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Registering our camper

Who knew registering travel vehicles would be so difficult?

We imagine downsizing into a 5th wheel to be simplifying life, but in some many ways it is anything but simple. Even something as seemingly simple as registering your camper can be anything but. Throw in a truck that is typically considered a commercial vehicle to tow that camper and you’ve got double the headache. And, what about that second car?

We’ve both registered many vehicles over the years, vehicles bought in state, and vehicles bought out of state. Never, in any of those registrations have we run into a bit of issue. Yet, every single vehicle we have registered for the travel life has come with a side of complication.

We had no idea until we were faced with doing just that. You’d think that registering the truck would have been pretty straight-forward, but it was just about as complicated a process as the camper.

Let’s jump in the truck and take a drive back to the summer of 2019, shall we? It was during that summer, that we sold Julie’s house and began the process of seriously looking at RVs. After a great deal of looking at what we could afford, we finally settled on a 5th Wheel and Brandon immediately began looking at trucks.

Registering our F450

Did you know that some states will only register dually trucks as farm or commercial vehicles? Evidently, that is the norm in Alabama, or at least in Limestone County. It took an actual conversation with the license commissioner, explaining what we were doing to get special permission to register the truck as a private vehicle.

We bought our Ford F450 Super Duty a couple of months before the camper, once we decided that we were definitely getting a 5th wheel. Brandon traded in his beloved Jeep for the truck, and headed down to the courthouse to register it.

Little did he know that an F450 is considered a commercial or farm truck, and isn’t typically registered as a private vehicle. But, we aren’t planning to use this truck on a farm, nor in a commercial manner. Nor, does Brandon have a commercial license. This was evidently a bit hard for the person working at the county office to fathom. I guess it’s not just every day that someone buys a 450 dually to drive around town and tow a camper.

After a few rounds with the person working at the registrar’s office, they finally had to call in the county license commissioner so that Brandon could explain his intended use and sign an affidavit that he would not carry over a certain weight and that the vehicle would not be used commercially.

Registering our 5th Wheel

We bought our 5th wheel in Florida, and with out of state purchases often comes a different registration process, not to mention that registering a travel trailer has a process all its own.

In our county, out-of-state vehicles must be “inspected.” This means different things in different states/municipalities, but in ours it really isn’t anything more than someone verifying the VIN. But, even verifying the VIN requires and in-person inspection. But, how do you bring a 42′ camper into a downtown square where you struggle to even park the truck?

You don’t. Thankfully, they will come to you.

Although, even that doesn’t come without complications. It’s not like the owner of an RV park really wants to see the police rolling up into their park.

After confirming that the Sheriff would send someone out to us, I called the park owner at Northgate Travel Park where were staying and alerted him to the plan. Thankfully, he knew what was up and practically finished my sentence when I told him that I needed to get the trailer registered, and before I could tell him I’d already called and made arrangements, he told me to have them come to me. All good. Although, that didn’t prevent a few odd looks from the neighbors when the officer pulled up.

But, all of those registration woes were really nothing compared to getting our second vehicle registered… it was just a car! Why was it so hard to get a car registered?

Why we bought a second car….

When we first bought the rig we still had my car. But, I decided to sell it before we hit the road. It didn’t really make sense to travel with a second vehicle. We enjoy riding together. We’d have the truck for when we wanted to go places, and there just wasn’t a need for two cars.

However, after spending about nine months on the road we realized that exploring in the truck doesn’t come without issues. Our truck is HUGE! It’s about half as long as our house at 22′. In places like South Dakota and Colorado that wasn’t an issue. Big trucks are just common, and so are the big parking places needed to park said big trucks. But, once we got beyond those areas we realized that we really hated getting out in our truck, because something as simple as parking it was a major cause of stress.

As our journey moved we got out less and less. A part of that was the pace we were moving at – too fast to really balance exploration with working full-time and still finding time to relax. But, the majority was that we just dreaded getting out in the truck.

Our plan for this summer was to sit still in one place for the majority of the summer, and we wanted to be able to really enjoy that stay while exploring the area. So, we decided it was time to get a second car. We figured that it was a good opportunity to test out having two vehicles on the road.

Little did we know that the reality of buying a second vehicle wasn’t nearly as simple as we imagined.

Problem #1

Our first plan was a Jeep. Brandon loves Jeeps. Jeeps are fun to explore in. Unfortunately, we quickly discovered that Julie can’t drive a Jeep without pain. The search began to quickly find a vehicle that a) Julie could drive and b) would have decent resale if we chose to sell it before we left Michigan.

