For the small-business owner, April is but one marker in a yearlong journey of tax markers. Aside from income tax, whether personal or corporate, there are many other recurring tax issues — governed by numerous taxing authorities — to deal with on a monthly or quarterly basis including payroll, sales, and use taxes.

The people we have chosen to govern do not necessarily make it easy for us. Yes, Benjamin Franklin would have us believe that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” but when one has the effect of accomplishing the other, perhaps it’s time to question that inevitability. In North Carolina, effective March 1, 2016, car washing and detailing — among a host of auto-related services — became subject to sales and use taxes (hat tip to Chris Wade over at Superior Auto Extras).

As with most legislation and regulation, there are exceptions, which serve, among other ends, to complicate and confuse. The Sales and Use Tax Division of the North Carolina Department of Revenue issued an “Important Notice: Motor Vehicles (Installation Charges; Repair, Maintenance, and Installation Services; and Service Contracts)” to help explain the application of the tax.

According to this seven-page document, there are two broad exemptions from sales and use tax for car washes: First, “self-service cleaning of motor vehicles (drive-thru or coin-operated)”; second, where car washing and/or detailing are the only business activities provided and there are no “retail trade” activities.

How does this work in the real world? A wand bay self-service car wash is exempt. An in-bay automatic is exempt, even if attached to a c-store where there obviously is retail trade activity, because the wash is self-serve. An express exterior is exempt because car washing is the only activity. Should the wash sell soda pop on site through a vending machine that the wash services, the wash would be engaging also in “retail trade,” but would still be exempt because it’s self serve. Add an employee to prep at the tunnel entrance and one to towel-dry at the exit, and the wash service becomes taxable. Full-service washes are exempt if car washing is the only activity they provide.

A full-service wash that sells snacks, greeting cards, etc. in its lobby is considered a retailer — a business activity beyond just car washing. Thus the car wash service is taxable. Chris Wade points out that, to qualify for exemption, full service operators simply discontinue lobby sales. The tax effectively kills off that part of the operator’s business. The irony is that the state loses tax revenue on that now-defunct business activity.

Though on a lesser scale, this death-by-taxes scenario is reminiscent of the disastrous “luxury tax” imposed by Congress in 1991 on boats costing more than $100,000. Yacht retailers reported a 77 percent drop in sales that year. Some boatyard owners, who reported no sales that year, were forced to lay off workers or declare bankruptcy. Boat builders estimated 25,000 layoffs. “The recession has hurt the industry, the tax is killing it,” a spokesperson for the National Marine Manufacturers Association said at the time. Explaining that no one expected the tax to have such a devastating impact, John Breaux, then senator from Louisiana, said, “We thought we were doing the right thing.”

Two years later, in 1993, they finally did the right thing. The tax was repealed.