Politics & Government

In North Carolina, an ‘antique’ car doesn’t have to be as old as it used to

Under a change in state law, a car or truck can qualify for an antique auto license plate in North Carolina if it is 30 years old.
Under a change in state law, a car or truck can qualify for an antique auto license plate in North Carolina if it is 30 years old.

What qualifies as an “antique” car or truck under North Carolina law has gotten a little younger.

A provision in the state transportation budget signed by Gov. Roy Cooper last week redefines a “historic vehicle” under state law from one that’s at least 35 years old to one that’s at least 30.

The change means the owners of vehicles made as recently as the early 1990s now qualify for an “antique auto” license plate. The plate confers some financial benefits to the vehicle’s owner, but with restrictions that make them relatively rare.

On the plus side, antique autos are considered a special class of property, assessed for tax purposes with a value of no more than $500. They are also exempt from annual safety and emissions inspections.

But state law also says antique autos can be used primarily for “exhibitions, club activities, parades and other public interest functions,” and can be driven “only occasionally for other purposes.” People who plan to use their car or truck for day-to-day driving shouldn’t get an antique plate.

Still, hobbyists applauded the lower age requirement, saying it might get more people interested in classic cars. Other states, including Virginia, define antique vehicles as those that are as young as 25 years old, which is the threshold the Antique Automobile Club of America has used to define an antique since it was founded in 1935.

Rep. Frank Iler of Brunswick County said he introduced the measure at the request of constituents who had moved to North Carolina from states with a lower age limit and wanted to keep their antique plates. Iler proposed that North Carolina reduce the age to 25, and included the provision in the House version of the budget.

The Senate budget included a similar provision, but it set the age at 30. When the two chambers got together to work out their differences in the budget, the Senate’s definition of an antique auto prevailed.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.