The Department of Motor Vehicles is one of the most efficient and pleasant places on Earth and any adult should be honored to spend any time inside its luxurious accommodations. If you can already sense the sarcasm in that sentence, my point is made. Here are the worst DMV stories, submitted by our readers. Their names have been concealed.
It took ten separate trips to the DMV to register my DeLorean. Ten.
First I needed a title, which had gone missing. Then I needed to clear the lien, to a bank long since out of business, with a bond, which no one would tell me how to get, then I needed to have the car inspected, inexplicably, twice, at two separate departments. Then they wouldn’t believe the 30-year old Blue plates were original to the car, even though I produced the original registration. Then they said the car was too new to reissue the original plates (it wasn’t). And on, and on.
Every new visit was met with the same line:
“Well I don’t know who you spoke with last time, but....”
After the ninth trip, I dug around online and managed to get the phone number for the Chairperson of the entire California DMV system in Sacramento, and had her issue a personal, notarized letter to the Culver City branch approving my application for registration.
I have heterochromia, which is when you have eyes that are two different colors. So on my license I had to choose what color to have as my eye color. You can’t pick two colors obviously. I select blue because that’s what color most people think my eyes are until the get within a couple feet of me.
I walk up to the counter (after standing in line 2 hours, there’s none of those little tickets, or even chairs, you must stand) to hand in my paperwork including the sheet I filled out with my eye color. She enters the info into the computer and then goes to take my photo. Through the camera viewfinder I guess she saw my eyes.
Lady: “Sir your eyes aren’t blue”
Me: “I have two different eye colors. One is brown. The other is blue. I selected blue because that’s what most people think my eyes are unless they get very close to me.”
Lady: “That’s impossible. No one has two different colored eyes”
Me: “Miss it’s called Heterochromia” <I move closer to show my eyes are indeed two different colors>
Lady: “Those are colored contacts sir. Please remove them.”
Me: “I’m not wearing colored contacts. This is how my eyes naturally are”
Lady: <calls security over to her desk> “This man refuses to take out his colored contacts”
Fake cop: “Please remove your contacts sir”
Me: “This is how my eyes naturally are. I have heterochromia.” <I search it on google to prove it to the security guard>
Fake cop: “Well aren’t you some sort of freak”
I immediately stormed out pissed as hell. I had been bullied and called a freak all of elementary school because of my eyes. I was not going to hear it again from the DMV.
Several years ago I sold my all-original low-mileage CRX Si for a (then) shocking amount of money. I loved the car but ultimately I didn’t want to modify the mint seats to fit my tall frame. Using my brand of thinking, the next logical purchase should be a restored Volvo 140 many states away, purchased sight unseen. I’m a one-car kind of guy so with the loss of my CRX, the level of difficulty was increased more than usual this time around. I had planned to fly out with the payment after registering it in Maryland and acquiring plates. The seller was game for my crazy scheme and appreciated my enthusiasm, he was kind enough to send a copy of the registration and a bill of sale to me in Baltimore. You may note that I did not say “title”.
This is where my fun began, as I was buying the car from a non-title state. I didn’t think this would be a problem to the professionals at the MVA, so I loaded up my backpack and jumped on the #22 bus to the Mondawmin MVA. (The epicenter of our lovely riots last month.) Baltimore’s summers feature days where the air is replaced with some sort of hot, wet poison and sitting in a bus filled with security cameras and foul-mouthed 10 year olds ranting about their sexual fantasies lacks a certain joie de vivre.
Arriving at the MVA late in the morning, I stood in line and waited for my number. I plodded my way through whatever paperback I had brought with me and slowly turned into a refrigerated wet rag in the ridiculous air conditioning. When my number was called, I approached the clerk and explained my situation. It was one of those moments when you’re explaining something to someone and half-way through your sentiment you recognize a look in their eyes and think, “Oh my God, am I hurting you?”
Instead of asking someone to rectify her confusion, she flat out said, “No, we need a title.” I asked for a supervisor, she said I’d have to get back in line and get a supervisor number. I’ve worked in customer service before, so I stayed calm and played the customer I imagined she wanted to talk to in hopes of receiving special treatment. It didn’t happen. I waited in line and got my S203 number and sat on the bench, now completely dry and fully aware of my smell. Anyway, my time never came. In my putrid summer haze, the afternoon passed and the MVA closed CLOSED before I could see a supervisor. I thought there had to be some mistake. Some awful mistake. I pleaded with the clerk I had spoken with early, who interrupted, “I’m sorry sir, you’ll have to come back tomorrow.” I repeated myself. She said the same thing in such a similar tone that I thought I was in danger of being trapped for all eternity. I left.
