Wondering Why Your Vehicle Assessment Went Up This Year?

by ARLnow.com September 22, 2010 at 3:04 pm 2,570 34 Comments

At first glance, it does seem pretty suspect. Your used vehicle gets assessed at a value higher than last year, and you have to pay more personal property taxes as a result.

“I always thought one’s car lost value from the time it left the dealer,” a frustrated resident told us in an email. “Not sure how widespread this is, but it’s creating buzz in our neighborhood.”

Actually, it’s fairly widespread. Arlington County bases its vehicle assessments on the National Automobile Dealers Association’s yearly list of vehicle values, which comes out every January 1. This year, the values of many used SUVs, crossover vehicles, trucks and vans went up.

The reasoning behind the increase, says Arlington County Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy, is that the value of such gas-guzzlers plummeted in 2008 as fuel prices spiked through the roof. Those lower assessments were reflected in last year’s personal property tax bills. But one year later, the prices of big vehicles rebounded as gas prices fell and as manufacturers — in the process of transitioning away from gas-guzzlers — failed to produce enough new SUVs, CUVs, trucks and vans to keep up with demand.

Thus, as supply fell and demand grew, prices for all such vehicles, even used ones, went up last year and are reflected in the higher assessments this year.

“The assessment reflects fair market value,” Morroy said. She added that Arlington is lucky to have “a good mix” of vehicle types, and thus wasn’t hit by the downturn in truck and SUV values as hard as some of Virginia’s rural communities.

Morroy said that any vehicle owner with questions about his or her assessment should call 703-228-3135.

  • NPR listener

    There was a piece on NPR the other day about the skyrocketing value of many used cars. It’s more than just gas prices/SUVs–relates also to people’s reluctance to buy a new car in a bad economy when they’ve lost or might lose a job. Fewer new vehicle purchases = fewer used vehicle trade ins = more demand for used cars = higher prices for the smaller pool of used cars.

  • Dan

    The supply of used cars also fell due to last year’s Cash for Clunkers program, which effectively removed more than 600,000 cars from the secondary market across the country. Thus, even if used car demand were to remain static, prices (and assessments) would increase due to the reduced supply.

  • Patrick

    Why doesnt Ms Morrow admit the true reason for the increase in assessments is the worst government program ever created “Cash for Clunkers”. Thanks again Obama.

    • Burger

      You are exactly right. Heaven forbid Arlington criticize Obama with this half-baked economic Cash for Clunkers.

      • AH

        Right – God forbid the President try to stabilize the largest manufacturing sector in our economy and stimulate short term demand to put people back to work. Much better to take the Republican approach and just run up debt on wars and tax cuts that leave us with nothing to show. Oh and don’t forget to deregulate wall street and then bail them out like Bush and Paulson – and give more tax breaks to billionaires – because that really created a lot of prosperity during the Bush years…
        Cash for clunkers wasn’t perfect but don’t blame the President for trying.

        • Burger

          Maybe you need to take an economics lesson. All Cash for Clunkers did was pull sales forward from the months after the program ended to the point it was almost exactly the same bulge in sales during CFC to the deficit after that. It made no impact on the economic ability of GM, Ford or Chrysler to survive. So sorry if my basis for a good program to stimulate the economy goes beyond simple cheerleading. Add in the obvious increase price in used cars due to the cars being bought were junked, which are general purchased by those with less means, caused those with less means to pay more meant the program in the long run cost the American Taxpayer money and hurt those least able to pay for it.

          But, hey, keep thinking just because someone that has never worked in the private sector understands how the private sector works will figure it out eventually.

  • JamesE

    My assessment was fairly accurate, it is the amount due I don’t like.

  • shirley

    how about the increase in the stickers from $5.00 to $33.00 for those of us who have cars of no value.

    • G

      If the care is drivable it must have some value… they are just worth less than $3,000 cut-off, which means you get a 100% break from paying the property tax. $33 is not a bad deal.

      • charlie

        i have to pay $33 for a sticker to say that I paid a tax that I didn’t pay?
        oh, mine is assessed at $100, so it isn’t like I have to have a sticker to say my tax was rebated.
        i have to have a sticker for NO REASON. and the color doesn’t match the car either. ugh.

        • MB

          You can actually do pretty much anything you like to the sticker, so long as the number remains visible. Frank O’Leary told me so. So get your complimentary color groove on.

  • G

    Arlington was lucky we have a mix of vehicle types?? Many states don’t even have personal property taxes for cars!

  • Rover

    Yet another screwing of the taxpayer. Thanks!

  • Jack

    didn’t we vote for two governors who promised to kill the car tax?? why is it still here??? kill the car tax.

    • Greg

      If you ask Gilmore he’d probably still claim he eliminated the tax, which makes me wonder why I’m still paying it.

      • Alan H

        We are all still paying for Gilmore’s car tax – in the form of a broken transportation system that provides almost no funding for Northern Virginia, higher tuition at universities, and higher property taxes to pay for local schools (to backfill state education cuts), just to name a few. So yea, it sucks to get a lump sum tax bill in October and I would rather it was in my income tax in $100 month increments, but you can’t get something for nothing.

        • Greg

          Lighten up, Francis. I was just joking around.

