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The Ten Scariest DMV Horror Stories

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There is a dark side to driving in the US, and it is known as the DMV. Listen to these ten tales of woe from Jalopnik readers and you'll get a taste of American bureaucracy at its worst.


Welcome back to Answers of the Day — our daily Jalopnik feature where we take the best ten responses from the previous day's Question of the Day and shine it up to show off. It's by you and for you, the Jalopnik readers. Enjoy!

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Photo Credit: Omar Bárcena

10.) Counterfeiters get Mustang GTs

Suggested By: frankiepoops


What happened:

Worst experience that I ever had was when the NY DMV decided that my title for my 1996 green Mustang was counterfeit, not the first time I registered it, but when I went back to put it back on the road after parking it for a year. They tried to explain that the VIN was for a green 1996 Ford Windstar. When I asked how I had registered it previously, they explained that I had never had it registered.

Because I plan on incompetence at the DMV, I had the old registration with me, showed it to the teller, and listened to her tell me that the registration was counterfeit as well and I should wait to the side for the police to show up. At this point, I got loud, and the manager came over and dealt with me at a different booth.

This manager was able to comprehend that there was some sort of mix up, and agreed that if I were that good at counterfeiting, I would have at least had a Mustang GT. The police arrived and proceeded to question me regardless of the DMV manager telling them it was a mistake, and after about 20 minutes they laughed at me and departed the DMV. After about 5 hours of arguing at the DMV, the manager called up the DMV office that registered the Windstar two days previously, and the girl at that office had made a typo with the van's VIN at the other office.

I was finally able to leave, without a police escort, and with a new registration.


Photo Credit: Ford


9.) The biggest asshole on the list

Suggested By: nosirromgiarc


What happened:

The day after I turned 16 my parents took me to get my license. Like most 16-year-olds, I'd had my learner's permit for a year and was raring to go. The freedom of driving myself awaited. I was incredibly excited.

Our DMV had a closed test course behind the building and uniformed cops administered the test. After waiting for almost an hour, an officer finally comes over and says it's my turn. He tells me to pull the car to the starting line and says he'll be right out. I tell my parent to wish me luck. As instructed, I back the car from the parking spot, pull up to the start line across the parking lot, and wait for him.

After a couple minutes he comes out. The exchange goes like this:

COP: "How did you get this car to the starting line?"

ME (surprised): "I drove it over."

COP: "Son, you don't have a license yet. You aren't allowed to drive without an adult in the vehicle. You failed the test."

ME (laughing):"You're joking, right?"

COP: "I'm dead serious."

Me (shocked): "I only moved it 20 feet, and you told me to do it!"

COP: "You can come back tomorrow, but you're not taking this test today. And if you don't get a parent before you move this car again I'll give you a ticket."

He walks away and leaves me crushed behind the wheel. The bastard totally set me up. Just to be a jerk. 23 years later and I'm still bitter about it.


Photo Credit: OregonDOT


8.) How forgetting a $10 ticket cost $102

Suggested By: Tohru Rokuno


What happened:

My worst experience is forgetting about a $10 seat belt ticket.

After 3 months, the clerk of courts in the county the ticket was issued sent in a notice to the state DMV to have my license suspended for failure to pay a ticket. This adds a $60 reinstatement fee to this process.

The state never lets me know that that my license is suspended.
They pulled it in September. I found out about it in March.

I had been out of work, and had let insurance lapse on my vehicle. My parents offer to pay to reinstate my insurance, only for the insurance people to say, "Sorry, your license is suspended." Wait, what? This is the first I find out about it.

Then I call the state DMV, who say that if you pay the ticket, they can waive the reinstatement fee. So, I pay the $10, and go to the DMV office with the form stating the ticket was paid. The guy at the counter says that he can't waive the fee, and to call the state DMV again.

I call the state DMV, and sit on hold for 20 minutes until I get somebody. This guy says they can only waive the fee if the suspension notice was sent out incorrectly, i.e. the ticket was paid, but the suspension notice was sent out anyways.

