunch of vintage scooters and a Corvair Greenbrier van registered in Maine. “One weird thing in Maine is that you can use a vintage plate on your antique vehicle as long as you keep the official plate inside the vehicle,” he says. “They would not let me register the vehicle with the vintage plate.”

29. Washington

Washington State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 6.8% 32
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 10 Months 90
Road Quality Poor 25
Traffic Poor 25

Total Grade: 622

Washington would get a much higher score if traffic and road conditions weren’t rated 42nd and 40th by the U.S. News & World Report. The restrictions on classic car registration includes “club activities, exhibitions, tours, parades, and occasional pleasure driving,” but there isn’t a day-of-the-week or non-holiday clause like some other states.

Jason Bagge has owned and registered hundreds of classic cars in Washington and suggests the way to register one is to find a set of correct year plates for your car’s model year and register it that way. “A collector plate limits you to non-daily use,” he says, “but what if you buy a set of old school plates that were made when the car was new, you can register them as ‘restored’ plates. These are daily driver plates that can still wear original 1970s tabs.”

The rating also reflects the fact that we’re jumping the gun on emissions regs by about a year. Washington had emission testing regulations for certain populated counties, but those will be gone for both new and old cars in 2020.

We’re giving the state a full “No” for a title requirement to register a classic car. Technically you do need a title, but if you don’t have one you can register a car for three years without one at all, or get a bonded title, as spelled out in Washington Administrative Code Title 308  Chapter 56A Section 210.

28. Connecticut

Connecticut State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions N 100
Safety Inspection Y Annual 0
Emissions Requirement N 1996 or newer 100
Sales Tax Y $500 assessment 75
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 20 years old 100
Length of Driving Season 9 Months 80
Road Quality Fair 50
Traffic Poor 25

Total Grade: 630

We were ready to hammer Connecticut because its Department of Motor Vehicles is notoriously awful. But a handful of Constitution State residents chimed in to defend its honor on a couple of counts. First off, Connecticut has a long history of offering a major tax break on vintage cars. For tax purposes, a vehicle that is older than 20 years old and historically significant only has a tax value of $500. That can save a lot of bucks versus registering a vehicle just a few miles north in Massachusetts, where a $500 Falcon can easily cost hundreds in sales tax based on the book value. 

Dillon Troxell says you get that tax break whether you decide to get “Early American Vehicle” or “Classic Vehicle” plates, which don’t carry any significant restrictions to use. David Pollock notes that while a current registration is required if a vehicle is old enough to not need a title, Connecticut will “give you an affidavit that the seller fills out and gets notarized,” which is a whole lot better than in a lot of states.  

Dillon Troxell notes, “Car registration is the only thing Connecticut doesn’t kill you on (yet).”

27. Delaware

Delaware State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N Antique 100
Emissions Requirement N Antique 100
Sales Tax Y 4.5% doc fee 55
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 10 Months 90
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Fair 50

Total Grade: 645

Delaware’s numerical score is hurt by the restrictions on classic vehicle registrations. Antique vehicle registration is open to anything older than 25 years, but the restrictions are well defined: Cars with an antique plate “shall be used only for participation in club activities, exhibits, tours, parades and similar uses, but in no event shall it be used for general transportation,” according to the Delaware DMV. Delaware also offers “Street Rod” registration for 1970 or older vehicles that have been extensively modified.

Delaware gets good marks for sales tax, but it does charge a “Documentation Fee,” which is 4.5 percent of the vehicle sale price, or the NADA value, whichever is higher. Call it what you like, that’s still a tax. Antique registration means that you pay $25 once for an inspection and never have to pay for it again.

Delaware’s weather is better in the winter months than most of the Northeast states, extending the driving season by a month or so.

26. Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 25
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 1996 on 100
Sales Tax Y 5.6% 44
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 100
Length of Driving Season 7 Months 65
Road Quality Poor 25
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 659

Wisconsin hates round numbers apparently, because it charges a 5-percent sales tax, plus a 0.5-percent county tax, plus a 0.1-percent “Stadium Tax” to register a car. The Stadium Tax affords Wisconsin residents the privilege of paying for the $290 million Miller Park (23 years and counting), so they can watch the Brewers lose in the playoffs every time they get there.

