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Registering a Tow Truck in Virginia


To select the best option for your intended use, defining a few terms will be useful for making your decision.

Tow Truck
A motor vehicle that is designed to lift, pull, or carry another vehicle by means of a hoist or other mechanical apparatus.
A vehicle designed with a ramp on wheels and a hydraulic lift with a capacity to haul or tow another vehicle, commonly referred to as a "rollback" is also classified as a tow truck.
Note:"Automobile or watercraft transporters," "stinger-steered automobile or watercraft transporters," or "tractor trucks" as defined in the Code of Virginia are not considered to be tow trucks.
Note: Tow trucks are not eligible for payment of the Uninsured Motor Vehicle Fee.
Private Use
A motor vehicle designed for the transportation of property, operated as such by the owner or lessee for his convenience, not for compensation.
A motor vehicle designed for transportation of property, used for such by the owner or lessee, for compensation.
International Registration Plan (IRP)
An international agreement under which a carrier's base state or Canadian province collects vehicle registration fees for other states/provinces based on the percentage of miles a fleet operates in the various jurisdictions. The terms of the agreement are binding for the participating states and provinces. The agreement covers heavy vehicles that operate on an interstate basis. Vehicles required to register under the IRP are referred to as apportionable vehicles.
Under the terms of the agreement, the definition of an apportionable vehicle excludes vehicles displaying restricted plates. A restricted plate as defined by the IRP agreement includes plates that have a time, geographic area, distance, or commodity restriction.

Registration Options

Depending upon the intended use of the tow truck, you have two sets of options for registering the vehicle. The first set of options pertains to whether you intend to use the vehicle solely within Virginia (option 1) or whether you will be operating the vehicle outside of Virginia (option 2).

The second set of options pertain to whether you intend to use the vehicle as a "For-hire" or "Private" vehicle. Once you have decided how you will register your tow truck, follow the steps in "How to Register".

  • Solely Within Virginia If the vehicle is to be operated solely within Virginia, it should be registered as a truck. You must then determine if it will be used:
    • for compensation (Truck For-Hire)
    • not for compensation (Private Use)
  • Both Within and Outside of Virginia If the vehicle is to be operated across state lines, it can be registered with Tow Truck For-Hire license plates or with IRP apportioned license plates. Some states will allow a Virginia tow truck to operate within their state with Tow Truck For-Hire license plates. However, some states have the opinion that Tow Truck For-Hire license plates are not restricted plates as defined by the IRP agreement since there is no time, geographic area, distance, or commodity restriction associated with these plates. Experience suggests that IRP apportioned plates will be required by West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. If IRP apportioned license plates are necessary or desired, you must then determine if the vehicle will be used (a) for compensation (For-Hire) or (b) not for compensation (Private Use).

How to Register

Follow these steps to register a tow truck in Virginia.

  1. Tow trucks must have appropriate insurance coverage depending on the type of registration selected. For more information, refer to Tow Trucks and Wreckers Registration Options.
  2. Whether the tow truck is operated "Private" or "For-Hire", you must complete an application to register the vehicle. If you already have a Virginia title for the tow truck and the title is in your possession, complete the "Application for Registration" (form VSA-14). Otherwise, complete the "Application for Certificate of Title and Registration" (form VSA-17A).
  3. If titling the vehicle, submit proof of address. For information on which documents can be used to prove your address, refer to "Acceptable Documents for Titling a Vehicle in Virginia "(form DMV-177).
  4. If the tow truck is operated For-Hire:
    1. You will not be able to obtain vehicle registration unless you have been issued Operating Authority by DMV. In order to be issued Operating Authority, you must obtain from DMV either (1) a Bulk Property permit, or (2) a Property permit if the tow truck is a "rollback" as referenced above and used to transport commodities other than motor vehicles. For additional information, please refer to For-Hire Intrastate Operating Authority.
    2. Complete the "For-Hire Intrastate Operating Authority Permit Application" (form OA142) and submit this form to the Motor Carrier Services department at DMV headquarters.
    3. Your insurance carrier must file a Form E certificate of insurance with DMV confirming liability coverage for the tow truck you are registering. The Permit application should be processed the next business day if the Form E has been filed with DMV.
    4. If the tow truck is operated For-hire and you are attempting to register that tow truck under an operating authority issued under a name different than the name or names being used to register the tow truck, you must complete the "For-Hire Vehicles Registration Request" (form MCS-115) and submit this form to the Motor Carrier Services department at DMV headquarters.
    5. By the next business day, you will be contacted by Motor Carrier Services and advised that either you have received pre-authorization to complete the vehicle registration transaction at your preferred DMV service outlet, or, there are other items that must be completed and/or provided in order to qualify for for-hire vehicle registration.
  5. Submit the appropriate fees.

For additional information and a comparison of the four ways of registering tow trucks, please refer to the Tow Trucks and Wreckers Customer Registration Options.