17 Ways to Make Your Trip to the DMV Less Miserable
America's slowest bureaucracy doesn't have to be so slow.
No one likes going to the DMV. And while many state governments are actually trying to improve the experience of visiting a Department of Motor Vehicles—in California, for instance, governor Gavin Newsom has even established a “DMV Reinvention Strike Team”—the reality is, sea to shining sea, that they still remain stubbornly slow, bureaucratically inept, and utterly frustrating.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it. Follow these 17 tips, and you’ll instantly find that your DMV experience is way faster, way more efficient, and way more pain-free.
Don’t Go During Lunch
“You don’t want to go [to the DMV] during lunch time because there is a usually a rush from people taking their lunch to run a quick trip,” explains Baltimore-based traffic ticket attorney Randolph Rice. His firm recommends recommends clients go either early in the morning—right when they open—or mid-afternoon. Those are the two windows of time in which you’ll encounter the smallest crowds.
The way you dress affects how others perceive you more than you may realize. A study in the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, for instance, revealed that men in bespoke suits as opposed to ready-to-wear pieces were rated more highly in others’ snap judgments of their success, confidence, salary, and flexibility. And let’s be honest: the more successfully you’re perceived as, the better you are likely to be treated by employees at any organization.
In addition, dressing well can effect your own mindset, as well. One study from California State University found that formalwear had an effect on participant’s feeling of power, increasing their sense of control and boosting their cognitive processes. Considering how out-of-control the typical visit to the DMV can feel, clawing back any power you can is a good idea.
Avoid Firsts And Lasts (Chronologically)
According to the DMV’s website, the worst times to pay a visit are on the first and last days of the week, as well as the first and last weeks of the month. This is due to the fact that many licenses and registrations expire on the first of the month. (Of course, some licenses expire directly on a person’s birthday, but there’s no way to predict that, so it doesn’t do anything to worry about it.)
As a result, drivers tend to either attempt to renew immediately before they do, or immediately after. The same logic goes for the day prior to, or immediately after, a national holiday, when individuals try to take advantage of the work slowdown surrounding long weekends to complete their pressing errands.
Make Sure You Actually Have To Go
The DMV has been slowly moving many of its services onto the internet and you can complete many DMV-related tasks without even stepping foot into your local DMV.
In New York, for instance, you can visit DMV.ny.gov to replace or renew a license, schedule your road test, restore a license, plead a ticket, get your driving record, get an accident report, renew your registration, replace your plates or title, or even become an organ donor.
Meanwhile in California, at DMV.ca.gov, you can renew registration, renew a license, order specialized plates, request a driving record, pay tickets, change address, and check the status of your licenses.
Online services offered do vary by state, however, so it’s best to check your state’s DMV page for specific info.
Book an Appointment
Believe it or not, you can make a reservation at many DMVs for some tasks, including getting a learner’s permit or registering a vehicle. This can be done easily by visiting your state’s DMV page. (For reference, here’s the one for New York.)
This is particularly crucial for days of high demand. As this Village Voice article explained at the program’s rollout, “those with reservations receive call numbers near the top of the waiting list, essentially jumping the line.” So in addition to getting you to the front more quickly, a reservation will also ensure you’re not one of the unlucky folk in the line getting jumped.
As one Yelp reviewer recently wrote: “Going to the DMV is almost as bad as going in to your dentist for a teeth cleaning…However, there’s a simple way to minimize the pain: make an appointment a week or two beforehand.”
Bring All Relevant Documents
Nothing is more frustrating than getting to the front of the line at you DMV, only to discover that you forgot a crucial piece of paper.
“All DMV agencies have websites and provide a list of items you need to bring with you to complete your business,” explains Rice. Take advantage of this opportunity by being prepared. “Make sure you have all of your documents ready, take paper out of envelopes, and make sure your forms are signed,” he says.
Susanna Williams, a consultant at the Superior Honda dealership in New Orleans, explains that, for example, if you’ve just bought a used car, you’ll need to “make sure you have the title, bill of sale, a passing emissions test (in some states), VIN, and the reading on the odometer.”
Check Your Agency’s Website for Wait Times
According to DMV.org, a private organization that compiles data from various state DMV agencies, many offices throughout the country offer real-time approximate wait times. Nevada, for example, updates wait times for six of their offices every 90 seconds.
Read the Yelp Reviews
Just because the DMV doesn’t serve food doesn’t mean an army of dedicated Yelpers hasn’t taken the time to judge and compare various outposts in your area. Check out some of these reviews before visiting.