Problem #2

We wanted to find something in Alabama, or at least close enough that we could get it registered before we left the area. The problem was that we only planned to be in Alabama for a week. Thus began a mad dash of looking at any AWD/4WD vehicle on the smaller side worth looking at.

After a lot of looking and test driving, we finally decided on a Toyota Rav4 AWD. Because of some reported issues in the newest models, we were specifically looking for a 2016-2018 AWD Rav4 Limited (for the ability to tilt the drivers seat – to avoid pain). If you haven’t been paying attention lately (we hadn’t) there’s a shortage of used cars right now. Something about a chip shortage for new vehicles, pandemic, etc.

Somehow we managed to find the vehicle in Nashville, TN. Just two hours away. No big deal… so we thought.

We made the drive. We signed the paperwork. All went without issue. The dealership provided us with a 30-day temporary tag, and we expected to be able to go in the following week and register the car and continue on our way. It was not that simple.

I don’t know if it was a result of buying a car at 7pm on a Saturday (and people just wanting out of the office) or if this dealership is just terrible with communication (although, our further communications with this dealer would tell us it was definitely the latter, and possibly both).

Registering the car

The following week, Brandon went into the license office to register the car, thinking it would be as simple as handing them the sales paperwork and leaving with a tag, because that’s usually how simple it is. It was not that simple.

Because we bought from Tennessee, the Title had to be processed in Tennessee first and then the dealership had to send the paperwork and the registration payment (which was factored into the cost of the car when we purchased it) to the county before we could register it.

Sidenote: I’ve bought cars out of state before, and even when we bought the camper from out of state it was as simple as walking in with the sales paperwork and registering the vehicle. We’ve heard “never buy in Tennessee” and perhaps this is why.

We planned to be on the road within days. We had a little wiggle room in our schedule so we decided to stay put for an extra week or two and see if maybe we could get this sorted out before we left. Or, would we have to make a trip back to Alabama just to register this car?

After several calls to the dealership (and yes, this is a major dealership in Nashville, not a small little used car place), Brandon finally got someone who explained that it can take a month for them to get the paperwork to the county… that’s why they gave us a 30-day tag!

The next few weeks proceeded with us alternating between calling the county to see if they’d gotten the paperwork, and then calling the dealership to check the status. It sometimes took hours on the phone just to get a person to pick up, let alone a person who could answer our questions.

As we approached what had to be our last week in Alabama, and also the last week that the tag would be valid, we had to explore other options. The Title lady at the dealership swore it would be sent that week, but couldn’t say exactly when or if it would arrive in time for us to register before we departed on Friday. But, they could get us another 30-day tag if need be…

Several phone calls with the county license office later and Brandon had the list of what he needed to give his mom the ability to register the car for him (a limited Power of Attorney, a signed inspection certification, and several other things). Another call to the dealership and we learned that although our 30-day tag expired on the 3rd (Monday), they couldn’t send us a new tag until Friday (the day we were leaving). Fine, send it to our new address.

Finally, we were ready to go and hopefully that all was taken care of.

We arrived in Michigan on Sunday and sure enough on Monday we received a package with a new 30-day tag. The exact same tag that was currently on the car (with the exact same expiration date). Really?!!!

Another round of calls to the dealership (it rarely took less than three calls to reach someone who could do anything) and they agreed to overnight us a new tag. They did and thankfully the new tag was correct this time.

Registered finally…

When we bought the vehicle we let them talk us into financing it. We got a better price in exchange for a handshake agreement that we wouldn’t pay the car off for three months. It seemed like no big deal. Three months would still get it paid off before we plan to leave Michigan, giving us time to have title in hand if we did decide to sell it before leaving.

However, after all the drama we weren’t so inclined to keep our bargain. Had they bothered to communicate and set expectations, it would have been a different story. But, once that second 30-day tag was on, Brandon started making massive payments on the loan.

A week later, he made his weekly call for a status update. This time the woman he talked to tried to blame the state, saying that the state is behind. This didn’t check out, since a different person two weeks ago and said the paperwork was ready and would be sent that week. Brandon dropped the bomb and calmly told her about that Handshake deal and then told her that was making the maximum daily payment on the vehicle until it was either registered, or it was paid off.

Like magic, that paperwork showed up the very next day. And, yes the truck still got paid off early.


Julie grew up making cross-country road trips, and has always loved to travel. She dreamed of one day retiring and living in an RV while traveling. Finally, she realized that you can't wait to live the life you want, and there was no reason to wait. As a freelance writer and marketer she realized as long as she had internet she could live anywhere! So, she did.

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