Classic car or clunker? Owner says state crackdown costing him thousands

Aug 16, 2023, 10:59 PM | Updated: Aug 17, 2023, 1:14 pm

CLEARFIELD, Utah — To be considered a vintage vehicle in Utah, a car must be at least 30 years old.

Dennis Burton’s 1991 Honda Civic hatchback qualified, and he’s registered the car as such for a couple of years.

“I barely graduated high school, and this came out,” said Burton. “I’m a California kid, born and raised. That’s an old school drop, did it myself, and I’m proud of that.”

As Burton discovered this summer, some of the work he did to the car may have to be undone.

“Last year, we were legal to drive our 30-year-old cars without emissions, and now this year we are not,” he said. “We have done plenty of modifications to these cars and they will not pass emissions.”

Burton was told the Civic needs to either pass an emissions test to the standard of the year of the vehicle or get special classic car insurance.

He’s frustrated, because either option will cost him money.

“We followed the rules, now they’ve changed, and we’re out a lot of money, blood, sweat, and tears,” Burton lamented. KSL Investigators reached out to the Utah State Tax Commission, which oversees the vintage vehicle program.

“The biggest thing that this law change does is it requires a person whose vehicle is between the age of 1983 and 30 years old, so 1993 for this current year, to have classic car insurance or collector’s insurance if they want to avoid the emissions inspection,” said Utah Tax Commission spokesman Jason Gardner.

Gardner said the law grandfathered in vehicles built before 1982. Of the 54,027 vehicles that fall in that range, 28,689, or 53% are registered with vintage vehicle plates.

State law does have specific rules on what classifies as a classic car. In addition to age, the owner must certify the vehicle is used primarily for club activities, car shows, parades and occasional transportation. The vehicle can’t be used for everyday travel.

Currently, 9,128 vehicles made after 1982 are registered with vintage plates in Utah and will now have to get special insurance or an emissions test. There are 71,797 registered vehicles made between 1983 and 1993 that would qualify for the vintage plates.

State Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, sponsored the bill, after he says he found many were abusing the vintage plate privileges.

“They were being used on a daily basis for work, especially some pickup trucks, and I saw a number of those that were 70s, 80s, and 90s not in good shape,” said Harper, “and they were polluting quite a bit.”

Seeking to clear the air, Harper said he spoke with many stakeholders within the classic car community to find a compromise.

“We have poor air quality days, and we want to reduce the instances of those, and some of the mobile sources that are leading to that poor air quality,” Harper said.

There may be hope for Burton and other collectors like him in another law change sponsored by Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo.

Currently, five Utah counties require emissions testing on vehicles. Thurston’s bill allowed each county to exempt classic cars from emissions, so long as the owner certifies it is driven no more than 1,500 miles per year.

We reached out to those counties’ health departments to see if they plan to offer the exemption, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2024. Davis County said they will offer the exemption. Salt Lake County said no. We did not hear back from the Weber-Morgan, Utah County or Bear River health departments.

As for Burton, he’s spending his weekends, and about $1,000, to make his Civic pass the emissions test.

“I put time and effort into something that I want people to be able to see,” Burton said. “We were given that opportunity and it’s been stripped.”

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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Classic car or clunker? Owner says state crackdown costing him thousands