How to Register a Utility Trailer in Massachusetts

by Fred Decker

The state of Massachusetts considers utility trailers to be vehicles requiring registration, so you can't take one on the road without registering it first. The registration process in Massachusetts is simple and straightforward, though the costs vary with the weight and value of your trailer.

The Basics

A visit to your insurance broker is the first step in registering your new – or "new to you" – trailer in Massachusetts. Your broker will provide you with a signed and completed RMV1 form confirming that you've purchased appropriate insurance coverage for the trailer. From there, you can proceed to the Registry of Motor Vehicles itself, bringing the RMV1 form along with proof of ownership for the trailer. If you bought the trailer from a dealer, you'll have a Certificate of Origin. If it was a private sale, you'll need the title documents from the previous owner. If the trailer was untitled, you'll need: a bill of sale laying out your name and address as well as the seller's; the date of purchase and purchase price; and the trailer's make, model, year and Vehicle Identification Number.

The Fees

Registration fees for utility trailers are based on their weight. According to the state's schedule of fees as of November 2016, the fee is $20 per 1,000 pounds of gross weight, with a minimum of of $20; you will also be liable for state excise taxes based on the higher of the "book" value of your trailer or the actual purchase price. The fee for a Certificate of Title is an additional $75. Titling isn't mandatory for lightweight utility trailers – 3,000 pounds gross weight or less – so you'll have to decide for yourself whether you want to take that extra step. Having a formal title to the trailer might be useful, if you're planning to resell it one day.

Understanding GVW

The trailer's gross vehicle weight, or GVW, is the combined total of the trailer's weight and the load it's rated to safely carry. When you purchase a factory-built trailer, that information is physically attached to the trailer and is also detailed in the owner's manual. The rating is based on a number of factors, usually including the strength of the materials used in its construction and the weight ratings of the axles and tires. Lightweight utility trailers and boat trailers are typically under the 3,000-pound limit, while double-axle trailers and commercial trailers usually exceed it.

Homemade Trailers

Homemade trailers are a special case, whether you build your own or buy one that's already been constructed.

To be street legal, a homemade trailer must have fenders and the same set of lights – brake lights, tail lights and turn signal indicators – as a car, as well as safety chains to keep it attached if the hitch should fail. If your home-built trailer exceeds 3,000 pounds in gross weight, you'll need to have it inspected and have a Massachusetts-assigned VIN issued. It's up to the builder to decide the trailer's GVW, but that doesn't mean you can simply rate it at 2,900 pounds to reduce your costs. If you're caught towing a load higher than your GVW you'll be in violation of state law, and may be liable for fines or civil penalties as well as potentially higher insurance costs in the future.

About the Author

Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.