But we digress. Wisconsin also has antique vehicle registration, but only for cars built before 1945. There’s no safety or emissions to avoid (unless your car is from 1996 or later, and you live near Milwaukee). 

There’s a title requirement, but in recent years, it’s gotten a lot easier to buy a heap without a title and register it legally. The process requires a surety bond worth 1.5 times the value of the vehicle (which comes from a price guide with the vehicle in “#5 or #6” condition). A vehicle valued at $5000–$6000 could get a surety bond for around $100. With that in place, you can get yourself a title. That’s a major convenience versus other states that won’t give you the time of day without a title.

Wisconsin weather is completely offensive to old car ownership, though. Your car will be in storage for so long you’ll probably forget it looks like.

25. Louisiana

Louisiana State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions N 100
Safety Inspection Y 0
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 4% 60
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 25 years 100
Length of Driving Season 12 Months 100
Road Quality Fair 50
Traffic Fair 50

Total Grade: 660

According to what we could find on the Louisiana DMV website, there aren’t a whole lot of restrictions to having a vintage vehicle plate, but getting one is slightly more involved than other states. The state requires that you fill out an affidavit that states you haven’t modified the vehicle from its original form. 

If the vehicle is 25 years old or older, you don’t need a title to register it, but again that requires some paperwork. You need an affidavit signifying a physical inspection by the police, a notarized bill of sale and a statement saying you’re a member of a classic car club, which appears to be unique to Louisiana. 

There’s no emissions testing requirement, but vehicles built after 1980 must have their original emissions equipment present during the annual safety inspection in Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Iberville, Livingston, and West Baton Rouge counties.

Taxes can get rather expensive, too. The state assesses a 4-percent sales tax, but counties can hold you up for up to an additional 6 percent in sales tax depending on where you live. 

24. Oklahoma

Oklahoma State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 3.25% 67.5
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y Surety Bond OK 50
Length of Driving Season 8 Months 70
Road Quality Fair 25
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 662.5

Oklahoma is one of those states that seems to keep any information about registering a classic car under heavy wraps until you’ve stood in line for three hours at the DMV. A search of the site reveals no results for “classic,” “historic,” or “antique.” We did a Google search for registering a classic vehicle in Oklahoma and came up with a single .pdf. Most states cut you a break by making classic registrations a one-time fee, but not Oklahoma. It’s a $19 annual fee. If you want it for 10 years, it’s $86, which saves you more than a hundred bucks in registration fees.

Oklahoma requires a title for classic cars, but it also accepts a nominally-priced surety bond in place of a title if the car you’re interested in doesn’t have one (something to keep in mind when negotiating a price with a seller.) 

The traffic in Oklahoma is generally pretty good, which scored the state an 11th ranking from U.S. News & World Report. The road quality is pretty dismal, however—37th in the U.S.

23. Michigan

Michigan State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 75
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 6% 40
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 8-9 Months 75
Road Quality Poor 25
Traffic Fair 50

Total Grade: 665

Considering it’s locked in snow for 4–5 months a year (more if you’re north of Lansing) and the roads are in deplorable condition in many areas—particularly around Detroit—Michigan fares pretty well in the vintage vehicle friendliness rankings, mostly because of the registration requirements. 

“I had a super easy time getting a title for a Honda S90 I bought with a bill of sale several years back,” Evan McCausland tells us, “but I think they've now changed the process to include a surety bond.” The requirements for a Historic vehicle plate are kind of remarkable. Yes, you’re only supposed to be using the car for events and pleasure driving, but there’s no distinction on what days of the week you can drive it, and we couldn’t find anyone who’s ever been ticketed for violating the Historic plate restrictions.

What’s really interesting in Michigan is the month of August: With a Historic plate, you’re free to drive your classic car every day, including for general transportation to and from work. That’s a pretty sweet deal, especially if you’re headed to the Woodward Dream Cruise.

22. Georgia

Georgia State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions N* 1000
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 7% 30
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 1962 or newer 20
Length of Driving Season 12 Months 95
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Poor 25

Total Grade: 670

In almost every instance, Georgia rocks as far as classic vehicle ownership goes. The state doesn’t appear to have an annual safety inspection, nor does it have emissions requirements for A) vehicles older than 1996 or B) for any vehicles registered outside the Atlanta Metro area.

