Tennessee Code Annotated

Title 55: Motor and Other Vehicles

Chapter 4: Registration and Licensing of Motor Vehicles

Part 1: General Provisions

TCA 55-4-101: Registration required before operation -- Application -- Issuance of registration and license plates -- Rules and regulations -- Temporary permit -- Transfer of registration when changing vehicles -- Fees -- Safety rules for homemade trailers.

(a)  (1)  As a condition precedent to the operation of any motor vehicle upon the streets or highways of this state, the motor vehicle shall be registered as provided in this chapter.

     (2)  The registration and the fees provided for registration shall constitute a privilege tax upon the operation of motor vehicles.

(b)  The commissioner shall be, and is constituted, the registrar of motor vehicles and, except as otherwise provided in chapters 1-3, this chapter and chapters 5 and 6 of this title, every owner of a vehicle intended to be operated in this state and required by this chapter to be registered shall, before same is operated, apply to the department for the registration of, and the registration plates for, the vehicle.

(c)  Application for registration shall be made, in the manner prescribed by the commissioner on forms provided or approved by the department, to the county clerk of the county of the owner's residence or of a county wherein the vehicle is based or is to be operated, except that a nonresident may apply directly to the department for registration. Any applicant for registration under any allowance or requirement for the apportionment of the fee shall apply to the department.

(d)  (1)  (A)  Upon finding the title to the vehicle or application for the title in order and all fees required under chapters 1-3, this chapter and chapters 5 and 6 of this title duly tendered, the county clerk shall forward the application for registration, together with the proper fee, to the department in the manner provided by law, and the department upon registering the vehicle shall issue or cause to be issued a registration certificate and license plate or plates to the owner; provided, that any person operating a vehicle under the terms of a bona fide lease agreement of not less than ninety (90) days' tenure may, with the written consent of the owner and other reasonable evidence of right to possession of the vehicle as the commissioner may require, apply to the department for, and be issued, registration and plate or plates thereunder.

          (B)  The lessee-registrant shall be deemed to be the lawful holder of the registration with all rights in and to it as may be provided under this chapter for owner-registrants, except that each application requiring the owner's consent to register shall be accompanied by a fee of two dollars ($2.00) in addition to other fees required by law.

          (C)  Any requirements in this title to the contrary notwithstanding, the commissioner is authorized to approve registrations and issue the certificates and plates thereunder, and the several county clerks are designated deputies to perform duties in connection with approving registrations and issuing certificates and plates as the commissioner may prescribe; provided, that the commissioner's authority to remove plates to a point of central distribution to the applicants for registration is limited to those issued for freight motor vehicles, other than farm trucks, in weight classes of eighteen thousand (18,000) or more pounds or for vehicles owned by nonresidents and other vehicles as may be registered under a proration program or like plan allowing the apportionment of fees; and provided further, that any clerk taking an application to be forwarded to the department shall likewise be entitled to the fee provided in § 55-6-101(a)(1).

          (D)  The commissioner is empowered to make all rules and regulations respecting the manner in which applications shall be made and the manner in which any application and fee shall be forwarded to the department.

          (E)  Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, the commissioner has the authority to establish a procedure to accept electronically any and all remittances, titling and registration transactions.

     (2)  The commissioner shall not issue a registration for a vehicle based in a county that has been designated by the Tennessee air pollution control board to have a motor vehicle inspection and maintenance program in order to attain or maintain compliance with national ambient air quality standards, except in accordance with terms and conditions as are established in rules of the board.

(e)  The department, in its discretion, may grant a temporary permit to operate a vehicle for which application for registration has been made, where the application is accompanied by the proper fee pending action upon the application by the department.

(f)  The registration shall be valid from the time of issuance until the date provided for the annual expiration of registration, except it shall likewise expire upon the prior transfer of any interest by operation of law or otherwise in or pertaining to the vehicles so registered; provided, that upon the registration becoming void by reason of the transfer of ownership, the owner-registrant may, upon application to the department through the county clerk by surrender of the certificate and payment of a fee of one dollar ($1.00) plus the clerk's fee, register another vehicle for the unexpired portion under the same number and be issued a new certificate properly identifying the vehicle to which the license has been transferred. If the vehicle to be registered is of a weight or classification that requires the payment of a higher fee, the applicant must surrender both the certificate and the plate or plates to the clerk, and, upon payment of the amount being the difference between the fees required for the two (2) registrations as of that date, together with the one dollar ($1.00) transfer fee and the clerk's fee, be issued a new certificate of registration and appropriate plate or plates. Further, it shall be allowable for one holding a license as an individual to submit it, under this subsection (f), in application for reassignment to a vehicle which this licensee holds by the entireties with the licensee's spouse. If a vehicle is permanently withdrawn from a proportionally registered fleet and a replacement vehicle is added to the fleet in the same calendar month, the replacement vehicle shall be considered fully registered as provided in this section if the vehicle is registered for a weight equal to or less than the vehicle permanently withdrawn or if the additional registration fee, one dollar ($1.00) transfer fee, and clerk's fee are paid when the replacement vehicle is registered for a weight greater than the vehicle withdrawn. If a vehicle is permanently withdrawn from a proportionally registered fleet and is not replaced by another vehicle in the same calendar month, credit shall be allowed as follows:

     (1)  The credit shall be a sum equal to the amount paid with respect to such vehicle when it was first proportionally registered in the registration year, reduced by one-twelfth (1/12) for each calendar month or fraction of the calendar month elapsing since the beginning of the registration year;

     (2)  The credit may be applied against subsequent additions to the fleet or for other additional registration fees assessed; and

     (3)  In no event shall credit be allowed for fees beyond such registration year, nor shall any such amount be subject to refund.

