How To Better Spend Your Time At The DMV And Survive

DMV Hell

There might be a new way to wean car addicts off their car buying behavior.  That way is to simply have them experience a day at the DMV.  Recently, I had the pleasure to go to the DMV and re-register my car because I never got the tags in the mail.  Apparently State documents cannot be forwarded to a new address.  Hence, if you ever move residences or offices, make sure that you contact the DMV and other state departments immediately to notify your change of address!

I only drive on weekends now since I take the bus to work (ladies love bus riders).  I drive so little that I had no idea the tags never came for 3 months!  Of course, the one day I do drive to work due to a dental appointment, a cop pulls me over for a “fix-it” ticket.  “You know why I stopped you right?” Mr. Officer asks.

Actually, I have no idea Officer,” I sincerely replied back.  He gave me a ticket for expired tags and told me that if I went to the DMV and got new tags within 30 days, I wouldn’t have to pay the $276 fine, but only $25.


The first thing you notice at the DMV is gloom.  We’re talking unhappy campers with frowns that droop down to their ankles!  Another thing you notice is that there’s a lot more diversity at the DMV than if you were to walk around any neighborhood in San Francisco.  Hmmmm, what’s up with that I wonder.

Today was day 30 of the fix-it ticket.  If I didn’t get my tags today, I would have to pay another $250 in fines!  I took the bus from work to the DMV and was prepared for an all day battle.

1:00pm: Stand in line to get the form to get new tags.  15 minutes pass, and I get the form to fill out.  I have to get back in line to turn in the form to get a number!  By this time, the line had grown 15 people deep.

1:15pm: Sweet.  30 minutes later I hand in the form.  Tip: When you finally hand in the form, ask the clerk how long the average wait time is for walk-ins.  She told me 2.5 hours, so I immediately planned my time accordingly.

1:45pm: Walk around the block, pretending to get some exercise.  Spend 30 minutes on hold with the Traffic Department to ask whether I have to pay the bill today (since this is day 30 of the fix-it ticket grace period), or whether I can have a date-mark and mail it in, since it says “by X date”.  When it’s my turn, the operator hangs up.  Then my Blackberry dies so I check some e-mails with my iPhone until it too dies!

2:45pm: Go to fancy grocery store and talked to the butcher on the process of dry aging.  Found a deli clerk who had an iPhone charger and juiced my phone up for 30 minutes.  Back in business!

3:45pm: Go back to the DMV and wait for B207 to get called.  The TV shows B203.  Exciting stuff!  Number gets called at 4:05pm and I’m there smiling, happy to pay my registration of $110, and late charge of $83 by check.

Then BOOM:So sorry sir, but you need a smog check for your vehicle as well,” the clerk snipes back.  Oh my goodness, I just spent 2.5 hours twiddling my thumbs when I could have gone home to get Moose and get a smog?  Nooooooo!  “Come back tomorrow, as the doors close at 5pm sharp and the guards won’t let you in.  You won’t have enough time to go home and get your car and come back lah!”

4:15pm: Holy shit, fuck, damn!  I was so depressed.  I couldn’t believe I had to come back to the DMV the next day.  Why couldn’t the first clerk in line tell me that I needed the smog in the first place, instead of brush me off?  Tip: Ask the first clerk if you need a smog check and anything else before waiting, no matter how bad you feel taking up more time for the line!  I was depressed, but for some reason still hopeful.  I took a $14 cab ride home and told myself on the way that maybe, just maybe I could pull this off.

4:32pm: I arrived home and decided to drive Moose BACK to the DMV area to get a smog check. I figured I had to get a smog check done anyway, so what the heck.  My afternoon was shot.

4:52pm: I ask the smog checker whether he could get it done in 10 minutes so I could rush back into the DMV before they locked their doors.  “No way homey!  A smog check takes at least 25 minutes, so you’re fuckedThose guys at the DMV are like Nazis.  When the second hand strikes 5pm, buh bye!” he replied.

Jeez, thanks mate I thought to myself.  Then a moment of kindness emitted from the clerk,But I tell you what.  Give me your number.  You go and get in the door before 5pm and lock yourself in.  I’ll then call you when the smog is done, provided you pass, and tell you the pass code to tell the clerk!”

4:57pm: Genius!  I did what I was told and ran like mad three blocks away to get in before the doors closed.  I prayed that the 5% battery juice I had left in my iPhone was enough.  Sure enough, at 5pm doors started slamming shut and one man started arguing with a guard to let him in.  The guard pushed back and a shouting match ensued of “Don’t touch me motherfucker!” and other nice pleasantries.

At 5:18pm, the iPhone rang and I cut into the front of the line and smiled at the clerk.  “Wow, it’s a miracle you’re here!” she said.  I told her the number, she nodded in approval as it went through the system, and I was saved!!!

NIGHTMARE AT DMV OVERJeep Grand Cherokee 2012

I think I lost at least a few months of my life with this ordeal.  I was calm on the outside, but cursing my bad fortune which ultimately turned into so-so fortune on the inside.  Overall, I spent 5 hours, $305 dollars ($195 registration + late fee, $85 smog fee, $25 fix-it ticket) to get my damn tags!  If I waited one more day, I would have had to pay another $250 due to the grace period of the fix-it ticket expiring.

Before this day, I was seriously thinking of getting another car.  The SF auto show opened up my eyes to the sweet new Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited by Daimler pictured to the right.  But since I went through such an ordeal, and I’ve got a nice 9 months left before I’ve got to pay for registration again (remember I was 3 months late), I want to “get my money’s worth” and never buy another used car again!

Things To Bring And Do Before Arriving At The DMV

* Necessities: Two blank checks, $200 in cash, license, registration, proof of insurance, VIN #, license plate number.  Many DMVs don’t take credit cards, which is why you need the checks and cash.  Also bring a utilities bill, and three picture IDs such as passport, work ID, driver’s license.

* Time killers: Mobile device charger(s) and mobile devices (s), work, book, magazines, scarf, laptop and an inquisitive mind.  The greatest time killer on earth is a smartphone.  I can literally destroy 2 hours of time without even knowing it on my iPhone due to my addiction to this one tower defense game called Sentinel 3.  Of course, there’s all the online writing and social media as well.

* Ask, Ask, Ask: When you get to see the first clerk after standing in line, always ask the clerk what else you need, be it a smog certificate or any other type of certificate so you don’t have to go back in the line!  Take your time and explain your situation.

* Schedule Beforehand if you don’t have a deadline ticket! If you are not in a rush, consider scheduling your appointment.  You will save on average 2.5-3.5 hours of your life.  You can book and cancel as many appointments as you want with no penalty.


Lower Your Auto Insurance Costs: Check out Esurance online. They have some of the best plans with the lowest rates around due to their lower overhead costs. It’s worth spending a moment filling out a quote to see if you can save some money. Car insurance is one of the largest ongoing expenses for car owners. Esurance has good driver discounts, and multi-product discounts as well.

Updated for 2021 and beyond.

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