We placed an asterisk next to the classic vehicle restrictions section because they weren’t evident on the DMV website. Your mileage here may vary. The plates are comparatively expensive versus other states—$80 up front and $55 to renew every year—and don’t really provide any benefits since you’re not avoiding inspections. 

Joe Severns notes that years ago, he only needed a bill of sale on a 1964 Mercedes-Benz Heckflossë some years ago, but the state’s website notes that titles are required for 1962 and newer cars now. “The car had been a barn car, which ran and moved under its own power but lacked safe brakes, tires and working safety belts,” he says. “Maybe Ralph Nader should have lobbied Georgia for a safer registration process that would include a safety inspection. Ad valorem taxes may also be required depending on the year of the vehicle. The government does take a bite.”

That 7-percent sales tax is applied at registration and is calculated by the state, not your bill of sale, which isn’t great, depending on which wildly inaccurate source the state bases its value on. 

On the plus side, Georgia gets only about 2.9 inches of snow every year, so you’re safe never having to store your car for the winter. And outside of Atlanta Metro, the roads in the region are spectacular. 

21. West Virginia

West Virginia State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N w/ Antique Plates 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 6% 40
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 10 Months 90
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 680

West Virginia has antique vehicle restrictions that conform with the “weekends, holidays, and special events” restrictions of other states in the region, but the requirements don’t seem as strict as those laid out in Virginia. 

You can either select the antique plates provided by the state or, if you have a 1973 or earlier vehicle, you can opt for plates with a year that matches the year of your vehicle. 

West Virginia doesn’t have an emissions inspection, so you don’t have to worry about that at all if your vintage car interests include cars from the ’90s. If you opt for the antique plates, you don’t have to worry about safety inspections, either. The sales tax is relatively high at 6 percent, but it appears to be calculated on the bill of sale, which is a huge advantage versus calculation by a NADA price guide.

West Virginia has some of the most amazing roads in the east, and traffic is relatively light compared to other states in the mid-Atlantic region. The weather cooperates most of the year, too, but you’ll definitely see snow a few months of the year.

20. Kansas

Kansas State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions N 100
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y Up to 8.775% 12
Excise Tax Y Property tax 0
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 8 Months 70
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 682

Kansas is another state that seems motivated to provide information to its constituents about registering classic cars. Not only does it have a clearly-written statute laying out the lenient requirements and restrictions for historic plates (KSA 8-172, if you’re interested), the Kansas Highway Patrol provides an excellent pamphlet on title requirements. Whether you have an out-of-state title or a Bill of Sale, you’re required to have the VIN inspected by the Highway Patrol.

That’s the plus side. On the negative side there’s Rick Lyda’s experience. “I brought my ’61 Willys CJ5 to Kansas from Colorado,” Lyda says. “I had to get it inspected by the Highway Patrol before I could tag it. They only do inspections Tuesdays and Thursdays between 9 a.m.– noon. So I had to pay two days extra for the trailer rental and miss a day of work just to have the pleasure of paying $25 and spending a half hour arguing with the guy about the six-digit VIN number.”

The roads rank pretty high, according to U.S. News & World Report at #15, and the commute time is the eighth-best in America. 

19. Iowa

Iowa State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 75
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 5% 50
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y 0
Length of Driving Season 8 Months 70
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 695

Iowa has Antique vehicle registration, but we’re not sure there’s any point to obtaining it other than vanity. After 2009, if you get Antique plates, you’re subject to the restrictions (only driven to and from state and county fairs or educational exhibits, must never use it as daily transport), but the fee is the same as any regular car. It doesn’t look like there’s any break on the 5-percent sales tax, either.

Iowa requires a title for all vehicles at the time of registration and there’s no language obvious that allows any kind of surety bond in its place. 

Add that Iowa gets 39 inches of rain and 29 inches of snow every year, and you’re looking at a pretty low score.

18. Colorado

Colorado State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions N 100
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N Graduated 100
Sales Tax Y 2.9% plus local 50
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y Surety Bond OK 100
Length of Driving Season 7 Months 60
Road Quality Fair 50
Traffic Fair 50

Total Grade: 710

Colorado is like most other states in that it offers a Historic vehicle tag with a few minor restrictions. There are two important things to keep in mind in the Centennial State, however.

