Dealing with the Maryland DMV.

22 September 2011

Possibly the second worst thing about pulling up roots and moving someplace new is all the paperwork: You can only accomplish so much until you brave the outermost ring of Hell and return with proof of your valor. To put it another way, until the Department of Motor Vehicles deigns to give you a new driver's license, implicitly stating that you've been accepted by the state as being a full resident you'll probably be stuck. This usually involves a two step process, the first being the acquisition of a title, or legal proof that you are the lawful owner of the vehicle, and the second step consisting of getting a new driver's license. This morning, after a long evening of tearing apart not only our new house but the stuff which still resides in boxes, it took another three trips before I had everything done that needed to get the job done.

I'll outline the process as clearly as I can, in the hope that I can save someone hassle and time in the future. It's quite linear, so if you follow it step by step you should be fine. Firstly, you will have to go to a local garage or car dealership and get your car inspected. Be specific: ask for an inspection to get your car registered in Maryland, and ask them if they are certified for this purpose. If they're not, go someplace else because not all businesses do this. I recommend searching online. It won't be hard. It will cost you between $100us and $300us for the inspection (I paid the former and got off cheap for such a thorough going-over) and it takes a couple of hours. Don't count on the garage or car dealership having wireless so if you want to work while you wait have everything cached on your laptop. Once you've gotten this done you'll have to move reasonably quickly because that state inspection ticket is only good for sixty (60) days. If you take it to the dealership and more than two calendar months will have passed, they'll turn you away.

Next, and I can't stress this highly enough, whenever you go to the DMV, bring a book that you're less than halfway through. You may have to wait for a long time once you have your line ticket so be sure that you can keep yourself busy. You'll need to get your car re-titled for Maryland, which in the process will also grant you new license plates (and stickers) as well as the legal registration. You'll have to pay an excise tax on your car because the state of Maryland will demand its cut of the action (6% of the value of your car - I had to pony up $378us), so prepare yourself for sticker shock. You need to have filled out the form - VR-005 - correctly ahead of time. Print it out, read through it twice, and then pick up your pen and fill it out, there are a few gotchas that'll get you sent back home for another try.

You will also need to bring the title of your car (if you already have it) or a copy from the DMV of wherever you moved from, the receipt for your car (I brought a photocopy furnished by the Pennsylvania DMV and they accepted it) and proof of automotive insurance coverage. Once cash changed hands, I was handed a pair of brand new license plates and stickers to bolt onto my car. Due to the fact that my car is paid off I had the original pink slip in hand; once everything went through they confiscated my Pennsylvania title and say they'll send me a Maryland title in the near future. I don't know what you'll have to do if the state still has your title (meaning you haven't paid it off yet); when I moved to Virginia I had to call the Pennsylvania DMV and get them to send me their idea of an "official duplicate," which I then used to social engineer the clerk into finding out what they had to do after initially giving me a hard time about it. I don't know what Virgina's 'official' procedure is, otherwise I'd tell you to save everyone a lot of heartache and frustration.

Keep the package of plates and documentation with you because you'll need the registration to get your driver's license. Put the plates on after everything's done.

Next, get your driver's license squared away. In Maryland you won't have to fill out paperwork ahead of time, you can just show up and do the deed but you'll need to have everything in hand. I didn't today and had to go back a second time after sifting through all of my stuff at home. You will need your old driver's license, you new Maryland car registration (this is why I told you to keep your plates on you), your birth certificate, your Social Security Card, and something like a bill, pay stub, or bank statement with your new Maryland address on it. You can use a passport but it has to be current for it to be acceptable. It should be noted that official US Government ID cards (like a CAC issued by the Army) are not considered valid so don't bother trying. Then you have to play the waiting game on the uncommonly comfortable extruded steel mesh benches, get photographed, take an eye exam, and pay another $45us. Again, once money changes hands you'll have to wait for a while (for me, about 30 minutes) before my driver's license was ready.

If you want to request a vanity license plate you'll need to have filled out a copy of form VR-164, which assumes that you've already registered and titled your car because you'll need to give Maryland title, tag, and sticker numbers. You will need to have your current Maryland registration in hand. If you just got your plates and you want to turn around and get custom ones you are supposed to give the info as you have it in hand right then. You can request up to four different strings of up to seven (7) characters each. Don't have your heart set on any one word because there is no guarantee that you'll get any of them. If you want to get your amateur radio callsign on a plate you need to have your license from the FCC in hand when you apply. You'll also have to pony up another $100us and pay a yearly fee to keep your vanity plates.

I'm not entirely certain of the best days and times to go to the DMV. Weekends tend to be crazy and lines can go all the way around the building because Maryland DMV offices close at 1230 EST5EDT on Saturdays. Get there early (as soon as the doors open, if you can), and bring two books. I discovered the hard way two weeks ago that they only do driving tests (which are by appointment only) and licensing on weekends, so don't bother going for anything else. As of today, this fact is nowhere to be found on their website. From what I can tell going later in the week, like Wednesday or Thursday would be a good idea. My guess is that everyone either goes as early in the work-week as they can (Monday or Tuesday) or on Friday (probably by taking a day off and making a long weekend of it). I was there between 0930 and 1200 today, and found that the lines and waits were reasonably short.

Good luck.