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How to survive a trip to the DMV

Updated on February 17, 2010

Everyone goes to the DMV.

In our fine country, anybody and everybody will at some time in their lives (dozens of times actually, let's not lie) be required to make a physical trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Unless of course you have figured out a way to survive in the USA without knowing how to drive - and if you have then I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you don't live in California or Texas - in which case you'll never know the joys of the DMV. Whether it's for lost title deeds, forms that needs signatures, things that can't be done on the internet or via the post, there'll come a day when you stand in line to get a ticket so that you can wait an eternity to see someone who tells you that you don't have the right paperwork and you'll have to come back in the morning.

The Golden Rule.

The golden rule of visiting the DMV is, and note this well, make an appointment.

Generally speaking, if you have an appointment you'll be out of the office in about 30 minutes. If you don't, you'll be there for, oooh, shall we say three hours, on a quiet afternoon. To make an appointment simply go online at (for residents in California, outside of california simply swap the ca for your state's abbreviation), and follow the instructions.

And if you can't follow the golden rule?

Sadly the waiting time between scheduling an appointment and the actual appointment date, can be as long as three weeks, so if you have something that needs to be taken care of urgently, then you'll have to be brave, take a few hours off work and spend the afternoon standing in lines and sitting on slightly sweaty, plastic chairs.

Tips can make your trip to the DMV more bareable and more productive.

  • The vast majority of forms you need can be downloaded off the internet. Do this at home and fill them in first and sign them before you go to the office. This way you won't have the frustrating experience of not being able to fill in your forms at the office because some of the vital information is sitting a pile of papers on your kitchen table, and thus having to make a second trip to the DMV.
  • Fill in forms in black or blue ink. Print eveything in block letters apart from your signature. Double check that all the inforamtion is filled in correctly, and that all parties have signed everywhere on the forms where the signatures are required.
  • Check online the waiting times for your nearest DMV locations. The Culver City branch might have a waiting time of nearly 3 hours whilst the Santa Monica branch has a waiting time of 1.5 hours, and it could take you a mere extra 10 minutes to drive to the branch that's further away from you.
  • Have every bit of paperwork that you are required to bring with you, together in one place where it's easily accessible. No rummaging around in oversize totes or multi-pocketed backpacks when you're at the service window - anything that wastes time will annoy a DMV employee, they don't get to go home until the last person who walked through the doors has been seen.
  • If you checked out the waiting times online, then once you've got your ticket there's nothing to stop you from leaving the premises and running a few errands.. have lunch.. do your grocery shopping.. just make sure you don't miss your appointment! If the online time check said you'd have to wait 2.5 hours, don't be gone longer than 2 hours, and allow time for parking.
  • Parking is a nightmare at the DMV. Every location has a free parking lot, which is great, but also full. Bring change for meters and be prepared to park on the street and walk an extra five minutes to the office.
  • Make yourself comfortable. Bring a book, a snack (no hot food or anything smelly, other people have to sit very close to you remember), a drink, maybe a cushion to sit on. Bring a sweater in case the air-conditioning gets too much, but wear a light shirt underneath because there will be well over a hundred people in one room.
  • Bring a bandana that has your favorite scent on it. This might seem like an odd notion, but if you get stuck in the vicinity of a person with incurable flatulence or screaming halitosis for two hours, you'll be glad you have it.
  • When you do eventually get to the service window, give the DMV agent a huge smile and be nice to them. They have to be there for over 8 hours dealing with bored, cranky, resentful (and often confused) people all day long. No matter what bad news they have for you, it's not their fault, and you won't make your situation any easier by pissing them off.

Lastly, give yourself time. Don't schedule anything else immediately after your trip to the DMV. That way you won't have the added worry of being late, and with your book, your snacks, your drink and all your grocery shopping done, you might find a little bit of DMV waiting time quite relaxing.


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