First, Colorado has a graduated emissions-testing program for cars in nine counties in populated areas. Vehicles older than 1975 registered as collector cars are exempt from emissions testing. Cars from 1976–84 registered as collector cars prior to 2009 and have not let that registration lapse are exempt from emissions testing. Cars 32 years old that were not registered prior to 2009 must have an initial emissions inspection, then be re-inspected every five years, and must not drive more than 4500 miles per year. Emissions inspections are at government-run facilities. “Wait times are posted online and there's one about 5 minutes from my house,” Andrew Ganz tells us. “I've never waited more than 10 minutes, though it's ironic that you sit idling outside the facility.”

The second thing unique to Colorado is its titling requirements. If your older car doesn’t have a title, you can still register it with a surety bond, as in many other states. However, if your vehicle is NOT roadworthy, older than 25 years of age, and physically located in Colorado, you can get what’s called a “Rebuilder’s Title” to keep with the car as it is restored. Once it’s again in roadworthy shape, you can use that Rebuilders Title as the basis to get a standard Colorado title. That’s a unique win for restorers in Colorado.

Unfortunately, Colorado ranks 30th in commute time and 29th in road quality, according to U.S. News & World Report.

17. New Mexico

New Mexico State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 3% 70
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y Surety Bond OK 100
Length of Driving Season 8 Months 70
Road Quality Poor 25
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 715

New Mexico Statute 66-3-27 NMSA 1978 lays out the requirements for its “Horseless Carriage” registration. The restrictions are the basic “special events and car shows” type, but there’s no restriction on days of the week or miles per year. It’s kind of odd that a car from 1984 can be registered as a “Horseless Carriage,” but that’s the statute. 

There’s a version of Colorado’s “rebuilder’s title” in New Mexico that allows a car to be restored over time and then inspected at the time of registration for a clean New Mexico title. 

New Mexico ranks #14 in America in terms of short commutes, but unfortunately ranks #41 for road quality.

15. Arizona

Arizona State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions N 100
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement Y Limited areas 75
Sales Tax Y 5.6% plus local 44
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y Surety Bond OK 50
Length of Driving Season 12 Months 100
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Fair 50

Total Grade: 719

Arizona has up to four special plates for older cars. Classic Car plates are reserved for those recognized by the Classic Car Club of America. Historic Vehicle plates are for those 25 years old or older. Street Rod plates are for 1948 or earlier with modifications. Horseless Carriage plates are for 1915 or earlier. None seem to carry much in the way of major restrictions, which is great in a state where the sun shines most of the year.

Jeff Koch tells us that “Arizona’s emissions standards vary by county. In Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, any car 1975 or later needs emissions testing unless you get collector insurance. In that case, the emissions requirement is waived. Collector car or antique plates are not necessary for collector-car insurance.”

He also notes, “Used-car buyers who buy from a private seller are not required to pay sales tax on the transaction.”

U.S. News & World Report ranks Arizona among the top 25 percent in Road Quality.

15. Nevada

Nevada State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 5000 miles/yr. 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 8.1% 19
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y Bonded OK 50
Length of Driving Season 12 Months 100
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 719

Nevada’s classic-car plates (of which there are nine, by the way) come with an age and mileage restriction. The vehicle must be 25 years old (or older for Old Timer or Horseless Carriage tags) and can only be driven 5000 miles a year. However, the only thing that happens if you do go over 5000 miles annually is that you are subject to an emissions inspection, rather than running the risk of having the car impounded, like in other states. 

The weather is generally conducive to old car ownership; the roads are fantastic outside of Las Vegas and you can register a car with a bond if the title is missing. Only relatively high taxation keeps the state out of the running for the best state in the Union for classic ownership.

14. Wyoming

Wyoming State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 4% 60
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y Surety Bond OK 50
Length of Driving Season 7 Months 60
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 720

U.S. News & World Report ranked Wyoming #2 for commute time and #3 for road quality, making this a classic-car owners’ paradise—in the few months the state isn’t buried under multiple feet of snow. 

Classic vehicle restrictions are fairly light, in that the car is only supposed to be used for exhibitions, events, and pleasure driving, but there’s no restriction on the days or mileage you can drive. Plus, the registration fee is a more-than-reasonable $10. Sales tax isn’t terrible at 4 percent, and there’s no safety or emissions requirements to deal with.

