SALEM, Ore. — Discharged from their military days hauling troops and gear as long as 30 years ago, monster-sized military surplus Humvees may soon be cruising the Oregon streets and highways alongside eco-conscious Prius drivers and outdoorsy Subaru commuters.
A proposal that’s been advancing at the state Capitol could make Oregon one of the few states to allow these 2-ton, 7-foot-wide diesel gas-guzzlers — not to be confused with their flashier Hummer, H1 and H2 commercial cousins — on the roadways for civilian use. These rigs would be hard-pressed to pass emissions in places like California and they also don’t meet federal safety standards, although updates for proper seatbelts, turn signals and other tweaks could make them street legal in Oklahoma, for instance.
Spared from the scrap- yard as newer models were brought on, surplus Humvees made by AM General became available for purchase from the U.S. military by civilians in late 2014. Nearly 8,000 Humvees have been sold to date, but often without standard features such as horns, airbags or even doors and windows while burning diesel as fast as 4 mpg. These big rigs usually don’t pass muster with state departments of motor vehicles, including in Oregon.
The Oregon proposal, however, would register these older Humvees under the same special designation used for antiques, collectors’ cars and street rods.
A one-time $81 fee would permanently register these massive vehicles for the streets — but only for limited purposes, such as group rides with car clubs, shows and exhibitions and, luckily for 75-year-old Hank Porter, parades.
“All I want to do is haul around old veterans in parades on the Fourth of July,” said Porter, mayor of Stayton, Ore., a small town just 12 miles east of the state capitol in Salem. “I don’t need to run all over the country in the thing.”
Porter, a retired school teacher, asked his former student Fred Girod, who is now a Republican state senator, for help after hitting snags at the DMV in trying to register his 1986 Humvee — one of three he and his family purchased last year, mostly for off-roading and, of course, parades.
Civilians like Porter buy these military behemoths for usually $10,000 or less through a third-party auction site called GovPlanet, a subsidiary of IronPlanet, which sends three-quarters of the proceeds back to the military. Buyers sign hold-harmless agreements acknowledging the Humvees are “not roadworthy” and then receive a federal proof-of-ownership certificate with an “off-road only” stamp that they can take to their local DMV.
“The (Department of Defense) has determined that this is a prudent measure when vehicles do not meet the (federal vehicle safety standards) in order to alert state licensing authorities of the nature of the vehicle,” Susan Lowe, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, said in an email. “The ultimate decision on whether a state will license these vehicles for on-road use is a decision within discretion of state licensing authorities.”
That’s where civilian Humvee owners like Porter run into issues, which vary greatly by state.
“As a practical matter (the federal documents) tend to negate any argument that the vehicle is, in fact, built for on-road use, or that the purchaser believed he/she would be able to get it registered at DMV and drive it on public roads,” said Amy Joyce, legislative liaison for the Oregon Department of Transportation.
The proposal faced no opposition during its first hearing last week, although ODOT stayed neutral.