Doin’ Time at the DMV: Part 1
When President Obama decided to try and overhaul our asinine healthcare system, the results were predictable. People on the left (like me!) argued that healthcare is a universal right that should be guaranteed by the government. People on the right said the government cannot run their way out of a paper bag – just look at the DMV. I find that to be a somewhat auspicious argument, because the government runs all sorts of things, from National Parks to libraries, that are actually quite pleasant. Besides, how often do you have to go the DMV?
Well, I went to the DMV today, and I will say, the experience has had a profound effect on my thoughts about what the government can and cannot do. And one thing they cannot do is run a freaking DMV. That place is a nightmare. There is a reason why it’s shorthand for government inefficiency. Because, wow! What a fright.
Granted, we had a bit of a complicated request. We bought a used Honda Element from one of our friends in October that we never registered. I discovered this accidentally in February when I happened to glance at our Geico bill and noticed it only included one car. Meaning we had no insurance on this car that we’d been driving for four months. Um, oops.
I tried to take care of matters online, but the DMV website is unusable. So last week we set up an appointment for the earliest available time, which was this morning. By the time we arrived, the line was around the block and there was no parking available anywhere. Once we’d parked, we found out what the appointment did: pretty much nothing. We didn’t have to wait in the long line, so that was good. But once we got up to the desk, they handed us a number from the exact same stack of numbers that everyone else got. The appointment was not a guarantee of a meeting, it was just a guarantee that we would get to do more waiting.
After 45 minutes our number was finally called. We went up to the desk and explained our situation to our “customer service representative.” He looked at the title of the vehicle, which was from Texas.
“Why do you need this?” he asked. “This title is from Texas.” As if we were experts in what kind of paperwork the DMV considered necessary.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Isn’t that the title?”
“This is from Texas,” he said.
“I know,” I said. “The vehicle was purchased in Texas. But the owner moved to California, which is where we bought the car.”
“You bought the car in California and then moved to Texas,” he said, which was the exact opposite of what I just said.
“No,” I said, “the owner bought the car in Texas and then moved to Californaia.”
“When did you move to Texas?” he asked.
“We did not.”
“Then why is the title from Texas?”
I explained the situation to him one more time, but he continued to insist that we were currently living in Texas. I shot a glare at Sarah, who was on a business phone call and paying no attention to what was happening at the desk. I have a really, really hard time dealing with stupidity. When someone gets stupid at me, my entire body tenses up, and it’s all I can do to keep from screaming in his face. I recognized this was not a good move at the DMV; we’d waited this long to get an appointment – one flick of this guy’s wrist and we’d have to start the process all over again.
He eventually figured out that whatever was happening was too complicated for him to handle on his own, so he wandered off to get some help. He returned ten minutes later, sat down at his desk, and started poking at his keyboard. After awhile, he seemed satisfied. Between sales tax, registration fees, and late fees, we learned, we owed the state of California almost $1000. On a car for which we paid $6300.
We knew the price was coming, but it was still a real pain in the ass. Why is the state of California entitled to sales tax on a transaction between two private individuals engaged in a private exchange? I don’t know, but I didn’t really feel like getting into a political argument with the guy at the DMV. It was useless trying to argue anything with this guy.
When we got the receipt, Sarah looked at all the charges. They were all described using codes like “CK-122” and “RF2.”
“Can we find out somewhere what these charges are for?” she asked. She had been on the phone during our previous confusion and didn’t know that she was just asking for trouble trying to get this guy to understand a simple question.
“They’re for the vehicle,” he said. “Those are the charges you have to pay for the vehicle.”
“Okay,” she said patiently, “but what are each of the charges for?”
He looked at her and sighed, unsure of how far back he should go. “When you buy a car, you have to pay fees,” he said. “Those fees are all listed on your receipt.”
“Right. But how do we know what the fees are?”
He ripped the paper out of her hand, frustrated.
“It’s right here!” he shouted. “Registration fee, sales tax, late fee!” There were about 30 charges listed on the paper, each of which was described using some obscure code. We decided to cut our losses and just go along with whatever we were being told. It was easier that way.
Unfortunately, we were far from finished. One of the requirements for selling a used vehicle in the state of California is that you have to have a smog check within 3 months of selling the car. We were so far from the purchase date that even if the seller had gotten a smog check, it would have done us no good. So we were sent off to get our smog check and return to the DMV.
“Do we have to wait in line?” I asked the guy.
“No,” he said.
“Do we need to bring the car here?”
“No,” he said. He was eager to get rid of us and get back to dealing with people who had a single, uncomplicated issue. So we hotfooted it out of there and headed back home to get the Element smog checked.
To be continued