The California DMV Experience

dmvThis is a moment-to-moment account of my day’s dealings with the CA DMV.  It is one of my most painfully epic experiences to-date.

For those of you that live in LA, this is simply going to make you chuckle, because you get it.  For those of you that have never dealt with DMV in a major metropolis such as Los Angeles, grab a tasty beverage, sit back, and relax, and enjoy the tale of my day.

In July 2013, I relocated back to Los Angeles from North Carolina.  Having lived here for many years before, I knew what lie ahead of me in dealing with the DMV here.  But I had been through the motions before, and knew what I was doing.

Insurance? Check.
NC registration cards?  Check.
NC driver’s license?  Check.

Now, for some back story, it’s worth noting that I lived in LA as recently as March 2011, when I relo’ed to NC.  Why is this important?  Well, my CA license is technically still legit, and I was able to get a NC license upon moving back.  More on this in a bit.

Also, it’s worth noting that CA, in order to decrease govt spending, has furloughed many govt employees, and some of the hardest hit have been the DMV.  To put it in perspective, the state only compounded an already out-of-control problem by limiting the amount of time each person could work per day, and how many employees could be on staff at any given time, on any given day.  Perspective?  Imagine 250 people waiting in line to get the attention of 2 employees.

That’s important because between August and September, I have made 3 separate attempts to show up ad hoc [like everyone else] only to be greeted by lines, and told that I wouldn’t get helped today.  Yes, I’m stubborn.

I finally succumbed and scheduled an appointment.  First available slot?  A week and a half away.  Today.

Upon arrival, the appointment did as it promised.  I literally walked STRAIGHT UP to the counter.  At this point, I was elated.  “HELL YEA THIS  IS AWESOME!”

My friends, that is where it all went south.

I have two cars to register and get plates for, as well as simply getting a “reprint” essentially of an existing driver’s license.  It’s important to note that these are treated as three separate items.  More on this later.

So, I had to fill out a form for each car, and a form for my driver’s license.  So basically, all the appt got me was to the forms quicker.  It took me about 30 minutes to fill out all of the forms, and luckily I had planned ahead and brought all information with me.  I walked the forms back up to the lady, she looked them over, and stated that my cars needed to get “Verified.”


“Verified?  What is that?”

“You need to drive your car into the lane outside so that one of our technicians can inspect and verify it.  It goes really quick, there’s never a line, and should only take 5 minutes.”

“Well, OK.  But what about the car that isn’t here today?  I can only bring one…”

“Oh, well, you’ll have to make another appointment to bring that one back.”


My elation is over.

So I stack up all my forms, and the rest of my packet of crap, take her clipboard, and head BACK out to my car.  EIGHT CARS ARE IN FRONT OF ME.  No one went to the front car for 15 minutes.  Apparently, the person verifying is the same person doing the ride-along driving tests.  Finally, two people come out, as if they’re reinforcements, and begin expecting cars.

5 minutes?  Try 50.  50 minutes I’ve just spent in this line.  And it took 15 for this woman to “Verify” my car.

Anyone want to take a guess at what the “verifying” process is?   Remember that form I had to fill out for registration?  Same. exact. form.   All I could do was laugh.

“Take this back in to the counter, and you should be all set!”

Great.   So I re-park the car, which takes another 10 minutes to find an open spot.  They really should put a four or five story parking garage in there.

Once parked, I walk back in to the counter, wave at the nice lady who served me forms, and handed her my reg form and verification form.  Even she had trouble for a second determining which was which.  She stapled them all together with a number.  F064.

“Wait, didn’t making an appointment get me around this?”

“Yes, they’ll call you next.”

…and they did.   At this point, I’m still very excited that I’m skirting [to an extent] around the MOBS of people, and it’s always nice to feel like you’ve gamed the system.  All things considered, this could be a lot worse.

My number is called, and I go to the assigned counter.  I’m greeted by the most indignant, disgusting, dirty-clothes-wearing, sloppy Hispanic woman.  If she were pushing a cart down the sidewalk, you’d think she was homeless.  But I refused to get personal.

I smiled, asked her how her day was going, and let her know that I was previously a resident, and was simply returning to the state and registering cars and getting an updated license, which should still be valid.

“Oh.  You have three items.  Hang on…”

…and she walked away from the desk, leaving me “WTF’ing” to myself.

After about 5 minutes goes by (seriously, I replied to three lengthy emails in the time she was gone),  she comes back and says, “I had to get approval from my manager to do more than one item, since everything is timed, and your ticket #F064 says there’s only one item.”   Turns out her manager was the one that handed me the forms in the first place, as well as the number.  Stew on that for a second.