Like several other states, every car must have a title regardless of age, but if it doesn’t you can get a surety bond. It’s just going to cost you, depending on how valuable the car is.

13. Ohio

Ohio State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 25-year cap 100
Sales Tax Y 7.75% 22.5
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 9 Months 75
Road Quality Good 75
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 722.5

Ohio have restrictions for on cars with Historical vehicle plates, but the requirements don’t seem onerous, and given the fact that you see an awful lot of them around at car shows, they’re probably worth having versus standard registration. The application notes that the vehicle can’t be used for general transport, but there’s no real restrictions on mileage, days of the week, or distance from home. 

Ohio doesn’t have a safety inspection, and there’s a 25-year cap for emissions requirements, so most of us are out of the woods. Sales tax can get steep when you throw in the 2.25-percent county tax, but there’s a cap of $700. 

11. Idaho

Idaho State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement Y Limited areas 75
Sales Tax Y 6% plus local 40
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 8 Months 70
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 735

Idaho Statute 49, Chapter 4 lays out the requirements for classic vehicle registration, and the restrictions are pretty light. There’s no mileage or day-of-the-week restrictions, only that the car can’t be used as basic daily transport. The fee is a reasonable $25, and renewal is just $3 every three years.

Idaho doesn’t have a safety inspection, but cars registered in Canyon County and the city of Kuna newer than 1981 model year must have an emissions inspection. 

Idaho has a provision for titling a car that’s more than 10 years old that doesn’t have a title. It’s a rather lengthy and detailed procedure, but at least it exists, without the requirement of purchasing an often-expensive surety bond. You can read about the Provisional Title procedure here.

Idaho’s traffic ranks ninth in the U.S., and its road quality is 19th.

11. Alaska

Alaska State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax N* 100
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y Surety bond OK 50
Length of Driving Season 7 Months 60
Road Quality Good 75
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 735

Obviously, a lot of Alaska is buried in snow and ice for a good chunk of the year, but otherwise, it’s quite classic-car friendly. Classic Car registration only costs $10 and doesn’t require a renewal, and there’s no inspection either for safety or emissions. 

We put an asterisk next to Sales Tax because Alaska has no state sales tax. Depending on where you live, the municipality can charge anywhere from 0–7.5-percent sales tax, however, so be aware of that. 

Given its inclement weather, Alaska still ranks high on the U.S. News & World Report roads index, ranking fifth in the country for commute time, and 28th in the nation for road quality—likely a lot higher than the average person would guess.

10. Mississippi

Mississippi State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions N 100
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 5% 50
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 12 Months 100
Road Quality Poor 25
Traffic Good 75

Total Grade: 750

Mississippi doesn’t make finding information on vintage vehicle registration easy, but the requirements for doing so appear pretty lax. There’s not much on the state’s Department of Revenue site except for the fact that yes, you can get an antique tag, and the fee is $28. We looked for any kind of requirements and couldn’t find any. We’d assume that there’s a year cap, but good luck finding it. 

What is clear is that if the previous owner had two years’ worth of registrations, you don’t need a title. 35.VII.06.1 Part 7, Subpart 6, Chapter 1 of the Mississippi Administrative code says, “When applying for a Certificate of Title on a used vehicle that has not been previously titled, the following supporting documents must accompany the title application: 1. A certificate copy of Current Bill of Sale; 2. A certified copy of Previous Bill of Sale or certified copy of two years Tag and Tax receipts of previous owner.”

There’s no inspection—emission nor safety—and you can drive year ’round, so congrats on a high score, Mississippi.

8. Alabama

Alabama State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 4% 60
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 35-year cap 100
Length of Driving Season 12 Months 100
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Fair 50

Total Grade: 760

Alabama makes it really easy for vintage car owners to register their vehicles. According to the Commissioner of Licenses in Calhoun County, Barry E. Robertson’s website, “Automobiles and trucks 35 years old and older do not require titles,” which gets you all the way back to 1984. 

It has restrictions for vintage tags, but we applied half credit here because the restrictions don’t say anything about weekends and holidays only, or anything about mileage caps. The vehicle must be over 30 years old and “operated as a collector’s item, including participation in club activities, exhibitions, tours, parades, and not used for general transportation purposes.”

