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Headed north for trailer registration? You may be sorry!

Even for a Massachusetts native, there are plenty of reasons to visit New England’s northernmost state. Go for the legendary lobstah. Check out the vast beaches or historic hiking trails. Shop the famed outlets, and score your favorite fashions for less.

But if you’re looking to score a bargain on your trailer’s registration, you’re wiser to stay close to home.

In recent years, many Massachusetts residents and business owners have succeeded in registering their semi- or utility trailers in Maine. Learning that registration fees and taxes are lower there, these drivers have made the trek up I95, the appropriate documentation in hand. They’ve headed back down with Maine-issued registration for a trailer that their Massachusetts-registered vehicle will pull.

The continued prevalence of this practice is understandable. It’s an up-front cost saver, and there’s a widespread notion that the Bay State allows it. Unfortunately, this notion is inaccurate in most cases, and a registrant’s lack of awareness may be irrelevant to a state trooper who catches the infraction.

Maine-ly illegal

State law requires that if a commercial or consumer vehicle registered in Massachusetts pulls a trailer, that trailer also must be registered in Massachusetts.

Exceptions apply for “apportioned” vehicles (more on that below).

The state potentially loses hundreds of dollars in taxes for every trailer that “lives”here but is unlawfully registered elsewhere. Given the increasing number of Maine-plated trailers traveling Massachusetts highways and byways, that puts missing revenue in the millions for a single year. The state’s active and escalating crackdown on this problem is not only unsurprising; it’s been a long time coming.

To be fair, “offender” probably would be a harsh label for many of these trailers’ registrants, who are honestly unaware they’ve even broken a law until they learn the hard way: a fine of up to $500 for every year of illegal registration. Even professionals in the transport and related industries may lack the facts.

So why such pervasive confusion around this statute? A couple of primary reasons are likely:

The “apportioned” exception. But wait, a trailer owner might think, I see legit Mass.-based businesses hauling Maine-plated semi-trailers all the time. Are they all breaking laws? Not necessarily. Next time, notice the plate on the vehicle itself. If a Massachusetts license plate displays APP, PRP and/or the word APPORTIONED, that vehicle may legally pull a trailer registered in Maine (or another state). Apportioned registration is based on regular interstate travel and other specific criteria, and generally only applies to large commercial trucks.

 It doesn’t matter to Maine. The law in question is a state law, and the state is Massachusetts. Therefore, if a trailer owner comes to the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) with the required documentation (such as bill of sale) and payment, the BMV is generally within its legal rights to issue the registration. Indeed, there are even independent companies that provide online services for obtaining Maine trailer registrations. But as one of these businesses, Maine Trailer Registrations, explicitly states on its web site: “It is your sole responsibility… to become educated of any applicable laws specific to your state regarding trailer registration.”

Insurance companies have a responsibility, too: their client’s financial protection. To this end, some may refuse to insure a Maine-registered trailer that a non-apportioned Massachusetts vehicle plans to pull. Inconvenient, maybe, but a registration transfer today beats a hefty citation tomorrow.

Your best bet? Work with your Dowd agent from the start to make sure your choices are legally sound. Stops around town or destinations abroad, you can get there from here—and we can help.