So, I trudge in, broken and defeated. The guy at the counter says, "Well, your license expires this year. We can renew it at the same time, and save you $10." Well, sure, whatever. Guy says the total is $84. Prints it up, comes back, and says the total is $92. At this point, I'm like "WTF, dude." He explains that the extra $8 is for my motorcycle endorsement. Whatever, let's just get this done with.

That's how forgetting a $10 ticket cost me $102.

Photo Credit: Peter Dutton


7.) Be careful what you wish for

Suggested By: protodad


What happened:

This one is hard to categorize, it is why I hate hate the DMV and our driving system in general: inconsistent practices and stupid rules.

I took my first written test at 16 to get my license (I had a permit, and written comes before the driving test in CA).

I failed by 1 point. You can miss 7 and I missed 8. I still remember one of them.
So I come back a week later to take the test again. This time I miss 7, and the lady behind the counter said that I failed. I told her that I am allowed to miss 7, and that is what they told me last week.

She realizes that she gave me the license renewal test (to a 16 year old?) and on that one you can only miss 6. So she tells me that since I only missed 7 and that is good enough for the other test she would just put it down as a pass.

So yea, I have never passed the written test for a driver's license. How many other drivers haven't either.


Photo Credit: Oregon DOT


6.) The Jedi cop

Suggested By: billcamino


What happened:

I bought a 1990 Mustang GT at an auction. The car had lein paperwork, but that's not a red flag for me. I buy a LOT of lein title cars, and have never had an issue. I checked the car, checked the paperwork, and everything was in order, so I made a low ball offer that was accepted. I got to the DMV, and after waiting 2 hours in line, the clerk said "Well, I'm going to have to call Sacramento to verify everything". Again, this is not my first time at the rodeo, but it is the first time a clerk has said they'd have to call the Capitol to check things out. I knew things were not going to go smoothly.

Within minutes, two Police Officers were escorting me to a back room (I was hoping there would be donuts and coffee.. there wasn't). Long story short: Apparently the PO had hooked an amp up to the brake light circuit, and blown the fuse. The car was pulled over for no brake lights.. and the driver was an illegal immigrant with no drivers license, driving his girlfriends car. The car was impounded by the police. They sent the PO certified letters stating something to the effect of "hey, we have your car and will auction it if you don't claim it". She didn't claim it. Instead, she reported it stolen.

Officer #1 followed the paper trail, discovered that I was the true legal owner of the vehicle, and fiddled with their system to make the car not stolen, and OK to be registered. This only took 4 hours. I went back to the clerk, and they were closing for the day. I'd have to come back tomorrow. I went back in the next morning and, have you ever seen that movie "Groundhog Day"? Yep, the clerk (SSDC: Same shit different clerk) said she had to call Sacramento to check things out. Luckily, Officer #1 was the first responder, and got things taken care of. He just told her "this one is good to go".

Maybe he was a Jedi cop? I dunno...

Photo Credit: OregonDOT


5.) Blinded by incompetence

Suggested By: Jstas


What happened:

Went to take the eye test and written test for my learner's permit when I was 16. Aced the written exam. Well, it stopped me at 70% with the first 14 questions 'cause that's all I needed to pass. They had a machine to do the test for the eye exam. It was like any other eye exam, letters and numbers on a card. Read them and you pass or fail.

Well, I know my right eye is my weak eye and my left eye is my strong eye. I'm lookin' in this box and I can't see shit on the left side. Patty and Selma there behind the counter keep asking me "What do you see on the left?" I keep telling them "Nothing, it's blank, it's dark." They change slides, ask again and this goes on for 10 minutes. Finally I look up and ask them "Are you fucking serious?"

Now I went to the DMV with my driving school instructor (got a discount on my car insurance if I went to driving school). She looks in and says to Patty and Selma "Honey, there's nothing in the left screen. You machine is broken." Patty and Selma give her a look like "Trifilin' bitch! My machine ain't broke!"

They hand me my application for a learner's permit and it's stamped "DENIED" In the reason section it says "Legally blind in left eye."

