Car tab tax (MVET) details
Assessment and collection of MVET
Sound Transit's motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) is collected by the Washington State Department of Licensing.
The tax for all vehicles except commercial trucks and trailers is based on the depreciated value of your vehicle using the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) as the initial vehicle value. The tax on commercial trucks and trailers is based on the depreciated value using the latest purchase price and year as the initial vehicle value. In the case where the MSRP differs from what you paid for your vehicle, the MSRP value is used as this provides a consistent value for all vehicles.
Learn more about the vehicle values and depreciation schedules by visiting the Department of Licensing website.
Did you receive a shortage letter from the Department of Licensing (DOL), instructing you to pay the RTA tax?
If you live within the RTA district, you must pay the tax when renewing your vehicle license. Sometimes this tax is not collected at renewal. If that happens, the DOL will send a letter to notify you about paying the tax.
Information about how to pay the shortage bill can be found in the shortage letter.
To confirm that you live within the RTA boundary, use the address locator tool.
Sample shortage letter (.pdf)
Recent address determinations
Sound Transit reviews addresses located on the borders of our boundary monthly in order to correctly identify addresses as in or out. If your address is considered in, you are subject to the MVET and if you are considered out, you are exempt. The boundary determinations can lead to shortages or refunds.
Sound Transit conducts periodic boundary reviews to ensure the MVET is assessed correctly for addresses within the RTA. Address determinations made through this process that result in a change to an address as being in/out of the RTA will result in a letter stating this and timing of MVET application/exemption.
Common MVET questions and answers
How can I find out if I live in the RTA (Sound Transit) boundary?
Enter your address on the map to see if you live inside the RTA boundary. If so, you must pay the RTA's motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) when you renew your car tabs.
I received a letter from Sound Transit. What does it mean?
A letter received from Sound Transit is the result of a boundary determination indicating a change in status of the RTA tax. The letter states you are either:
- Considered in the RTA boundary and subject to the RTA tax
- Considered outside the RTA boundary and exempt from the RTA tax.
Depending on the type of determination performed, the letter states if the determination has resulted in a shortage or a refund.
Why did I receive a shortage letter?
You received a shortage letter because the RTA tax was not assessed when you purchased or renewed your car tabs last year. The RTA tax has to be paid before you can renew your car tabs.
Why did I receive more than one shortage letter?
MVET is assessed by vehicle. If you own multiple vehicles, you will receive a shortage letter for each vehicle that was not assessed the tax at the time of each vehicle's car tab renewal.
I already paid a shortage, why am I paying it again?
If you own multiple vehicles, the shortage previously paid may have been for a different vehicle. Check each VIN and associated year of shortage to make sure it is not a duplicate. If it is a duplicate, please contact Department of Licensing (DOL) customer service at email@example.com or 360.902.3770.
Certain addresses along the RTA boundary may have been assessed shortages multiple years in a row due to timing of annexations, state GIS updates, Sound Transit boundary determinations and car tab renewal periods. If you have received a shortage letter for more than two years in a row for the same vehicle while being located at the same address during the entire two year period, please contact ST customer service at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can I find out if my shortage payment was credited to my car tab account?
Sound Transit doesn't have car tab account information. The Department of Licensing (DOL) administers and collects the RTA tax on behalf of Sound Transit. To obtain shortage payment or other information about your car tabs, contact your local DOL office or the DOL Olympia office at email@example.com or 360.902.3770.
I lived in the RTA when I renewed and paid the RTA tax. Now that I've moved, can I get a refund?
The RTA tax is assessed at the time of renewal using the vehicle's address of record and is not pro-rated or refundable. Please make sure your address is updated with Department of Licensing (DOL) in accordance with state laws each time you move.
If your vehicle was sold or destroyed, you may qualify for a pro-rated refund. Please complete a refund application and submit it to DOL.
I don't live near transit service. Why do I still have to pay?
The RTA boundary was determined using urban growth areas and electoral boundaries as established in 1996. The transit services provided within the RTA are determined by voter approved plans. Sound Transit receives taxes raised within the RTA and uses them for transit development and operation as approved by voters. Properties within the RTA are not considered to be more accessible to the ST transit system than others as the transit facilities and stops are determined based on voter approved plans, not proximity to each property within the RTA.
Did the 2008 ST2 vote change the MVET rate or area?
The 2008 ST2 vote did not change the Sound Transit boundary or the MVET rate. The MVET rate was established in 1996 with the passage of Sound Move.
Have the RTA boundaries changed?
The RTA boundary was established in 1996 and has only changed as a result of annexations. The passage of SB 6271 in July 2010 requires areas outside the RTA boundary to be included inside the RTA boundary upon annexation by cities within the RTA. A boundary review was performed in May 2013 that resulted in the discovery of errors made in 2002 during a state and county required boundary review, verification and update process that improperly excluded 775 residences and included 140 residences. In October 2013 the 2002 errors were corrected and updated in state and county GIS updates. Refunds were issued to those that improperly paid the MVET. Taxation of improperly excluded residences is incorporated into the next vehicle license renewal cycles starting October 2013.
Why do I have to pay this tax?
This tax is used to finance regional transportation projects and operations within the RTA boundary. Link light rail, Sounder and ST Express bus facilities are all financed by this tax.
When will this tax expire?
This tax will expire when the bonds that helped fund the original Sound Move projects have been retired, which is estimated to be 2029.
Question still not answered?
Please email the RTA at firstname.lastname@example.org.