(g)  With the approval of the registrar, a license issued for a vehicle that has been destroyed or necessarily removed from service may be transferred to a replacement vehicle in the same manner and under the same conditions provided under this allowance for the reassignment of registration.

(h)  (1)  When the registrar has issued two (2) valid registrations for the same vehicle, title to which remains vested in the same person, the second registration being taken only for the purpose of qualifying it for operation under a lawful requirement for proration of the registration fee, a refund may be made of the unused portion of the fee paid for the first issued of the two (2) outstanding registrations, less ten dollars ($10.00). Surrender of both the first certificate of registration and the related license plate, and the submission of any other documentation as the registrar may require, is a prerequisite to the payment of the refund, that shall be proportionate to the number of full months remaining in the registration period when the second registration was taken.

     (2)  When the registrar has issued a valid registration for a vehicle to a lessee-registrant for the purpose of qualifying it for operation under a lawful requirement for proration of the registration fee, and the bona fide lease agreement pertaining to the vehicle is terminated, the lessee-registrant may transfer the license issued to a replacement vehicle in the same manner and under the same conditions provided under this allowance for the reassignment of registration, or surrender both the certificate of registration and relative license plate and any other documentation as the registrar may require to secure a refund of the unused portion of the fee paid, which shall be proportionate to the number of full months remaining in the registration period for which registration was issued; provided, that the annual license fee for the surrendered license plate is one hundred fifty dollars ($150) or more.

(i)  (1)  The registrant may surrender the certificate and plate or plates to the department through the county clerk in an application for a registration of some other class or classification for the same vehicle and be issued a new certificate for it, together with appropriate plate or plates, upon the payment of a fee of one dollar ($1.00) and the clerk's fee, and if the new registration requires a higher fee, that amount being the difference in the fees required for the two (2) registrations as of the date of application.

     (2)  Any person registering a motor vehicle under § 55-4-113, who during the registration year exchanges the original registration for a registration in a lesser class and subsequently desires to register the vehicle in the class of the original registration or some lesser class, may do so upon the payment of a fee of one dollar ($1.00) and the clerk's fee.

     (3)  In addition to this allowance for the reregistration of the vehicle by reason of some change in its use or design, it shall likewise be permissible for a vehicle to be reregistered, in the same class under the same license number, when the owner, an individual, makes an assignment to self and spouse for the purpose of establishing tenancy to the vehicle by the entireties.

     (4)  Application under this subsection (i), an exception to the requirement for an original registration, shall be made in the manner described in subdivisions (i)(1)-(3) except the fee shall be two dollars and fifty cents ($2.50) plus the clerk's fee.

(j)  The reassignment of registrations as provided in this section shall be allowable among all classifications and, in computing a reassignment fee, the value of the registration being surrendered shall be determined by establishing that amount which would be the fee required for its issuance as of the date of the application for reassignment. Any law to the contrary notwithstanding, no fee shall be charged for the transfer of registration of any motor vehicle to any person acquiring title to the motor vehicle as a result of the death of the spouse of this person if application for transfer is made within one (1) year from the date of the spouse's death.

(k)  The owner of a motorized bicycle may, subject to the approval of the commissioner, apply for registration and registration plates for the motorized bicycle. The commissioner shall by regulation provide for the manner in which single applications are to be made and the conditions under which they may be allowed; however, this subsection (k) shall not be construed as granting the commissioner authority to issue registration and plates for motorized bicycles on any basis other than as is required in this chapter. Each applicant for registration under this provision shall be charged the same registration taxes imposed on Class (A) motor vehicles by § 55-4-111.

(l)  (1)  Trailers, semi-trailers and pole trailers domiciled in Tennessee which are homemade or materially reconstructed, as defined herein, shall not be titled or registered, where required under the provisions of this title, to operate over the roads and highways of Tennessee, unless the department certifies that the trailer, semi-trailer or pole trailer complies with the provisions of § 65-15-113 and with any applicable safety rules and regulations promulgated by the department.

     (2)  It is unlawful to operate trailers, semi-trailers and pole trailers titled or registered in accordance with this chapter that are subsequently materially reconstructed during the term of the title or registration for the trailer without certification from the department that the reconstructed trailer complies with § 65-15-113 and all applicable safety rules and regulations.

     (3)  As used is this subsection (l ):

          (A)  "Homemade" means the construction or assembly of a trailer from new or used parts, using a body or frame not originating from any previously manufactured trailer, and not originally constructed under a distinctive name, make, model, or type by a generally recognized manufacturer of vehicles; and

          (B)  "Materially reconstructed" means substantial alteration or modification made to an original manufacturer's specifications. Substantial alterations or modifications shall be deemed to have occurred if the trailer has undergone a major manufacturing alteration, which has materially changed the original configuration, structure or specifications of basic components of a previously assembled or manufactured trailer.

History: [Acts 1951, ch. 70, § 40 (Williams, § 5538.140); Acts 1953, ch. 167, § 5; 1955, ch. 52, § 3; 1963, ch. 143, § 5; 1963, ch. 145, § 3; 1963, ch. 156, § 1; 1965, ch. 272, § 1; 1965, ch. 337, § 1; 1970, ch. 549, §§ 1, 2; 1972, ch. 627, § 1; 1973, ch. 234, § 2; 1976, ch. 432, § 1; impl. am. Acts 1978, ch. 934, §§ 22, 36; Acts 1979, ch. 247, § 3; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), § 59-401; Acts 1981, ch. 130, § 1; 1986, ch. 798, § 1; 1988, ch. 817, § 3; 1993, ch. 416, § 1; 1995, ch. 305, § 109; 2001, ch. 233, § 1; 2007, ch. 484, § 34; 2008, ch. 1007, § 6.]