I totally lost my shit and my driving instructor had to drag me out of there. She made me wait in the car and went back in to argue my case. She comes back out 15 minutes later and says "They're all fucking idiots. They want you to go to an eye doctor for proof. Even though the gawd damned machine is broken!"

Meanwhile, my sister passed her eye exam with flying colors because the machine she was at was working. So she drove home.

My mom makes an eye exam appointment for me. I go to the eye doctor and he looks at the denied form and says "What? C'mon, this is insane." So he looks in my eyes, does the tests and says "What the hell are they using down there?" I related my story and he just sighs and says "Well, here's your proof. 20/20 in your left eye and 20/40 in in your right. You are about as far from blind as it can get. The left eye is actually 20/15 but I don't want them to give you problems over THAT too. Good luck."

So we go back, I take the test again in the SAME MACHINE and it's still broken. They tell me I'm blind and I show them my eye exam documents. I said "I'm not blind! I have telescopic vision in my left eye!" (That's not necessarily correct but I was 16, what did I know) The lady behind the counter says "What do you want me to do?" My driving instructor yells "Put him on another gawd damned machine, sweetheart!"

So she does and I aced the exam, every letter, every line, absolutely correct, even read the copyright in the #4 font on the bottom of the card. Patty and Selma look at each other. One says "Damn!" They look at me and I said "Give me my permit!"
My sister got her driving permit on our birthday in the 2nd week of July. I did not get mine until the 2nd week of September.

Later, I got a letter from the DMV. It was a form letter and apparently sent out to a bunch of people who were failed for permits and licenses. They apologized for the broken exam machine, said it was now fixed and all declarations of blindness from the past 3 months were rescinded. They asked us all to come back in for a re-examination.

I called the DMV and demanded reimbursement for my eye exam fees.

They said no.


Photo Credit: OregonDOT


4.) The six-month typo

Suggested By: mikey is overly opinionated


What happened:

I once moved from Rhode Island to Texas for a Lateral Swap in my career. Upon arrival, I needed to convert my drivers license over. I went to the DMV, handed in my old license, because you cannot keep two forms of ID, and got my new license.

On the new license, they spelled my name wrong. I promptly returned to the DMV and explained the error. They advised that I must have made an error filing it online. I stated I didn't file it online, but in person and the clerk typed my information and gave me the new license, and the information was correct on my temporary replacement. They stated I needed an original birth certificate and my old drivers license. I stated they took my old drivers license and that my original birth certificate is being shipped here.

Long story short, I had to wait approx 6 months to get a valid license because they mis-typed my information... and when I finally received one with the correct spelling, they got my address wrong. At least this time I had the ability to show the paper I filed had the correct written address via copy machine before submitting.


Photo Credit: OregonDOT


3.) New Mexico is part of the US

Suggested By: johncgold


What happened:

I moved to Connecticut from New Mexico and after getting settled, went to the DMV to get a new license and plates. After getting in and one line and waiting one hour to get forms, then sitting in hard plastic chair using my knee as a writing surface and filling out the forms and then getting into an another line and waiting another hour and half for my turn to talk to a DMV person with my NM license and plates in hand.

The DMV person told me, "You are at the wrong branch of the DMV; this one doesn't handle foreign transactions". I thought the woman was kidding and laughed but she was serious and told me again. I told her that New Mexico was part of the United States and told her it was between Arizona and Texas. New Mexico is not Mexico just like New England is not England. She then said she would be right back, left and walked over to another woman and started talking and pointing over at me. An older guy behind me in line commented that "this woman was a piece of work!" I got a road atlas that will help you out once she comes back.

Then they both came back over to me and said they would need to get in touch with the New Mexico DMV but they couldn't since their phones wouldn't allow for international calls. My new friend speaks up and shows the page of the map of the United States, New Mexico is between Arizona and Texas and not part of Mexico. Having a little more courage, I insisted that they look at my license and plates. Along the bottom edge it says, New Mexico, USA. The supervisor reached out for the license and inspected and said that it had the "right feel" then picked up one of my plates, turned it over it, inspecting its printing, its colors and registration tags, she took a deep breath and said " It looks like a valid plate, everything is in English." Another 20 minutes and $150 later, I was walking out of the DMV with new plates and new license wondering if moving to New England was a good thing.