It’s super cheap, too. The tags are only $15, and taxes—including the state tax and any county tax—is 4 percent tops. It can be lower than that depending upon the county. 

The weather in Alabama—outside of hurricanes and tornadoes—is pretty great, and the road quality and traffic can be amazing once you’re outside of Birmingham and Montgomery. 

8. Montana

Montana  State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax N 100
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y Surety Bond OK 50
Length of Driving Season 7 Months 60
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 760

The weather is about the only reason not to be excited to own a vintage car in Montana. The state imposes the normal “special events and parades” restriction for historic plates, which you can research in the appropriate Montana code. But other than that, it’s something of a paradise—both in general and for classic car owners. 

First and foremost, it doesn’t impose a sales tax for cars at all. The money saved in tax resulted in a cottage industry of shady folks that would set up a Montana LLC specifically to register a car to the company, and then lie about the place where it was domiciled. Don’t do that. You’re begging for A) an audit and B) your insurance company to refuse to pay a claim when your car burns up in a garage in New Jersey.

U.S. News & World Report ranks Montana #4 in America for short commute times and #11 in terms of road quality, so you’ll be able to enjoy your car.

6. Oregon

Oregon State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement Y '75 and newer 75
Sales Tax N 100
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement Y Bonded OK 50
Length of Driving Season 10 Months 90
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 765

Oregon fares well because of its high-quality roads, its decent traffic outside the metro areas, and the fact that it doesn’t charge a sales tax. Depending on where you live you could see a ton of snow, but even then, Oregon doesn’t use salt, so cars and trucks tend to be in relatively rust-free condition after a lifetime of use. 

There’s a title requirement, which you can read more about in Oregon’s general laws. Jeff Zurschmeide notes, “If you bring a car in from out of state, Oregon requires a VIN inspection. They just make sure the VIN on the dash (or wherever) matches the title. My only VIN challenge was on a 1920 Model T, which didn't have serial numbers until 1925. [The DMV makes] you go to the State Police station and get approval. Not a problem—Model Ts are not high-theft vehicles.” 

Zurschmeide also notes that the enforcement of “daily use” is pretty lax. “The DMV will give you a stern warning that cars with SP plates may only be driven on special occasions, such as to car shows or club meetings, or to be serviced and repaired. I suppose if you got ticketed for speeding or something, they might add on charges for improperly driving on SP plates, but I take my ’56 pickup to the lumber yard and haven’t been hassled.” Just don’t tell your insurance company that.

6. Nebraska

Nebraska State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 5.5% 45
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 8 Months 70
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 765

Here’s a novel concept: Nebraska actually provides a decent amount of information on registering a classic vehicle on its website. Finding this information in other states can be a real time suck.

Vehicles with Historic plates are subject to the “parades and special events” restrictions of most other states, but there doesn’t appear to be a mileage cap or a day-of-the-week restriction.

As far as titles, there’s a fair bit of information worth reading at the DMV’s website. If the car is from 1940 or prior, you may not need a title at all. There are also different titling requirements for “Assembled Classic Motor Vehicles” that are 30 years old and have had significant modifications. 

Nebraska ranks #6 in America for commute time and #12 for road quality, so the driving experience can be pleasant, provided you don’t mind going arrow-straight most of the time. The average 30 inches of snow isn’t exactly ideal, but Nebraska doesn’t use salt on the roads, which makes it a good place for finding decent classic vehicles that haven’t rotted to the roofline.

5. North Dakota

North Dakota State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 5% 50
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 8 Months 70
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 770

Weather is about the only thing that makes North Dakota a little less appealing for vintage car owners. Yes, it gets more than 50 inches of snow every year, severely restricting the amount of driving time you’ll get, and it’s one of the states in the Salt Belt that treat the roads with the metal-eating substance. But the rest of the state’s vehicle-related attributes are remarkable.

North Dakota imposed the standard restrictions on vehicles with Historic plates. Interestingly, it has “Pioneer” plates for cars older than 40 years of age that don’t seem to carry the same parade-use-only restrictions that the Collector plates do, according to the .pdf on the DMV’s website.  Both require a one-time registration fee, and there’s no safety or emissions requirement, so you’re in the clear there.

