Tony Moffett bought a 1972 Ford Mustang Mach One for $12,000 to work on as a hobby with his wife and father-in-law.
The car’s suspension and steering systems were a “mess,” and it was missing “little odds and ends” like seatbelts, but it gave them great pleasure to restore the classic car. The process also included putting in new brakes, tires and rims.
Roughly $25,000 and five years of repairs later, Moffett proudly takes the rehabilitated red car out for short spins on the weekend, including attending the weekly Cars and Coffee on Saturdays at the Shelby Heritage Center near Town Square.
Classic car enthusiasts like Moffett are bracing for a change in state law going into effect Jan. 1 that will require owners of classic rods and vehicles to provide proof of car insurance and pass a smog check.
The Nevada Legislature in 2021 passed Assembly Bill 349 because noncollectors were using the classic status — which comes into play for vehicles 25 years or older — to register vehicles with the state that were anything from being considered a collectible.
Just because a 1995 Toyota Camry meets the age requirement, doesn’t mean it’s classic, collectors say. But owners of such cars were using the classic vehicle status to register vehicles without a smog check, spurring the new law to limit carbon emissions.
Classic car owners like Moffett have been proactive in preparing to adhere to the new standards, but he said it’s a difficult — and costly — process.
“It’s kind of been a nightmare so far,” he said.
Moffett was initially told by his insurance company that living in the southwest valley would raise the cost of his coverage because the area is rife with traffic accidents.
“It’s just another process you have to jump through to own (a classic car),” Moffett said.
Classic cars fall under three categories: classic vehicle, classic rod or old timer. Vehicles must be at least 25 years old to be considered a classic vehicle, 20 years old as a classic rod, and 40 years old for an old timer designation.
But, collectors say, some of these vehicles don’t include equipment to control emissions, and it costs hundreds or thousands of dollars to add these parts to pass the new emissions standard.
Democratic Assemblyman Howard Watts said he proposed this bill specifically to control the amount of people registering their standard commercial vehicles after he received photographs from constituents of landscaping trucks with classic car plates. He said he believed many of these vehicles that wouldn’t normally be considered classic cars were registered as such so owners could “avoid getting their annual smog check, which is required for everyone.”
“You see work trucks and older vehicles being driven around as kind of commuter vehicles, and those classic car license plates were really meant for vintage and classic vehicles,” Watts said. “Ones that people take for a weekend spin or take to a car show and show them off, not for vehicles that are being used for a landscaping company or for daily driving.”
Mary Taitano, a senior air quality specialist in Clark County’s Department of Environment and Sustainability, said an unintentional loophole was created when Assembly Bill 2 passed in the 2011 Nevada Legislature. The bill made it easier for commercial vehicles to be registered as classic and bypass emissions tests so long as they met a short list of criteria, including an affidavit for mileage per year and minimum age.
Nevada in 2011 had 5,400 registered classic cars, according to Kevin Malone, public information officer for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles. The number has since jumped to roughly 39,000.
Cars without the proper parts to control smog output have “a significant increase in pollution,” and Taitano said that there’s an 88% reduction in these emissions between vehicles that pass smog check versus those who don’t.
“The issue with these older vehicles is that — especially if they’re not passing the smog check — they can be putting out 10, 15 or 20 times as much pollution as a vehicle that is smog compliant,” Watts said. “That impacts air quality around that person, their family, their neighborhood, and when you add it up thousands of times, that can affect the air quality here in the Vegas Valley.”
Both Watts and Taitano stress that evading smog testing can exacerbate Clark County’s air pollution.
Las Vegas was recently ranked as the 11th most ozone-polluted city in the U.S. by the American Lung Association, fueled by smoke from wildfires and vehicle exhaust emissions. This can have a negative effect on Clark County residents, especially communities of color that are “61% more likely to live in a county with unhealthy air,” according to climate justice organization Chispa.
Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy II held a town hall meeting with Taitano and Malone last month to spread awareness of this new law, but classic car owners shared their concerns over the price of putting smog systems into their older vehicles.
To ease concerns about the price of outfitting these classic cars with a smog-prevention system, Clark County is developing a voucher program that will help bring down the cost of suc renovations.
Modeled from the Tune In & Tune Up program in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Clark County’s “coupon program” will allow classic car owners to receive a voucher that helps reduce the costs of repairing their vehicles.
Although the details of the program are still being ironed out, Taitano explained that those who fail the smog check will have to submit an application to the program, then they will have their eligibility analyzed based on the applicant’s income. If approved, a voucher will be emailed or texted to the applicant so they may use it for repair costs.
Even with this program, Moffett feels it won’t be enough to ease the cost of fixing his classic car or to make the process any easier.
“People are just using (classic car plates) to abuse the system,” he said, noting he believes that “what (the state needs) to do is actually redefine what a classic car actually means” to vehicles made in 1979 or earlier.
After all, he said, there are many residents like him who look forward to showing off their rides on a Saturday spin.