Let’s reflect.  I arrived at 11:20AM.  It was pushing 1PM at this point, and I am just getting to the counter with my paperwork, WITH AN APPOINTMENT.  Stew on that for a second.

She quickly goes through the car’s paperwork that got verified, as everything was in order.  I believe the only hiccup was getting the lienholder’s address correct.  No biggie.


“That’ll be $378.”

“I’m going to pay it all together, and write you one check, if that’s OK?”



Next, she begins to process the other car, which I did not have with me.  Again, address correction of the lienholder needed.  Nothing Google can’t solve.


“That one’s gonna be $330.”

[inside voice] “F**k me!”

“Alright.  Make it out to CA DMV?”

“Hang on, what did you say your license number was?  This is coming up weird…”

[repeats license number]

“You have a Failure to Appear on your record, I can’t give you a license.”

[“Don’t lose your shit here, Nick.  Keep calm, smile.”]

“I’m not sure I understand.  I’ve had plenty of traffic tickets, sure, but I’ve never NOT paid them or NOT appeared in court.”

“Well, you’re going to have to call North Carolina…. actually this appears to be in South Carolina.”

[inside voice] “WTF?!”

“Yea, it looks like it’s a Failure to Appear in South Carolina from April 2005.”

[inside voice] “WTF?!”

“OK, I’ll call them right now while you finish the other stuff.”

“Sir, you’re not allowed to use your phone here, sorry.”

[woo-sahhh, Nick.  woo-sahhh.]

“Alright.  So we can still get the registration done, right?  OK, good.”

“That’ll be $709 for both cars.”

[Angrily scratches out a check, while dying a little inside, but somehow relieved, knowing I’ll be able to drive my Evo again legally]


She takes my check, does the A/R thing of stamping it with 17 different stamps (not exaggerating) and staples a bunch of stuff together and hands me a packet for each car and says,


“Now when you get each of the cars smogged/inspected, bring these back and we’ll get you your plates.”

“Wait…. I don’t get plates now?”

“No, your cars have to be smogged first.  I can give you a 30-day permit for the other car since the reg/plates are expired.”


[I’m REALLY on the edge at this point, folks.]


“There’s a smogging place right around the corner, if you wanted to go get it done now.”

“Just so I’m clear, I’ve just spent two hours and $700 at the DMV for what exactly?”


She gave me an indignant F-U smile as I turned and walked away.

Yes.  I walked out of the DMV, having lost over two hours and written a check for more than $700, with neither a driver’s license, nor a plate for either car.


[Nick stands outside having a smoke at the back of the car, mumbling expletives, and contemplating how best I could make my future jail cell comfortable should I absolutely lose my shit.]


So, positive mental attitude, right?  I drive over to the recommended smogging station, pull into the line, hop out, and walk inside.  There’s no one there, but I hear power tools going in the bays.  I walk out, only to be greeted with,


“Get out of the bay, please Sir!  You can’t be in here.”


“Hi, I just came from the DMV, and would like to get my vehicle smogged, please.”

“That’s not going to happen today, ‘buddy,’ I’m backed up all the way through tomorrow.”

“OK, thanks.”


It was at this point, that I decided enough was enough.  I abandoned the DMV process altogether, and headed home.  But not before treating myself to some Bacon Cheddar Wedges at Jack in the Box (Seriously, they’re like crack) while continuing to contemplate three hots and a cot, and life in the “yard” lifting weights and getting jailhouse tats.  Compared to this, it sounded like paradise.

On the way home, I decided to call the SC DMV and chase down what this “Failure to Appear” was all about.  I wish I could sound this out so you could hear it, but it was the most hillbilly sounding guy, bless his heart, that I’d ever heard.  But he was very nice, and very helpful.

“Sir, I’m seeing you lived here in ’99 and ’00, but nothing other than that.  Where did you live in 2005?”

“Charlotte, NC”

“OK, well that makes sense.  If you got a ticket down here, we just ship it off to your state of residence.”

“So as far as SC is concerned, I’ve got a clean bill of health in the state of SC?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Thank you Bobby.  Have a good day!”


[dials NC DMV, sits on hold for 20 minutes, until Shaquonda answers the phone sucking her teeth, and obviously eating something]


“Can I help you?”

[I’m quite literally on mute laughing out loud.]

“Sorry, hun, I was on mute.  I’m calling because I’ve moved from NC to CA and they’re telling me I have a Failure to Appear on my driving record from 2005.”

