PACIFIC, MO (KMOV) -- Becky Hepps of Pacific recently bought a new car. She hit the road after her purchase with temporary tags on her car, but knew she had only 30 days to replace them.

Hepps knew it wouldn’t be cheap but said she knew that going in to the car dealer.

“If you're buying a car you know you're going to pay sales tax on it, it’s not a surprise,” she said.

In order to get her new permanent license plates, Hepps had to write a big check to the Missouri Department of Revenue, but a lot of people do not, and in the St. Louis region, it's easy to spot.

News 4’s Chris Nagus took a drive and spotted them across the area: From North County, all along I-270, to a parking lot at South County Mall, which is where he talked to Justin Hipkins, who has tags that expired long ago.

Hipkins said the reason he still has them is “pretty much the sales tax.” Simply put, Hipkins can't afford it. His temporary tags expired on February 14, 2019. He told News 4 this is nothing new to him, in fact, “this is the second car I've had this issue with.”

Hipkins says he drove for a year with expired tags on another vehicle and he’s received numerous tickets from area police departments. In fact when News 4 ran into him, he was on his way to court to pay for a ticket he received for an expired tag back in April.

Hipkins says some tickets are $100 each, but he takes his chances. So do plenty of people at a gas station north of Downtown St. Louis just off I-70.

Just a few seconds after News 4 pulled into the lot, a man named John pulled in whose temporary tags expired at the end of March. He said he also could not afford the sales tax but he’s never gotten a ticket. He told News 4 he sees temporary tags all over the St. Louis area

“[Some are] years old,” he said. “Way old, it makes no sense.”

After someone purchases a car in Missouri, they have 30 days to pay the sales tax and receive their permanent plates. News 4 spoke to car dealers who stated they can roll the sales tax into a loan financed at the dealership, but it’s up to the new car owner to pay the sales tax.

“Once they leave here it's not my job to track them down and make sure they pay sales tax” said James Sinclair of Dave Sinclair Ford in South St. Louis County.

As a member of the Missouri Automobile Dealers Association, Sinclair favors change. He would like to see sales tax collected at the dealership during the sale then the dealership would submit it directly to the Missouri Department of Revenue, which is what is done at dealerships in Illinois. But, Sinclair says that solution won't be cheap.

“It would require a lot of money to update the computer system we use in Missouri in order to allow us to go electronic, that's the hitch” he said.

Police can issue tickets for expired stickers on license plates or expired temporary tags.

We requested information from numerous area departments about how many tickets for expired tags or failure to register in 2018:

  • Chesterfield: 1,242
  • Hazelwood: 2,208
  • Florissant: 5,652
  • St. Louis County: More than 10,000
  • St. Louis City: Still awaiting response from St. Louis Police Department

The Missouri Department of Revenue confirms they have met with the Missouri Automobile Dealers Association to discuss solutions, including collecting tax directly at the dealership, but they add it would likely require a legislative change.

The Department of Revenue also confirms in 2018 there was $26,544,743.60 owed on 32,254 accounts, but a spokesperson states that's an estimate because some cars may have been returned or purchased by people outside of Missouri and in some cases tax credits may apply.

Copyright 2019 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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