It’s true that you do have to visit your state’s DMV offices. (A Michigander can’t just pop over to the Illinois DMV, for instance.) But, within the confines of state borders, you have plenty of options. Make sure you’re making the right choice by picking a highly-rated one among the list.
Charge Your Phone Beforehand
Waiting in line at the DMV is a great time to catch up on emails, read the latest new stories, and catch up on social media posts. There’s only one thing that can impede you: A dead cell phone. Be sure to depart your home with your handheld device fully charged—you never know how long a trip to the DMV is going to take, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Be Nice—and Then Be Nicer
Despite what every bone in your body may be urging you, it’s important to be kind and upbeat when visiting the DMV, says Rice. “Be nice, and then be nicer, and then be even nicer,” he explains.
In addition to making the experience less awful for everyone involved, it may even help get you out more quickly. “Kill them with kindness to the point they have to be nice to you and maybe they’ll give you a break or get you out faster,” he explains.
Visit a Modernized Location
DMVs, like other industries, are continually in the process of modernizing and streamlining their workflow. In fact, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators had an entire conference on the topic quite recently, according to GeekWire.
However, to take advantage of modernization, you have to ensure you’re visiting an updated location. Change—especially in government agencies—always happens gradually, and not all branches are likely to be as up-to-date as each other.
Whether it’s through Yelp, word of mouth, or local news reports, make sure the branch you’re visiting is as modern as can be; you don’t want to be relying on those “green and black screen[s] like the computers of old that you remember from the ’90s,” as one DMV administrator put it.
Check Social Media
It’s 2019—your local DMV has a social media account. In addition to sharing articles on driving safety, administrators use these to spread crucial important information affecting branches, such as closings or other unexpected changes.
One New York branch, for example, tweeted out that they would be unable to process transactions that day. This is great news to know before making the trek there. Take advantage of this knowledge by making a quick check of your state DMV’s Twitter before heading out to a location.
In recent years, DMVs all across the country have been shortening wait times and reducing visits by placing self-service kiosks both inside their offices and at off-site locations. Take advantage by either finding out where you can find a kiosk, or by using a kiosk—rather than waiting in line—once you arrive at a location.
According to the New York state governor’s office, kiosks can be used for most simple tasks such as registration renewals and replacements, driver license renewals, permit replacements, address changes, and record requests.
There are some restrictions, however, which vary by state: in California they can not be used to process renewals for vessels, or process actions which require proof of insurance or registration reinstatement, according to online registration site Etags.
Fill Out Paperwork at Home
“Most DMV websites have forms that must be completed before the agency takes actions,” says Rice. Download these forms and fill them out before ever leaving the house, he recommends.
In addition, Rice urges filling out these forms on the computer if the option is offered. That way, you don’t need to worry about DMV agents finding your handwriting illegible and asking for a time-consuming phonetic spelling as you wait in line.
Beware Of Third-Party Companies
In recent years, third-party companies have popped up throughout the country offering to help with DMV-related services. Basically, they do the legwork for you: making appointments, filling out paperwork, even waiting in line. But don’t use them, warns Artemio Armenta, public information officer at the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
“Everything we do is free,” he explains, so there’s no reason shell out dollars for someone to provide the same service. More importantly, you may be sharing important information—such as your social security number—with an unsafe party, says Armenta. If you need something done at the DMV, do it yourself.
Check Your Mail
The longer you have to plan for your DMV trip, the more pleasant the experience will be. That extra time can be used to schedule an appointment, block out time in your work schedule, and allow you to visit a branch during its least-busy hours.
Fortunately, when it comes to vehicle renewals, most DMV will send out warnings far beforehand (60 days prior, in New York) alerting you that you will need to take action. Be sure to check your mail for these slips, not getting caught off-guard and needing to visit your local branch on a Friday before a holiday during lunch hour.
Remember You Might Be Saving A Life
If you can manage to remain calm at the DMV—following the aforementioned tips as well as taking several deep breaths—you just might save a life, so keep that in mind.
According to a study in Social Science & Medicine, negative feelings associated with the DMV tended to cause participants to be less likely to sign up as organ donors while there. So though you might be tempted to give in to a temper tantrum while waiting in line for your third hour (and who can blame you), remind yourself that the stakes are high. It just might help. And once you head out onto the road, know that This Is the Most Dangerous Day of the Year to Drive.
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