What is the Gas Guzzler Tax?

Is My SUV a Target?

The Gas Guzzler Tax is a Federal excise tax applied to the domestic sale of new vehicles that don't meet certain fuel economy standards. It was enacted as part of the Energy Tax Act of 1978, reaching current levels by 1988. On its surface, the Tax is simple. Behind that simplicity, though, lies a maze of formulas and numbers, some of which are of particular interest to SUV buyers.

Combined Fuel Economy

The Gas Guzzler Tax is based on combined fuel economy, which is based on a 55%/45% highway/city fuel economy estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency test.

How Much is the Gas Guzzler Tax?

Vehicles that get at least 22.5 mpg (combined) don't have to pay the Gas Guzzler Tax. The Tax rate goes from $1,000 for vehicles that get at least 21.5 mpg (combined), but less than 22.5 mpg (combined) all the way up to $7,700 for vehicles that get less than 12.5 mpg (combined).

Are SUVs Subject to the Gas Guzzler Tax?

SUVs are not subject to the Gas Guzzler Tax. When the law was first enacted in 1978, SUVs and light trucks represented less than 25% of the vehicles on the road, and were considered primarily work vehicles. Over the last three decades, the use of SUVs has substantially changed, but the law hasn't. Here's a quote from Senate Report 109-082 "Highway Reauthorization and Excise Tax Simplification Act of 2005":

...vehicles defined in Title 49 C.F.R. sec. 523.5 (relating to light trucks) are exempt. These vehicles include those designed to transport property on an open bed (e.g., pick-up trucks) or provide greater cargo-carrying than passenger carrying volume including the expanded cargo-carrying space created through the removal of readily detachable seats (e.g., pick-up trucks, vans, and most minivans, sports utility vehicles and station wagons). Additional vehicles that meet the `non-passenger' requirements are those with at least four of the following characteristics: (1) an angle of approach of not less than 28 degrees; (2) a breakover angle of not less than 14 degrees; (3) a departure angle of not less than 20 degrees; (4) a running clearance of not less than 20 centimeters; and (5) front and rear axle clearances of not less than 18 centimeters each. These vehicles would include many sports utility vehicles.

Will SUVs Ever Be Subject to the Gas Guzzler Tax?

It's not reasonable to assume that times won't catch up with actual usage. Eventually, this political football will wind up in the hands of a Congress that is forced to act to curb US gasoline usage, and the Gas Guzzler Tax is a pretty effective weapon. Time will tell.

UPDATE 2015: Despite noises in Congress, no changes have been made to the Gas Guzzler Tax in recent years. SUVs are still exempt from the tax.