The car tax (also called excise tax) can be a little tricky. When you are delinquent in your taxes, DMV will block your renewal registration for all cars under your name. Your relationship with both the RI DMV and the Tax Collector is involved in this tax.
The municipality you live in sets the tax rate and the amount of exemption. DMV determines the value of your car and where that car "lives"(based on where it is registered.)
Here is an outline of the common reasons a car tax may be delinquent.
Moving without notifying DMV.
DMV provides all RI municipalities with a car tax database, based on DMV's registration data. To prevent a problem when you move, file a change of address for each affected vehicle within 10 days. You can download the change of address form here: dmv.ri.gov/documents/forms/license/Address_Cng.pdf
Submitting the change of address form will update local municipalities, taking your vehicle off the tax rolls in the town you moved from and adding it to the city or town you moved to.
If you don't file the change of address form, the next tax bill will come from your old town (with its tax rates and its exemptions.)
Not turning in your license plates.
When you (1) discontinue a registration (for example, going from two cars to one, or after a death) or (2) register your car in another state due to relocation, you need to turn off your registration with DMV to stop the tax from being charged.
If you do not turn in your plates, you will continue to be taxed on the vehicle attached to that registration.
"One Year in Arrears"
Perhaps the most confusing part of the car tax is that the tax bill represents what vehicles you owned last year on New Year's Eve. So, whatever is in the DMV database (such as car(s), associated plates as well as the town) on December 31, 2009 will receive a bill in August, 2010, and the first quarter is payable on September 24, 2010.
A car bought in January, 2010 will not be assessed by DMV until December 31, 2010 and the first tax due on that car will be September 24, 2011.
Let's suppose you move out of state with that car on October 31, 2012 and turn in your RI plates on November 1, 2012. On December 31, 2012, DMV will assess taxes on that car for January though October and a partial (10 month) bill will go to your last RI address in August 2013 with the first payment due September 24, 2013.
The same rule would not apply if you moved from Providence to Cranston. The entire tax year would be payable to the municipality that issued the bill.