Dirty driving: How Nevada could close 'classic' car loophole

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — What makes a car classic? It sounds like fodder for bar trivia, but in Nevada it’s a question almost certain to come up in the state Legislature.

Classic vehicle license plates issued by the state Department of Motor Vehicles allow vehicle owners to bypass annual smog checks required in Clark and Washoe counties, including in and around Las Vegas and Reno.

While many people think of classics as perhaps a 1950s muscle car or a vintage roadster, Nevada cars can qualify for “Classic Rod” plates when they are just 20 years old.

That means a 2001 minivan you’re still using to run the kids around and drive to work could qualify, for a $37 standard DMV application fee.

Some environmentalists say many people are using the classic designation to get around smog standards for cars that are more rolling fog machines than pieces of automotive history.

Assemblyman Howard Watts, D-Las Vegas, is proposing legislation to close the loophole, restricting the special plates to vehicles more typically considered classics.

“Basically, more and more vehicle (owners) have realized they can drive these vehicles with a classic plate, they don’t have to get a smog check, and there’s no real enforcement,” Watts told the Las Vegas Sun .

The number of classic cars registered in Clark and Washoe counties has grown from about 5,000 in 2011 to more than 23,000 this year.

Under existing law, classic cars are not supposed to be driven more than 5,000 miles a year.

But, Watts said, “the DMV doesn’t really have the structure or resources to enforce that.”

His proposed solution: Require people who want classic car plates to have classic car insurance. It would help solve the problem because insurance companies are generally pickier about what kind of vehicles qualify as classics.

Allstate, for example, lists typical qualifications as limited annual mileage, proof of proper storage, proof the driver has another car for everyday driving and vehicle age requirements.

It’s difficult to figure the impact on the environment from cracking down on the number of early classics on the road. But older cars are significantly dirtier than newer models.

Emissions from a 1990 model year vehicle produced up to 18 times the amount of ozone-producing emissions as a 2015 model, according to a 2016 report by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.

Rudy Zamora, program director for Chispa Nevada, a Latino-focused arm of the League of Conservation Voters, said the legislation would benefit communities of color, which often bear the brunt of pollution.

“Communities of color are disproportionately affected because we are the ones that are closer to the sources of pollution — we’re closer to the highways,” he said.

Christi Cabrera, policy and advocacy director for Nevada Conservation League, said the proposed legislation would also direct some state emissions fees to fund car smog repair programs and electric-vehicle incentives for low-income people in Clark and Washoe counties.

Watts said the environmental, economic and clean-energy impacts of the bill make it worth passing. “I think it’s a win, win, win policy,” he said.