Sales tax is a mid-level 5 percent. Titles are required, but if you don’t have one, there’s a process requiring an inspection that at least will provide a pathway to legal citizenship. U.S. News & World Report ranked North Dakota #2 in road quality and #3 in commute time, meaning you won’t be spending a lot of your time idling in traffic.

4. Utah

Utah State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions Y 50
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 6.85% 58.5
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 8 Months 70
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 778.5

Utah comes in with a strong score, limited only by its relatively high sales tax and the “parades and special events” restrictions on cars registered as classic vehicles. 

Classic registration is cheap at just $16, and you only pay the fee once if the car is registered. It also gets you out of having to have a safety or emissions inspection. 

Utah is also great if your vehicle doesn’t happen to have a title. Anything older than 1988 doesn’t need a title at all. You’ll only need a bill of sale to register the vehicle. 

Utah has some absolutely spectacular roads, and it ranks 12th in terms of traffic, according U.S. News & World Report. Road quality is 21st. 

3. Arkansas

Arkansas State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions N 100
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y* 6.5% plus local 35
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 12 Months 100
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Good 75

Total Grade: 810

Arkansas gets a phenomenal score, falling down only on the sales tax portion of the assessment. Not only does the state ring you up for a relatively high 6.5 percent, the county and the city can both wet their beaks, too, adding another percentage point or so to what you owe for the privilege of buying a car.

One interesting note, though. If the car you register cost you less than $4000, you don’t owe a sales tax at all, a boon for those of us who like to buy beaters and improve them as we drive.

On the plus side of the ledger, the Historic plate program seems to carry no other restrictions other than that the car must be at least 25 years old. It’s a one-time registration, so you won’t pay that over again for as long as you own the car. Arkansas has no safety or emissions inspections and will allow a bonded title if the original title is missing. Add the fact that the weather is generally good and traffic isn’t bad outside of Little Rock, and the Land of Opportunity scores remarkably high.

2. Kentucky

Kentucky State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions N 100
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y 6% 40
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 10 Months 80
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 820

We looked at every form on the Kentucky DMV website and couldn’t find one for antique or historic vehicles, and there isn’t any designation for vintage or classic vehicles on the standard registration form, so registering a vintage car in Kentucky looks like it’s just like registering any other vehicle. There isn’t a safety or emissions inspection that a vintage plate would help you avoid anyway.

The sales tax in Kentucky is a moderate 6 percent, and there’s no excise tax to contend with on an annual basis.

There’s a good explanation of the title procedure on the DMV website worth looking at. If you’re bringing a vehicle 25 years old or older into Kentucky from another state, you don’t necessarily need a title for it. The vehicle can be taken to a Sheriff's office for VIN verification and then the owner can apply for a new Kentucky title. 

1. Minnesota

Minnesota State Banner
Criterion Response Notes Grade
Classic Vehicle Registration Restrictions N 100
Safety Inspection N 100
Emissions Requirement N 100
Sales Tax Y $125 75
Excise Tax N 100
Title Requirement N 100
Length of Driving Season 7 Months 65
Road Quality Excellent 100
Traffic Excellent 100

Total Grade: 840

Despite its generally lousy weather, Minnesota posted an amazing score for its vintage car friendliness—the best of the bunch, in fact.

How did the Land of 10,000 Lakes fall only 60 points short a perfect 900 score? Start with the restrictions on vintage tags: None to speak of. A car has to be 25 years old, and you need to have another vehicle registered as a daily driver—which you’d need to have to get Hagerty insurance anyway—but beyond that, there are no other restrictions. If the vehicle you’re registering doesn’t have a title, you can get a bonded title, and you’d get the bond back after three years along with a clean title. 

Sales tax on a vintage car is a flat $125 fee plus $25 in a one-time tax, regardless of how much you paid for the car. That’s a massive savings if your emotions ran high at one of the Arizona auctions and you came home with a $50,000 car. Ordinarily, your tax liability would be $3000 on a purchase like that.

Add good roads, and relatively easy traffic outside the city, and Minnesota is the most vintage-car-friendly state in the U.S. Bet you couldn’t have guessed that before reading this story.

So there you have it, classic car owners. Let us know what you think. Are our numbers accurate or do you think your state is way more classic-car friendly than we’ve given it credit for? Make your case in the comments below… and congratulations, Minnesota.