Does a Tow-Behind Sawmill Need Vehicle Tags?

      Just because you can tow it behind a truck, doesn't mean it's officially a "trailer." In some states at least, sawmill equipment on wheels is not a vehicle and it doesn't need a license plate. December 30, 2007

Rather than waste numerous hours of my life sitting in a VA DMV office, I thought I would seek help from the WOODWEB community. Does anyone know if the State of Virginia requires plates on a portable (trailer) sawmill? I have been to the DMV once and when I told the clerk working the desk that I needed information on plates for a portable sawmill, she looked at me like I was a three-legged ballerina.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Contact your local representative to the state legislature; they are equipped to give you the correct answer... and will ask for your vote in the election.

From contributor P:
I would think anything dragged behind a motor vehicle is considered a trailer, be it a sawmill or cement mixer, and thus requires plates.

From contributor B:
Here in PA you don't need a tag. A portable sawmill is not considered a trailer. A trailer is used to haul or transport something. A portable mill doesn't haul or transport. That is what I was told by our DOT. Virginia may be different. You may still need brake, running, and turn signal lights for safety.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
I do believe that the sawmill is on a trailer... If it looks like a trailer with wheels, lights, and a tongue, then it is a trailer. In Wisconsin occasional trailers, including boat trailers, under 3000 pounds (when loaded) are exempt from tags. However, the DMV strongly suggests that if the trailer will be used out of state, you license it. Incidentally, insurance is required.

From contributor T:
Can't speak for VA, but in Ohio, if it is a machine that happens to be on wheels, it is not considered a trailer. A compressor, chipper, log splitter, or sawmill. I have all but the compressor and do not buy tags for any of them. Insurance is always a good idea.

From contributor R:
I live in Virginia and run Virginia tags that has "farm vehicle" under the numbers on the plates. I also have all my farm and auto insurance with Farm Bureau. We use the tags that we purchase from Farm Bureau that say "Farm Use" on all our trailers and saw mill. The farm insurance covers anything I tow behind my truck as long as it complies with state inspection laws, including my mill. Now that you have made me rethink this, I am going to recheck the laws to make sure I am correct.

From contributor O:
I live in VA and have a portable mill. I did a little research on the subject and found this info. The short story is that you don't have to have tags... and consequently, don't have to have an inspection done. A portable sawmill, as others have discussed, is not by definition a trailer according to the state - it is a piece of towable equipment. If, however, you strap a box of blades to it, or a gas can, a hot shot cop can say that you are using it as a trailer, but it's unlikely. I was pulled once for not having tags or an inspection sticker, and given a hard time about it, but no ticket. The officer asked if it had brakes, which in VA is the criteria requiring trailers have an annual inspection. I told him that it did have brakes, but an inspection station can not issue a sticker unless you have a registered and plated vehicle. This is the case, if you try to get it inspected.

I have known of two people in VA with tags on their sawmill. One has spec-mobile tags, and I have no idea how he got them. These are for large self-propelled specialized equipment, like a drill rig or a trash truck. Another guy I know has regular trailer plates on the mill. He got DMV to issue a VIN number under the premise of a homemade trailer, had a police officer give it an inspection, and was issued plates and a title. In the course of my research, there is only one advantage to having the machine plated. Among the many conversations about insurance I've had, I have found that most cover what you are towing if it is registered and plated. With no plates, no insurance carries over the towed machine without a separate policy. With plates, most liability policies (on the road only), carry over to cover any damage the towed vehicle may do. The whole insurance issue is another discussion.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I live in VA and operate a portable sawmill. When I first registered it I got tags for it. Then I found out the county was going to tax it as a vehicle. In VA this is an every year personal property tax. I then went back to DMV and re-registered it as "special equipment". This is the same as a tow-behind log splitter or cement mixer. Special equipment does not require tags or inspection. Also, in my case I operate a working farm and it is considered farm equipment and I do not have to pay annual personal property tax for it.

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