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Why Do All U-Haul's Have Arizona License Plates?

Summertime makes me think of road trips.  Who doesn't envision that American dream of putting the top down on a convertible and spending your summer vacation hitting the highway?  Think of all you can see and do out on the open road!  

Here in my house, we're in the midst of a stressful-yet-exciting move across a few hundred miles into a different state, and we've frequently been hitting the open road.  It's not exactly leisurely, but it's the open road nonetheless.  

When people hear we're leaving New York after almost 40 years, we often hear "You Got Out!" as if leaving New York is like escaping prison.  I mean, it kind of is, but that's a different story for a different time as we don't discuss politics here at YesterYear... 

We only discuss happy thoughts of better times from a bygone era!  I guess the two really are connected when you think about it, but I digress...

As part of the move, we initially rented a U-Haul truck.  Then, we canceled the reservation and rented an even bigger U-Haul truck.  Then, it turned out we didn't need the U-Haul after all when we found that a POD was roughly the same price, and I didn't have to drive it!  I rented a small U-Haul ten years ago when we moved into that house we just sold, so I can at least say I have some experience driving a rental truck.  From what I remember, it was fun, if not slightly uncomfortable to sit in, as my wife and I were starting off on a new adventure together in our first house.  

By the way, if you like road trips and 90s nostalgia, and why would you be here otherwise, perhaps you'd like to check out my article about Hamton and Plucky's big road trip to Happy World Land in Tiny Toon Adventure's How I Spent My Summer Vacation.  CLICK HERE TO READ IT!

As a kid, I was always fascinated with U-Haul trucks.  After all, kids like big trucks and things like that.  They sort of reminded me of an RV, which I've documented here before that I've always loved.  I'd daydream about fixing up a U-Haul with all the amenities of an RV so that I'd have a secret stealth RV to travel the country in.  I'd park it on the street or in a parking lot, and nobody would ever know I was eating, sleeping, or watching TV inside.  Silly, yes, but I spent a lot of time on a road trip planning such silly things.

Also, U-Hauls are painted with bright, bold orange accent colors.  Orange is my favorite color, and even today, I'm still immediately attracted to any brand or product that features the color (ahem: Tide).   In addition to the orange and white, the trucks often depict colorful images and fun designs painted on the side.  These images ranged from cowboys, UFOs, animals, and even fighter jets.  My family would frequently play a guessing game over what design we'd find as we pulled alongside a U-Haul during our road trips.

While guessing at the side panel images, I noticed something else that all of the trucks had in common.  They all had Arizona license plates.  Why is that?  And why do they all have "Apportioned" written on them?

Well, I'm never one to let you down, so let's dig a little deeper into why U-Hauls all have Arizona license plates!
The short answer is that all corporate-owned U-Haul rental vehicles in the lower 48 States and Canada have Arizona license plates because the company headquarters is in Phoenix, Arizona.  

But why, though?  Wouldn't it be cheaper to register them in the states where they reside or at least spend the bulk of their time?  

It's because Arizona's registration fee is only $8.  Yes, $8 (eight dollars.)  

A weight and commercial tax would apply to U-Haul Vehicles on top of that $8, but Arizona's Department of Transportation has another rule that benefits U-Haul and its fleet of over 175,000 trucks and vans.  

The law reads directly from their site: "The [Vehicle License Tax] is based on an assessed value of 60% of the manufacturer's base retail price reduced by 16.25% for each year since the vehicle was first registered in Arizona." 

In plain English, that means after several years, that license tax reduces to nearly ZERO.  

While someone will likely complain about "paying your fair share," it's one-hundred percent legal.  The vehicles are registered within the International Registration Plan (IRP), which means the plates don't expire; instead, they pay various fees to the States in which the vehicles are driven.  

When you or I register our car, we pay a small license plate fee to our state's Department of Motor Vehicles which is supposed to fund roads, bridges, or other infrastructure works.  Who knows where the money actually goes... 

Commercial trucks transport goods across multiple states much more often than passenger vehicles, so they operate under a completely different system.  These vehicles pay higher license fees, are registered and licensed under the International Registration Plan (IRP), and are called "apportionable vehicles."  

The IRP was created in the 1970s to allow commercial vehicles traveling within the USA and Canada to use one state-issued license plate and registration card but pay fees to other states based on the vehicle's weight and how many miles they drive.  

U-Haul does not disclose how much it pays annually in registration fees or which state receives the most cash, but recently a spokesman for U-Haul said it pays "vast sums of money" in fees annually. 

Many commercial truck carriers use this same system, designed to simplify the licensing fee collection for companies that manage large fleets of vehicles.  So, even though the trucks have Arizona plates on them, Florida, New York, Wyoming, or any state the vehicle is rented in gets their share of the licensing fee.  

One other benefit to registering the vehicles in Arizona?  The state does not require a safety inspection.  That fact alone is convenient for any operator where the vehicles may not all return to the licensing state every year for inspection.  It also relieves U-Haul of some of the liability should the truck's renter encounter any mechanical issues.

You may see some U-Hauls out on the road with non-Arizona license plates, and there are a few explanations.  Alaska and Hawaii do not allow for apportioned tags, so vehicles used in those States must have local plates.  The other reason could be that the vehicle is owned by a franchisee and not the U-Haul corporation, so it must also be registered locally.  

So, that's it in a nutshell.  Next time you hit the highway on your summer road trip and come across a "Do-It-Yourself" moving truck owned by U-Haul, you'll know why there's a very good chance it has Arizona license plates without even having to look.  But look anyway!  And see if you can guess what the image on the side is, too!