Government Vehicle Overview

Tenn. Code Ann. Sections 13-14-102, 13-26-102, and Public Chapter 985 (2018)


  • Government vehicles, as related to vehicle titling and registration, refer to vehicles owned or leased by a government entity at the local, state or federal level. These vehicles are exempt from sales and use tax and are eligible for registration using permanent government service plates (includes a fee). The registrations expire upon transfer of ownership or destruction of the vehicle. The plates are transferable to other government vehicles owned by the same entity. A transfer fee and county fees may be applicable.
  • In addition, eligibility for issuance of government service plates is also extended to vehicles owned by the following:
    • Tennessee Community Action Agencies registering any van owned by such community action agencies and used exclusively for agencies' activities
    • Tennessee Development Districts
    • Tennessee Human Resource Agencies
    • The American Red Cross, State of Tennessee Attorney General’s Opinion dated July 28, 1947
    • Senior Citizens Service Centers which meet the standards set by the Commission on Aging for eligibility to receive state funds, registering any van owned by the centers and used exclusively for the centers' activities


  • Authorized officials of the government entities listed may, by sworn statement, declare that the motor vehicle for which application is being made for registration is owned by the entity and operated exclusively for essential governmental purposes or exclusively for fire protection purposes.



  • Recently (as of 05/2019) Vehicle Services received a question about registering surplus military vehicles that have been sent to local police departments for use.  With the influx of U.S. Dept. of Defense surplus property being issued to local governments through the state’s LESO (Law Enforcement Support Office) unit, this is an issue some of you may encounter. 
  • Surplus military vehicles owned by the US government but used by local governments can be registered by local counties (see note 1 below for T.C.A. reference).  Since there is no title number for these vehicles, the county clerk should key as an N1 transaction (forced registration) and assign an RO number.  These vehicles should be assigned a Government Service plate (class code 7000) (see note 2 below for T.C.A. reference).  The local government agency must provide a completed DLA Form 1928, “Certificate To Register a Tactical Vehicle”.
    • Note 1: The Department may register a vehicle without titling it when the federal government is the owner and a local government entity is the registrant. Because the federal government is the owner, it is not required to be titled. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-3-101(a)(5) provides that “[n]o certificate of title need be obtained for any vehicle of a type subject to registration owned by the government of the United States.” “‘Owner’ means a person who holds the legal title of a vehicle.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-1-112(b).  Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-4-202(d)(1) provides that “[r]egistration under [title 55, chapter 4, part 2] is supplemental to the motor vehicle title and registration law, compiled in chapters 1-6 of [title 55].” Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-4-223 provides the registration process for vehicles registered by a governmental entity. To register the vehicle, the head of the proper departmental/city/county executive must provide a sworn statement that the vehicle is owned by the applicable governmental entity, and that the vehicle is to be operated exclusively for essential governmental purposes. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-4-223(a)(1). Because the federal government is the owner, the vehicle is not required to be titled. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-4-101(a)(5). The vehicle is, however, required to be registered if driven on Tennessee highways. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-4-101. Without a separate provision explicitly requiring the vehicle be titled, our position is that applying for and titling the vehicle is not required prior to registration by a local government entity.
    • Note 2: The Department should register vehicles owned by the federal government but used by a state or local governmental agency as a governmental service vehicle under Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-4-223 (2012). Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-4-223 provides a reduced registration fee for vehicles owned and operated by governmental entities. Specifically, Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-4-223(b) provides the following: The exemption conferred by this section shall apply only to motor vehicles owned and operated by governmental units or private or volunteer fire department units exclusively for governmental and fire protection purposes and shall not apply to motor vehicles operated by governmental units as bailee or lessee. (Emphasis added). Because the vehicle is both owned and operated by governmental units (federally-owned/state or local-operated), the Department should allow it to register under Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-4-223 as a government vehicle. The Department finds interpretation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-4-223(b) to allow governmental registration in situations similar to these where the state agency is using a vehicle that belongs to the federal government. 

Defense Logistics Agency Law Enforcement Support Office


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