Photo Credit:


2.) The wrong end of a heroin problem

Suggested By: craig nixon


What happened:

May 1, 2003, 3:30 pm, I'm riding my motorcycle to work & zip a bit too quickly past a couple of SF cops. I can tell they're going to pull me over, so I just find a place to pull over safely. As I'm putting the bike in neutral with the engine still running, I hear yelling. I turn my head and look back and see two cops, guns out pointed at me.



I am then arrested for stealing a license plate and attaching it to my own motorcycle which I had just renewed the registration on.

As I'm sitting handcuffed in the back of the cop car wondering what in the goddamned hell is going on, my thoughts go back a few weeks to standing in line at the DMV, I believe the exact one in the picture above. I need to renew my registration but can't find my paperwork. So I write down my VIN and license plate number and after standing in line for over an hour give it to the laziest, meanest, ugliest, (I'm gonna stop with the insults), to which she says:

"That's not your license plate, that number is listed as missing or stolen"

"Well that's what it says and that's what I have"


And then she gives me current registration stickers for a stolen license plate.

Turns out a former co-worker with a heroin problem had decided that I was the reason he got fired and exacted some revenge on my by stealing a plate with that was just a couple numbers different and had put it on my bike without me noticing.

$22,000 bail and 8 hours in the tenderloin cop shop lockup on the first of the month.


Photo Credit: Thomas Marthinsen


1.) The DMV suggests you go without a license

Suggested By: shackledtodesk


What happened:

CA DMV strives to be the worst in the country.

Moved to California in 1999 and went to DMV to get a license. After 4 hours in line to take the test, then another hour to wait for the test to be "graded," get my picture taken, then I'm about to pony up the money to finalize the transaction...

DMV: You ever try to get a California Driver's License before?
Me: Um, no, I just moved here.
DMV: Well someone has tried with your name and Social Security Number.
Me: So, did you issue one to them?
DMV: No.
Me: Good, because I haven't tried to get one. I passed the test, I have my old driver's license here, and my SSN card. So is there a problem.
DMV: Sorry, we can't issue you a driver's license because this is obviously a case of identity theft. You'll have to call the investigations department to work this out.
Me: But, as a resident of the state, I will have to drive illegally because you won't issue me a license. Can I get something in writing that states there is an investigation going on?
DMV: No.
Me: So what am I supposed to do now?
DMV: Call this number and don't get pulled over.

Call number- it's disconnected. Call main DMV 800 number and after waiting on hold for 1 hour 45 minutes, get another number. Why I can't be transferred is beyond me. Call new number- spanish speaking woman with screaming children in the background answers. Not the DMV. Call DMV Headquarters in Sacramento, wait another hour on hold, get a third number. Still can't just be transferred. Call new number- disconnected.

At this point I figure there is no investigations department.

Pick a different DMV office and attempt to short-circuit the process by explaining the "identity theft" issue and proffer my VA Driver's License, US Passport, SSN Card, Pay stub, utility bill, and previous year's tax returns. Am told, sorry, there is an ongoing investigation and we can't issue a license in that name.

Me: Okay, call the police and have me arrested for identity theft.
DMV: I'm not going to do that. You are obviously who you say you are based on your documentation, but because of the investigation we can not proceed.
Me: That's ridiculous. No License has been issued in that name or ID, so there is no theft.

No more arguing or cajoling would move the process forward. So I leave and drive "illegally" for the next five years, including renewing my VA Driver's License online. When my VA License is about to expire again, but this time requiring me to show up in person for a new picture, I try again.

Make appointment, show up. Take test. Get picture taken. Get license. After I have license in hand and am just about to walk out I ask, "So what ever happened to the identity theft investigation related to my ID?"

DMV: There are no records indicating that there was ever an attempt of identity theft or any sort of investigation.

And during that entire time I was able to register multiple cars, have them smogged, and do all the other DMV bs, except get a farking license.


Photo Credit: OregonDOT