Anyway...so I do the same thing the next day. #22 bus a bit earlier, and I’m first in line at the MVA. I immediately get a supervisor ticket and I only have to wait an hour for the fifteen ghost customers who got there before me. The supervisor, unfortunately, unbelievably agrees with the clerk. “No, you need a title.” I show her a print-out from the official state-run MVA website explaining that some states don’t require titles for older cars. I had the appropriate paperwork, I had everything I needed for tags. She said there’s nothing I could do and asked me to LEAVE and return with a title, I was wasting both of our time. As I walked out, I passed the police desk, glancing at the State Trooper’s pistol bobbing on his hip. Riding the #22 bus home, I thought a lot about Chow Yun Fat action scenes.
When I got home, I called my Mom and asked her if I could take the train up into the county and borrow her car to drive to the MVA out there. I did exactly that, politely explained my situation just as I had in Baltimore, and I was in-and-out in less than 30 minutes.
Several years ago, I moved to the New England area from New Mexico, I “cheated” and did the logical thing, waited till my yearly NM registration expired before going to the DMV. I walk in on a Tuesday morning, first thing, I counted 6 customers and 5 DMV reps/agents. Things were looking very positive, this could be an quick and easy thing. Prior to my visit, I went on line, made phone calls, got emissions tested, proof of insurance, obtained and filled out forms, so when I walked up to the next available rep and presented her with my plates, title, registration and paper work and said I wanted to get new plates and register my vehicle. She started checking the different forms and then stopped and shook her head, looked up at me and said she needed talk to a supervisor. Standing there, watching her walk over to some older gentleman with coffee stained shirt and tie a from the 70’s, she shows him the forms and he is the phone and barely looks at them and waves her away. She walks back and says we can’t register your vehicle because its from a foreign country and there needs to be verification of my documents. I was surprised and a little angry so I said, in a slightly raised voice, No! New Mexico is not a foreign country, get your supervisor! She huffs and walks over to him and says “He’s being a problem” So he walks over and of course other agents stopped what they were doing and came over as well (in a sign of unity or back up?) Once again, in a more calmer voice, almost a growl, I repeated “New Mexico is not a foreign country”. The supervisor said if I continue to be unreasonable, they will summon the police and be escorted out. By now others in the waiting area were watching this battle of common sense and bureaucracy and one of the citizens apparently ran out to his car and ran back in with his road atlas, opened to the two paged map of the whole country and pointed out New Mexico between Texas and Arizona. Sheepishly they began the process of going through the forms and giving me my new plates and registration. I gave them my check and said thank you and walked out. No one ever apologized or admitted being wrong. The DMV, where intelligence or common sense isn’t required or expected.
Failed my ‘written’ test the first time because the touchscreen failed. I went to hit D, nothing happened. I hit D again to input my answer. Then I hit D a few more times.
It jumped ahead to the end, recorded D for all remaining answers on the test and I failed.
April 2000: I have finally purchased my dream car, brought it home, and now need only to register it to fully live the dream! Except I almost had the entire dream shattered because of one moronic DMV Clerk too proud to admit “I don’t know”...
I have purchased the DeLorean in California, and having passed emissions testing and VIN inspection, I am ready to register and title my car in the great state of Nevada. So I head on down to the DMV in Henderson (of course!). I had no idea of the battle that awaited me.
