At the DMV

When we moved to Idaho from North Dakota, I went to the Division of Motor Vehicles office and waited in line with my registration slips and titles to our cars to get our vehicles registered and obtain Idaho license plates for our vehicles. After waiting in line for quite some time, I finally got to a clerk who took a look at our North Dakota titles and informed me that I would have to bring my wife with me to the office in order to get the cars registered. Since the titles were in both of our names, I was told the only way they could be registered was if we both signed. I told the clerk that the titles were so issued that either of us could sell the cars without the other being present. I was informed that it didn’t matter. If we wanted to get the cars registered, we would need to come in together. On another day the two of us both want to the office, waited in line, and succeeded in registering our vehicles and putting the paperwork in order to receive Idaho titles for our cars.

That was more than 35 years ago and I had not thought of the incident in a very long time before yesterday, when I stood in line outside of the office, properly distanced as marked with blue lines on the pavement and wearing a mask, until my turn to hand over the titles to our cars to get them registered in Washington. I had visited the state web site and thought I knew what paperwork was required. I handed over my new, temporary Washington Driver’s License and the titles to the cars. The agent admired the South Dakota titles, which are issued in different colors and began to study them. She informed me that my wife would have to come in and sign if we wanted the Washington titles to bear her name along with mine. I sighed and asked if there was anything else we needed. The clerk responded that my wife would need to bring in her Washington Driver’s License. I told her that my wife doesn’t have a Washington Driver’s license yet and that it takes more than a month to get an appointment to get one. She said, “It doesn’t matter. There is no rush as long as your South Dakota plates are not expired.” I didn’t mention that I had read on the State website that new residents are required to obtain Washington plates within 90 days of establishing residency. She prepared forms for two cars and two trailers that could be signed by my wife and brought back to the office and the titles and license plates would be issued. I thanked her and asked if there was anything else I would need upon my return. She studied the titles for a while and said, “You’ll need proof that you have owned the vehicles for more than 90 days.” I informed her that the titles were dated and showed the date that the titles were issued - all several years ago. She said that didn’t matter. I showed her the registration slips for the vehicles which were issued in May - more than 90 days ago. She was satisfied by that. Then she said that for the trailers I would need proof that the sales tax had been paid. I informed here that in South Dakota you can’t obtain a vehicle title until the tax had been paid and asked what kind of proof I would need. She said that I would have to call the Department of Revenue in South Dakota and obtain a receipt for the taxes paid.

I haven’t called the South Dakota Department of Revenue. It was after 5 pm in Pierre when I was standing in line yesterday. I don’t think I’m going to get a receipt for taxes paid in 2009 and in 2012 when I bought the trailers. I’m going to give it a try, however, because I don’t want to have to pay 8.7% of assessed value on the trailers in Washington State Tax. While I’m at it, I’ll try to get a tax receipt for the car and pickup, because who knows what the next clerk will think I need for documentation.

I know I’ll get it sorted out. I know I’ll have Washington license plates for our vehicles and will obtain Washington titles for the vehicles before they are sold. But it will take a bit more frustration and probably a bit more expense. And I know that there are some fees that you end up paying more than once. I paid for a South Dakota driver’s license in July that was set to expire in 2025. There was a delay in the issuance of the license due to the pandemic. But I paid the fees for five full years. Now, six months later, I had to pay for a 5 year license in Washington. And they cost more here. It was more than $100. There’s no way around it, however, unless I want to quit driving. I paid the fees and watched the clerk punch a hole through my SD Driver’s license. I hope I don’t need to use my new Washington license for identification before I get my new permanent license in the mail. The paper temporary license doesn’t look very official. I doubt it would get me past TSA at an airport without a lot of hassle.

I know my troubles with getting all of this paperwork straightened out are small and that I’ll get it done. The experience, however, makes it easy to understand why some people end up with no license or expired licenses on their cars. You have to have a mailing address to obtain a Washington State Driver’s License. That’s how they deliver them to you. You can’t pick one up in person. A homeless person is going to be asked to show identification on any encounter with the police, but they might not be able to obtain official identification. Someone with less cash or less patience is going to end up not having all of the proper paperwork to convince a clerk behind a desk that they should get unexpired license plates for their vehicle.

I wonder how much they’ll assess me for an 11-year-old utility trailer that was only worth $1,300 when it was new. Then again, I hope I don’t find out.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

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