[long nails clattering away on a keyboard, whilst continuing to suck teeth.  I’m on mute laughing again.]

“I do see where you had two tickets on the same day in April 2005, but there was never an FTA, and they’re both showing as cleared in August 2005.”

“So what I’m deducing here, Shaquonda, is that CA does not have updated information.  Would you say that’s fair?”


[switches to NC accent] “Caleefernya ain’t got the riight info, do’they?”

“Oh!  No, I don’t think they do!  I bet they haven’t updated from the National Repository.”

[inside voice] There’s a National Repository?  Ugh.  GD NSA.

“Shaquonda that’s the best news I’ve gotten all day.  Thank you.  Do you happen to have a helpdesk or contact number for central CA DMV, or know who I can press to get this updated?”

[more long nails clattering on the keyboard. she’s fumbling around and I find it via Google before she does.]

“Actually, I got it.  Nevermind.  Thanks!”



I take a moment to reflect on my day thus far before starting to re-deal with the CA DMV.

[dial the number for the DMV head office in Sacramento]

“We are experiencing unusually high call volumes.  You estimated wait time is 1 hour 23 minutes to 1 hour 42 minutes.  If you would like, we can call you back, and you will not lose your place in line.”


Blown away, I do the callback thing, and go on about my business.  About 80 minutes later, someone calls me.  I explain I’m trying to get a CA license, and being told I have a FTA in the Carolinas, when in actuality it is all clear and CA needs to update  (This will be the first of three times I have to explain this).

“Oh!  Yes, you’ll need to get your record updated.  Let me give you the number for that department.”

[scratches it down]

[just hangs up because I’m over it at this point]

[dials next number]

[explains situation again to new person in different department [second time]]

“Oh.  Yes I see where you’re eligible in NC, so I’m going to put a comment on your record, and then xfer you to the department that can clear this up for you.”

“You can’t?”


“Can they do this for me at the local DMV office?”


[FFS, people.  REALLY?!]

“Hold on, I’ll xfer you.”  [she comes back]  “Of course it would be busy when I tried to xfer you.  They get really busy in the afternoons over there.  Let me give you the number and you’ll just have to call them until you get through.”


[inside voice]  Fantastic.

[scratches down number]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]

[dials number][busy]


…a different automated message.  I’m IN!   


“….your estimated wait time is 30 minutes.”

At this point, I’m almost laughing hysterically, as if I’ve completely lost it, and next stop is in the back of one of those old vans, in a strait-jacket, on the way to the looney bin.   So, I go take it out on some poor civilians in Grand Theft Auto V.  Mind you, I’ve got the volume CRANKED up.

As if it were meant to be, as soon as someone picks up, I run over a herd of people that all scream in unison.  I quickly assured the guy that I wasn’t killing anyone [yet] and that it was simply the GTA video game.

“Grand Theft Auto?  What’s that?”


“Let’s move on…  I just got off the phone with this other dept who said I needed to talk to you about getting my record updated so that I could get a license [third time explaining the whole shebang here].”

“…she said that she put a special comment for you in my driving record to reference.”

“Ah, yes I see it.  Give me a couple of minutes to work on this.”

[I mute the sound and continue my murdering spree]

“OK, I think we’ve got you taken care of.”


“Yup!  I put in a RUSH tag on this so you should be able to head back to the DMV in 7-10 business days and get your license.”

“Wait… 7-10 days?”

[I lost it and just started laughing out loud.  It had to come out.]

“Sir, is something wrong?”

“Buddy, if you had ANY idea what I’ve been through today, you’d probably eat a bullet before I was able to finish.”




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09/26/2013 18:23

LMAO!!!!! I literally felt your frustration while reading this. Especially since I just went through DMV crap a couple weeks ago. Looking forward to the rest of the story haha.

09/29/2013 18:00

I do find it strange how the US is such a modern country and hatred of inefficiency, and yet so massively bureaucratic – paperwork that you’d more expect in some former communist country! It’s similar to (though seems worse) than many western countries, though, as there is that tension between people requiring services from government, and yet wanting to pay as little as possible for those services.

02/06/2014 11:32

WTF? Pardon my ignorance, but I’ve lived in London in the UK for over 22 years, registered more than 10 cars and got 3 driver’s licences (provisional licence while getting ready to drive, actual license once driving test passed, and a motorcycle licence for anything over 125 cc, and I’ve never been inside our DMV equivalent (DVLA), And

oh yeah, purchased a couple of private registration plates too!!! I feel your pain!

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