Today I took my Ducati 749 to get registered in California. It hasn’t been registered for quite some time, largely due to some weird laws in the state that make registering out-of-state motorcycles really difficult, if not impossible.
I was, however, successful in getting my bike registered, and there are several things I learned today that might be helpful next time you visit the DMV as well.
While I presume the majority of my tips apply to most states, some may only apply to the State of California and a few only apply to motorcycles. Regardless, hopefully the following saves you some time and money.
Respect can save you hundreds
Most people hate the DMV, and I’d bet the employees who work there hear their fair share of that dislike. I learned years ago from my FBI agent dad that if you ever have to go to court, respect for the judge will pay off. He was right (that’s another story… or four). I digress.
The same respect I learned for judges is the same respect you should show toward the DMV staff. They have the power to make life very difficult, and have the power to save you time and money.
In my case, my Ducati’s registration had expired, which would have incurred significant fines. However, I respected the staff member assisting me, and he reciprocated the respect and removed all of my fines without me even asking. I’m not sure exactly how much he saved me, but I’m pretty sure it was a lot.
An automatic DQ on the driving test is not automatic
As I was waiting to get a VIN inspection, I watched another motorcyclist take the riding test to prove he knew what he was doing. The poor guy was riding a pretty big Harley and was required to maneuver through some tightly-spaced cones in the parking lot. The staff member gave him one practice run, which he failed when he ran over a cone. I overhead the staff member warn him, “That was your practice. The next one is the real test.”
Sure enough, he ran over the cone again during the real test. I asked the staff member who was assisting me what happens after someone runs over a cone during the test. He said it was an automatic disqualification.
But then he looked at me and whispered, “But that doesn’t mean we can’t let them try again. There’s nothing in our manual that says we can’t let them try again. If the rider is cool to the inspector, they can be cool back. If the rider is a jerk, they’ll never know they could have had a second chance.”
The holidays are an ideal time to visit
I was mentally prepared to face a crazy line, but apparently most people are in store lines rather than DMV lines around the holidays.
Always make an appointment
Considering I wanted to avoid the lines, I made an appointment weeks ahead of time. However, considering how short the real line was, it turned out that my appointment line wasn’t much faster.
That being said, I have made an appointment online every time I’ve been to the DMV, and each time I arrive and go to the appointment line, people always seem to look at me as if I’ve cracked some sort of DMV secret code. Today was an exception for sure, but usually the regular line is around the corner into the parking lot, whereas the appointment line only has a few people in it.
Bring the vehicle you’re registering
I scoured the DMV website trying to find exactly what documents I needed for my visit today. I brought all documentation I needed, but nowhere on the site did it say I should bring the actual vehicle. I rode the motorcycle to the DMV just in case they needed to see it, and sure enough, they required me to get a VIN inspection on site to prove the bike I was registered was indeed the bike I had in my possession.
Be prepared to disassemble your vehicle
While I waited for my VIN inspection, I looked all over the bike to figure out where the VIN was located. I found it etched into the metal of the frame, and figured I had just saved myself and the inspector time.
However, when it became my turn, the inspector said that they needed the sticker from the manufacturer to show the VIN and not just the etched frame.
After pulling out my iPhone to use the flashlight to look inside the fairings, I found the VIN buried behind some wires up underneath the right fairing. Although the inspector could see the first several letters and numbers, he had to see the entire VIN, which was impossible to see without taking off the fairings.
Thankfully underneath my seat is an allen wrench, which I used to unscrew my right fairing and pull it back while the inspector could read off the VIN. Had I not remembered that I had the allen wrench built into my bike, I’m not sure I would have been able to help find the VIN.
While the inspector was being cool since I was trying to be very respectful, I did not get the impression that he would let me off the hook without finding the VIN number on the sticker. Be sure to know where your VIN is located and how to get to it if it happens to be hidden like mine.
Bring a smart phone
While I thought the VIN was tricky to get to, it turns out the engine number is even tougher. The inspector needed to write down the engine number, but with both of us looking, neither of us could find it.
His suggestion? Use your smart phone to Google where it is. So I did. I pulled out my iPhone and searched where to find the engine number on a 2006 Ducati 749. Turns out it was buried behind the left fairing. I already had one fairing halfway removed, so I figured why not take off the left one as well?
I removed the screws from the left side while the inspector searched for the engine number while on his hands and knees.
Thankfully we found it, and I began to put my bike back together.
You might be out of luck with your out-of-state motorcycle
As I was putting my fairings back on, the inspector said, “Please tell me you have more than 7500 miles on this thing.”
I did, but I asked why it was important.
He explained without at least 7500 miles, you have to get an emissions test, which for motorcycles requires getting a number off the INSIDE OF THE GAS TANK.
I said, “How do you get a number from the inside of the gas tank???”
He shrugged and said, “You have to take apart the entire bike.”
What?! C’mon, State of California. There’s gotta be a better solution for new motorcyclists than disassembling the ENTIRE MOTORCYCLE.
I had actually read this crazy law earlier, which is why I had waited to get the bike registered until it had the minimum number of miles. However, there was something about hearing the inspector say there weren’t other options just sounded absurd.
Note: The 7500 rule only applies to motorcycles purchased outside the State of California and then brought into the state. For example, if you find a new bike with low miles from another state and have it shipped to CA, you’re basically hosed until you hit at least 7500 miles. Either that or maybe try to get a camera scope to put inside your gas tank to get whatever number you need from the inside? My advice: find a bike with over 7500 miles or don’t buy outside of CA.
You can’t keep your old plate
Once I got my new plate, the staff member told me I needed to remove my old NM plate and drop it back off at the DMV. I was kinda bummed because I like to keep my old plates, but apparently that wasn’t an option. The staff member told me that whenever I returned to the DMV with my old plate, I had to wait back in line at the front just to drop it off. If you don’t drop it back off, you may get hit with an unexpected fine.
You can ask for loaner tools
Since I had to return my old plate, I didn’t want to make an extra trip back to the DMV just to drop it off. I asked the staff member if they had any loaner screwdrivers I could use to go switch the plates, and he did! He went and got me a screwdriver, and told me to bring it directly back to him when I was done.
You can skip the line
Once I used the loaner screwdriver to switch my NM with my new CA plate, I took the old plate and the loaner screwdriver back to the same guy. He was helping another customer, but when he saw me from the corner of his eye, he motioned me over. As I handed him the screwdriver, I also waved my old plate at him with a smile on my face. He smiled back and motioned me to give it to him. I said, “You’ll take care of that for me?”, and he nodded. Boom. Line skipped.
As I turned to leave, the staffer said, “Have a nice holiday and don’t think about us.”
Don’t have to tell me twice.
I hope these 11 tips save you some time and money the next time you have to visit the DMV so you don’t have to give them a second thought either.
What DMV tips do you have? Share your time or money-saving experiences with others in the comment box below.