I get my turn after 90 minutes and finally go up to the window. I tell the woman behind the counter that I am here to register a used car that I bought out of state and obtain a Nevada title. I have the signed California Title, VIN Inspection, Proof of Nevada insurance, and a paperwork that I printed at home all filled out. The woman says that everything looks good, and to hold on. She then turns around to the shelf behind her and grabs a Kelly Blue Book. She thumbs through it and tells me that she can’t find the car’s “blue book” value or original MSRP. Of course not since KBB doesn’t go back to 1981. She tells me that she needs to figure out the MSRP of the vehicle from 1981 in order to figure depreciation (which has already bottomed out at a $42 minimum price), or needs the current “blue book” value to figure out the price to calculate tax. I tell her that it’s going to max out at $42 anyways. She insists that she needs the MSRP. So I break out the famous DMC-Houston letter stating MSRP, parts availability, repairability, and insurability. She say’s that’s not acceptable because she needs an official MSRP for the car. I tell her to grab the NADA guide behind her, and all of that information is in there. “I can’t do that. I need to know the Blue Book Value.” I insist that she use the NADA guide, and she insists she cannot. I then ask just how in the world then am I supposed to provide an official MSRP value to her? She tells me that I need to bring in the original window sticker from 1981! “The former owner is DEAD! I bought this car off of his surviving family! There is no way that I can provide you with such a document.” She tells me that there is nothing she can do, and motions for me to leave. I’m pissed. So I ask her point-blank, “What do you do for other people that register older cars than I have? How have you done that in the past?” She tells me she goes by the “Blue Book Value”. I press further, and she still insists that there is nothing more to do, and that she has other customers. I demand to speak with a supervisor. She insists that they cannot help me, but I stick to my guns, and she stomps off to get one.
Supervisor: “What seems to be the problem, sir?”
Me: “I’m here to register my car. I bought it out of state, I have all of my inspections, proof of insurance, completed forms, and the signed title. I want to register it, and get a Nevada title.”
Supervisor (confused): “Oookay then... What seems to be the problem.”
Me: “The clerk keeps going on and on about trying to figure out the MSRP to determine the depreciated value.”
Supervisor: “Yes, sir. We have to determine the current value in order to determine your one-time tax for bringing a used car in from out of state.”
Me: “That’s fine! I’m aware of that. But she keeps refusing to look up the value in order to find the current value!”
The supervisor by this time is absolutely confused. She was prepared for a confrontation with an angry person that didn’t understand the rules, but instead finds the complete opposite. So she turns to the clerk and asks what the problem is. She rudely points out that since she cannot find the value, she *obviously* cannot help me. The supervisor now has this painfully perplexed look on her face, and then turns to stare at me.
Me: “She keeps on telling me that she needs to either know the current value of the car, or the original MSRP. But she WON’T use the NADA guide to look it up! She’s telling me that I need to track down the original window sticker on a 19 year old car! And that’s probably been thrown away long ago!”
(Supervisor turns to look at clerk)
Clerk: “I looked it up, and I cannot find the Blue Book value! So no, we cannot help him!”
Supervisor: “Hold on.” (she reaches for the NADA and proceeds to open it) “What kind of car is it?”
Me: “1981 DeLorean, DMC-12 with manual transmission. The only available option.”
(Supervisor flips through the NADA guide, then stops on a page) “Here you go.” (pointing at a page she holds the book up to the clerk for her to read) “1981 DeLorean. Original MSRP is $27,500.”
Clerk (who is now very indignant): “I can’t use that! I need the blue book value like I keep telling him!”
Supervisor: “The current values are listed right here, as well as the MSRP.”
Clerk: “But it’s not *blue book*!”
Supervisor (she facepalms and then rolls her eyes at the clerk): “Honey, Kelly Blue Book is used for new and late model cars. Older and classic vehicles are published in the NADA guide here. It’s perfectly acceptable to use. It’s why we have it up here.”
Clerk (who is slowly blushing): “But I was always told that we needed “blue book” values for cars. We can’t use that one!”
Supervisor: “No, hon. “Blue Book” is just a slang term for use car & truck prices because it’s the most commonly used book. Any official pricing guide is acceptable, no matter what the color.”
Clerk: “Oh, I’ve never had to register a car this old before. I... I didn’t know.”
Supervisor (looking very pissed off): “I’m sorry about this, sir. She’ll help you get everything completed now. You’re good to go. (turning to clerk) “Please call me if you have any more questions, or if you’re ever not sure about something.”
That’s right. I almost got denied to register my car because the NADA appraisal guide was the “wrong color”.
As always, if you’d like to share your experiences, feel free to send your DMV (or customers’, if you happen to work at the DMV) horror stories to firstname.lastname@example.org!
(Photo by Brian Cantoni on Flickr)
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes and makes videos about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world’s cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he’s the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn’t feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.