NBC 5 Investigates has discovered another loophole in the state’s temporary license plate system that allows people to get temporary plates for unsafe cars that have not passed state safety and emissions inspections. And, this loophole does not involve shady car dealers who sell temporary tags for profit on the black market.
It turns out, getting a tag for an unsafe car is as easy as visiting a local county tax office that issues one particular type of temporary tag.
"Where does it stop?” asked Sgt. Jose Escribano, who investigates license plate fraud at a special law enforcement unit in Travis County.
“This is a part of that entire system there in the DMV that needs an overhaul,” Escribano said.
Get DFW local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC DFW newsletters.
Over the last five months, a series of NBC 5 reports have exposed how questionable car dealers were able to exploit security loopholes at the Texas DMV and sell fraudulent temporary tags, raking in millions in black-market profits.
Those tags are often sold to people with cars that could not pass a state inspection and get a regular plate.
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has shut down more than a dozen dealers caught selling tags.
The latest news from around North Texas.
But now, law enforcement officials tell NBC 5 Investigates they are seeing more cars that have not passed a state inspection but have 30-day permits, a type of temporary paper license plate tag that can be issued by a county tax office, typically to drivers who are waiting on title paperwork.
To drive with a 30-day permit state law says the car must pass a safety inspection.
But NBC 5 Investigates has learned most tax offices do not ask for proof that the car was inspected.
“It could be a vehicle that shouldn't even be on the road,” Escribano said.
NBC 5 Investigates contacted the tax offices in the four largest DFW area counties, Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties.
All of them said they do not check inspections.
Dallas County Tax Assessor/Collector John Ames told NBC 5, "...we are not authorized to refuse the issuance of a 30-day permit based upon the failure to verify a valid inspection."
County officials told us the Texas DMV would need to give them the authority to ask for proof of inspection.
On Thursday, DMV board member, Manny Ramirez tells NBC the DMV is now working to close the 30-day permit loophole and require tax offices to verify inspections.
“I think every time that we find a loophole, we have to do everything in our power to shut it down,” Ramirez said.
But, there’s no timetable yet for when that will happen.
Meanwhile, paper tags continue to flow to cars that have not been inspected.
Just Thursday morning NBC 5 Investigates spotted a 30-day permit issued by Dallas County.
NBC 5 checked the VIN number on the car and found it has not passed a safety inspection in more than 2 years. So, it's not legally on the road.
“It's outrageous. And every time that we find an example like that, every time that we find loopholes where criminals are taking advantage of the system, we have to act swiftly to shut that door and shut it off,” Ramirez said.
Officers who investigate tag fraud tell NBC 5 they are even starting to see 30-day permits in smuggling cases along the U.S/Mexico border.
As NBC 5 has reported, drug cartels and human traffickers often use fraudulent temporary tags to mask the ownership of vehicles and evade law enforcement. And, police fear bad guys who once bought fraudulent tags on the black market -- are now turning to tax offices to get tags instead.
“We've seen that. We've gotten the reports and we've seen the human smuggling, the pursuits, and then they're using the 30-day permits,” Escribano said.
In Travis County, the Constables Office tells NBC 5 Investigates that 70% of the 30-day permits issued this year went to cars that do not have a valid inspection.
NBC 5 reached out to the DMV to ask when they plan to close this loophole.
In a statement, a DMV spokesman told NBC 5, "the department would like the opportunity to provide specific instructions to county tax assessor-collector offices throughout the state before we begin discussing the issue publicly."
Ames, the Dallas County Tax Assessor-Collector, said Thursday he is happy to hear the DMV is going to help the tax offices tighten up the oversight of the 30-day tags. Ames and other tax assessors participated in a TxDMV phone call Thursday to discuss the department’s plans to require inspection verification.
Records show about 500,000 30-day permits were issued in 2021, and almost 100,000 were issued by the big four-county tax offices in the DFW area.
But some local counties are seeing rising demand for 30-day permits in 2022 and that has some law enforcement officials concerned that more people may be turning to 30-day paper tags as the black market for fraudulent 60-day buyers tags gets shut down.