Fixed Loads vs. Equipment Becoming Part of a Vehicle

By Mark Studer, Personal Property Appraiser

A revised Taxability of Motor Vehicles Property Tax Advisory (PTA 6.2.2011) has recently been issued. This PTA addresses the taxability of motor vehicles in general but specifically addresses several of the common questions regarding fixed loads and equipment attached to vehicles.

However, even with the PTA, there might be some additional questions as to what a fixed load is. Many of these questions result from interpreting the term “fixed load” to mean only that the load (or equipment) is affixed or attached to the vehicle, when in fact “fixed load” means that the load (or total weight) of the vehicle does not change from one trip to the next, hence the word “fixed”. When reading the PTA, it is important to note that sometimes equipment attached to a vehicle may be exempt as becoming part of the vehicle. This is different from a fixed load, and the two have different criteria for exemption. Once you learn the difference between the two and refer to each separately, it will be easier to determine if the equipment is taxable or exempt.

Before we go into the differences between equipment being a fixed load versus equipment becoming part of the vehicle, one must know that for any vehicle to be exempt:

· it must be used or designed primarily to be used upon the public streets or highways

· the vehicle itself, together with any attachment, must be one that can be operated on public streets or highways without the need to obtain a special permit (such as the permit specified in RCW 46.44.090 for vehicles of excessive size, weight or load) or without the need for special signage, pilot cars, or other special authorization to operate on the streets or highways.

· the vehicle may not be used entirely upon private property.

There are also titling and licensing requirements for fixed loads and equipment attached to vehicles (see PTA 6.2.2011), and for the purpose of this article, it is understood that these requirement have been met.

Fixed Load

“Fixed load vehicle” means a commercial vehicle that has a structure or machinery permanently attached such as, but not limited to, an air compressor, a bunk house, a conveyor, a cook house, a donkey engine, a hoist, a rock crusher, a tool house, or a well drilling machine. Fixed load vehicles are not capable of carrying any additional load other than the structure or machinery permanently attached.

The most important requirement for fixed loads is the total weight of the vehicle cannot change substantially from one trip to the next. In other words, the vehicle and whatever the attached equipment (load) is does not change from one trip to the next. For property tax purposes, a fixed load can be motorized or towed. The equipment that is attached can be most anything as long as the purpose of the vehicle is to carry said equipment and the vehicle is not capable of carrying any additional load. For example, you could have the same equipment permanently attached to two different vehicles; in one case it could be a fixed load and the other it may not be. In the photo above, the welder attached to a trailer would be considered a fixed load because the single purpose of this vehicle is to carry this welder and it is not capable of carrying any additional load. In contrast, the photo to the right has a similar welder permanently attached to a truck but in this case the truck and welder are not considered a fixed load because the truck is capable of carrying an additional load. The truck is exempt, but the welder is taxable (if used in commercial activity). In order for the welder to become part of the exempt vehicle (truck) it would have to occupy the entire truck bed so that it could not carry any additional load and both the truck and welder would be considered an exempt fixed load. As you can see, it is less about the type of equipment or even how it is attached that determines if a vehicle and its attachment are exempt as a fixed load. Property tax exemption or taxability is about the purpose of the vehicle and that the load does not change from one trip to the next.

Equipment Becoming a Part of the Vehicle

Different from fixed loads, “equipment becoming a part of the vehicle” has more to do with the equipment that is being attached and less about the use of the vehicle. For equipment to become exempt as part of the vehicle, it must be designed to be used on a vehicle and essentially have no useful purpose without the vehicle. For example, you have a flat bed truck and permanently attach a boom (see photo). The boom sitting on the ground separate from the vehicle would have no useful purpose, the boom is designed to be used with a vehicle, and the boom was permanently attached to the truck. The boom would therefore become a part of the vehicle and be tax exempt. In contrast, in the earlier fixed load example, we showed a truck with a welder attached to it. This truck/welder was not considered a fixed load and the welder would not be tax exempt as becoming part of the vehicle either. The key difference between the boom example and the welder is that the welder can be used separate from the vehicle. Even though the welder may have been bolted (permanently attached) to the truck, the welder is attached merely for the convenience of not having to tie it down, as the welder is not dependent on the truck to function.

I hope the above examples and explanation are helpful in determining the taxability of fixed loads and equipment that has been attached to vehicles. As mentioned earlier, it is important to know the difference between a fixed load and when something is exempt as becoming part of the vehicle. I would recommend that you start referring to them separately. Once you understand the requirement of each, you should be able to apply the logic to any vehicle/equipment that you come across in the future.

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