          When Gilmore ran for Senate he repeatedly claimed he eliminated the tax, yet we somehow still get billed for it. See the following quote for example, “I’ve been a governor of Virginia. I ran on a tax cut proposal, and I ran on eliminating the car tax in Virginia. I received terrific opposition. I kept my promise, and we eliminated that car tax.”

  • rob

    It’s a little suspect that my one year old car is appraised at about $4,000 more than I paid for it originally

  • ArlRes

    Work for Congress. You’re exempt from having to register your car in the local jurisdiction (DC/VA/MD) and pay whatever taxes… I think.

    • el fat kid

      not entirely true. If you move from Alaska or wherever due to a job offer/transfer to the hill, yes – you can remain a resident of your home state. Same with the military. If you start working for Congress but already live in Arlington, you can’t transfer your residency to wherever you want and you’re not exempt from anything.

  • Not SO

    Being exempt only works if you are working for your home member of Congress and you are relocating, i.e. I just moved here from Grand Junction, Co to work for Rep. Salazar. They you are exempt

    • ANS

      Yep, I miss those days of being exempt for working for a PA member and still being able to hold onto my PA residency when I lived in DC. But that went out the window once I moved to VA. It’s not like you’re exempt from taxes though – They are going to make you pay one way or another in one state or another! Overall I think the car tax is ridiculous. Especially when you are forced to pay it on a car you lease, and don’t even own!

  • Jeff Miller

    And don’t forget: Arlington has the highest car-tax rate in the region (5.0% of market value). Worse yet, the County diverts most of state car-tax relief payments to owners of old clunkers and pricey low-emission vehicles — which means less relief for the average car owner.

    In fact, for most of us, the average car-tax bill in Arlington is more than 50% higher than in Alexandria or Fairfax. Not surprising, since our County Board repeatedly demonstrates contempt for cars and those who dare to drive them.

    Thanks a lot, County Board.

  • MG

    I just think its ridiculous how expensive Arlington makes it to basically own a car. Not only am I paying taxes on personal property with quickly depreciating value, but I’m not so sure I would want to own a brand new vehicle if the tax I will have to pay on it is going to be so ridiculous. I feel like its a punishment for wanting to own a vehicle and have the freedom to get where you want without having to rely on the UNRELIABLE public transit system. I’m not even going to get started on WMATA issues.

    And I want to know why the decals had to go up in price so much? Honestly, how much money did they lose printing out one of those things…surely not $33 bucks for a sticker.

    • Anthony

      Ask the County Board. They set the tax rate and the price of the sticker.

      • Dan

        “Ask the County Board. They set the tax rate and the price of the sticker”

        Good buck pass !!!
        And here I thought that you were all part of the Arlington County government.

        Is “buck passing” a required course of the new employee training ???

        • Deb

          I’m confused. Why are we yelling at Anthony? Where does it say that he works for the county?

          • MB

            The important part, Deb, is to be outraged and blame other people. Context, understanding, self-awareness – all superfluous.

        • Anthony

          New employee training? I don’t work for the county, but I have lived here long enough to understand how stuff works. Since I don’t know to whom MG was directing the question, I though I’d give him/her a hint. I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Mr. Zimmerman yet. He seems to get blamed for everything some people don’t like about the County.

  • Arlington

    I also thought the County’s move to subsidize clunkers and pricey hybrids at the expense of all other car owners was suspect. Why is it that everything Arlington does has to involve some sort of redistribution, with various unintended consequences? Can’t we all just pay our fair share and move on? I’d like to replace my SUV with a new and smaller car, but the car tax is a huge disincentive to buying a new car, unless it is the County’s chosen car.

    Incidentally, my five-year-old Jeep also went up in value this year according to the County. That makes no sense, gas explanation notwithstanding.

    The main flaw in the system, however, is actually more subtle: it massively discriminates, year after year, against people who buy cars that retain their value better in the first few years of ownership. If we both buy a car for $25,000 in year 0, you buy an Accord and I buy something at the other end of the spectrum, and we both hold on to our cars for 10 years and drive them for 200,000 miles, both of our cars are worth about the same at the end (e.g., close to $0). But for several years in-between, even though we were both similarly situated, you paid a lot more in tax. It really isn’t a great idea to depend on this type of tax for such a large amount of tax revenue.

    • G

      Well said. Also I’m pretty sure my Honda Fit and other small cars get better mileage than most hybrid SUVs that get a tax break. My Fit gets 38-40 MPG on highway trips. This system also encourages people to keep their older, less efficient cars longer.

      • Greg

        I wrote the County Board about that issue a few years ago. I actually agree with the policy of using the car tax to incentivize the purchase of fuel efficient vehicles. But some tweaks along the lines of what you suggest should be made. The program should be tied to specific makes/models/years. Not Hybrid vs. non-hybrid.

  • wrc3

    They don’t always use NADA. For certain “collector” vehicles they use some other guide. I have a 1994 Land Rover Defender 90 which I could realistically sell right now for about 13k. The county assessment is about 20k. So count yourself lucky if your value only went up a bit.

  • Mark

    My car was assessed at close to $26k and my tax bill was $860. My buddy who bought a car the same time I did and lives in Alexandria. His assessment was $21k and was only $425. This in no way motivates me to ever buy a new car.


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