If You Own a Car, Don’t Move to California

I’ve been keeping this entry all pent up in my head, because I would rather be funny than complain, and I fear that if I get started on the DMV, I’ll just start stabbing my computer instead of typing on it.
But I’ve been reading a lot of Consumer blogs lately, and it’s gotten me all fired up.
I drove to California in August ’05 and, by the miracle of craigslist, spent my first night in the guest house I’m currently typing from. I had given myself a few weeks off of work, even though I already had a job lined up out here, because I knew there was a lot of crap I had to do.
Namely, get a cat.
I knew I had to get my CA license and plates and registration and all that within the ridiculous time limit of 20 days, even though I’ve gone for vacations in states for longer than that. Honestly, it just stressed me out. I even went to the DMV a couple times, and shockingly never had the right paperwork.
The first time, I didn’t have my passport. The second time, I didn’t have my car’s bill of sale, which I still don’t entirely know what it is. Well, my job started, and like most other places I actually need to go to, the DMV is only open between the hours of 10:00 AM and 10:15 AM, so the people who go to work, arguably the only people who NEED cars, can never actually get to the DMV.
So, I put it off. It was too much to plan for, and every teller seemed to inform me that I needed a different piece of made-up paperwork.
I joked with my friends that I hoped I wouldn’t get pulled over. Actually, I had (stupidly) paid for my yearly Pennsylvania registration right before I left the state, and I didn’t want to be out 30 bucks. So I had paid the government my fees, just in the wrong state. I asked my friends what THEY did when they moved here, and every single one of them had just traded in their car for a new one and the problem solved itself. Well, Melissa had her own sneaky way of loopholing the law, as most daughters of policemen do.
I paid off my car almost a year after I moved here, so I now had the title, which replaced the mysterious bill of sale I needed. This was also around the time that my Pennsylvania registration was about to expire, so it was time to actually grin and bear my responsibility.
I studied for my test and fixed up my hair so I would look good in my picture. I brought every single piece of information on myself I owned. Passed the test, got my license…but there was a snag when I went to get my registration and plates.
Well, first I paid a $500 fine for being a year late with my registration, which I begrudgingly paid, since it was my own damn fault.
Here’s where the weird part comes in. And apparently I’m the only one in America who has ever done this, because NO DMV EMPLOYEE in Pennsylvania or California knew what to do with me.
When I bought my car, my dad co-signed the loan so I would get a lower rate on his awesome credit. It was always understood, though, that I would be fully responsible for it. I paid the bank directly in my own name with my own checks. Co-sign. Implies two people, to the normal human, right?
So I guess they only put my dad’s name on the title. Why they then mailed it to me, at my correct address in California, I will never know, but the DMV wouldn’t accept it. The first teller I went to informed me to — IN PEN — simply sign my name on the back.
Mark this as the first time the DMV asked me to lie.
Supervisor comes over, sees the mistake, and says the title is no longer valid because there is a mistake in pen on it. She claims that my Dad needed to sign that line, and I needed to sign the line under it saying that he was turning it over to me.
Fast forward 6 to 8 weeks later where I mail the title back to Pennsylvania, they order a new one, and my dad has to now sign it in front of a notary, and send it back.
I return to the DMV a broken woman. I just wanted this to be over with and forgotten. Oh, but guess what! My smog test that I had paid 50 bucks for the last time was only valid for 30 days! Since it took 6 to 8 weeks to get my title back, the woman told me I needed another one.
“Because of a mistake your employee made?”
Then I just put my head down on the counter. I was too weary to turn on “Anger With Customer Service Lauren.” I mumbled, “Whatever.” And then she tried to get me to pay the $500 fine again. I handed her all the papers I had saying that I’d already paid it, but to no avail, until a new magical supervisor typed in a secret code and suddenly I didn’t have to pay anymore.
Then the supervisor handed me a sheet to sign. It said that I had received the car as a gift.
Me: But I didn’t.
Her: Yes, but you should just put it down, because none of our other forms apply to you.
Mark this as the second time the DMV asked me to lie.
Her: When did you come to America?
Me: What?
Her: When did you get here?
Me: Um…1980?
Her: To California.
I told her the date, as I marveled at yet another true stereotype about my prominently Mexican town.
Her: Well, what date were you first here with the car and the title in your name?
Me: I don’t know. It came a couple days ago in the mail. But I’ve been in California for a year.
Her: Well, this sheet wants to know when you got the car as a gift.
Me: But remember it was never a gift, and I got the car in ’03, 2 years before I even moved here.
Her: Well, according to this paper, you got the car in ’07. Just the other day, in fact.
DMV lie number 3.
So tell me this…if I didn’t own the car until now, why did I have to pay the $500 fine for living here with “my” car? If I got the car as a gift, shouldn’t my dad have a $20,000 hole in his wallet? Why were my title, all my bank confirmation letters, and all my registration forms all sent to me, if I didn’t own the car?
I write this as a cautionary tale. Don’t ever leave your house or buy anything.
Or trust government officials.