Buckeyes balk at Md. auto laws


February 22, 1993

You can imagine our delight, Faithful Readers, when we were castigated this week by two angry horse-chestnut seeds.

Yes, we received a couple of semi-abusive letters from buckeyes -- the name given to those worthless, poisonous nuts as well as inhabitants of the state of Ohio. Fortunately, Intrepid Commuter can take the heat without flinching.

Which reminds us: Do you know the difference between Cleveland and the Titanic? Cleveland has the bigger orchestra.

Both readers took great offense at our recent column about motorists who move to Maryland from another state, but fail to change the title and registration on their cars. One of our readers suggested a $25 bounty to motivate people to turn in offenders.

Well, this idea proved to be about as popular with these Midwesterners as setting fire to the Cuyahoga River.

"There are names for people like you and [your] loyal reader . . . none of which can be used here," writes J. B. Anderson, now of Glen Arm. "You people are part of the problem, not the solution."

Mr. Anderson and his fellow horse-chestnut seed -- who asked to have his name withheld so we'll call him Mr. Seed -- admit they kept Ohio plates for a long time after they moved to the Baltimore area. But both men claim their actions were justified because of some unfair aspect of Maryland's vehicle registration laws.

First, Mr. Seed's gripe.. He moved here from Cleveland with a 1981 Toyota Celica. To register in Maryland, he had to get an inspection certificate -- a notice from any one of 1,500 private inspection stations that his car was in good shape.

The inspection station, which also is an auto body shop, gave his car a failing grade. They claimed the Toyota was too rusty, that new bumpers had to be installed, and that all these problems could be taken care of for $1,200.

Mr. Seed was aghast. The car was worth only $1,200, and a privately owned repair shop seemed to be putting the squeeze on him.

"I do not want to drive a car with an out-of-state plate, but I have no option," Mr. Seed writes.

We discussed Mr. Seed's complaint with members of the state (( police who run the inspection program. They make two main points: 1) Mr. Seed has the option of having the repair work done elsewhere and should have been informed of that fact, and 2) he should report any suspected abuses by an inspection station to the state police automotive safety enforcement division, at (410) 768-1735.

"If he thinks the inspection mechanic is trying to drum up business, then he should call our office and we'll come take a look at it," says Capt. R. Joel Underwood, commander of the safety enforcement division.

Ohio only randomly inspects vehicles, but Maryland made the decision long ago that unsafe cars are not in the public interest. It's not because rusted cars are unsightly, but because we have a name for cars that crumble in a collision: deathtraps.

Inspections generally cost $30 to $50. You have 30 days to make repairs if the car fails.

Mr. Anderson's problem was also a matter of dollars and cents. He moved here a few years back with two relatively new cars for which he had already paid the Ohio sales tax.

"I was delighted to learn that I would not only pay sales tax on these cars again, but I would pay on amounts that were greater than what I actually paid for the cars," he writes. "It seems that Maryland decides what you should have paid for the cars."

Mr. Anderson is speaking about the way the state imposes its 5 percent excise tax. For the record, once again, here's how it works:

If you bring a car into Maryland, you pay the 5 percent titling tax on the car's value -- less whatever tax you paid in Ohio -- for a minimum of $100. Since Ohio's sales tax is 5.75 percent, Mr. Anderson should have paid only $100 for each of his cars.

However, here's the sneaky part. The Motor Vehicle Administration form asks when you moved to Maryland. The form doesn't note that state law requires motorists to register within 30 days of moving here.

If you give a date that is not within the previous 30 days, you are considered to be a law breaker and so you don't get a discount. If that happens, you must pay 5 percent on the National Automobile Dealers Association book value for the car.

If you paid a lower price, the MVA will accept a notarized receipt as proof and charge you 5 percent of the amount you paid.

Interestingly, Ohio has a similar procedure, but only for cars that are six months old or younger. And Ohio doesn't have the tricky 30-day penalty.

Let's face it: Life's a lot cheaper in the Midwest. But then the crabbing isn't nearly as good out there among the horse chestnuts.

Short cuts

* Nothing seems to tick off our readers quite like police officers who appear to be speeding, either during their off hours, or when they are obviously not headed to any emergency.

"I think that if the general public must obey the posted speed limit, our public servants could set an example to us and do the same," writes Jeff Brown of Elkridge.

* We received a SunDial inquiry from someone who complains about the way people throw lighted cigarette butts out the window of a moving car. At night, they can be distracting, perhaps even a hazard.

State officials tell us there's no specific crime against throwing a lighted butt, although it is a form of littering.

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