Coffee heat rising

Adventures in Bureaucracy: Motor Vehicle Division

My friend Shannon is trying to help her teenaged daughter get her first driver’s license, an enterprise that has turned into quite the bureaucratic adventure. They called the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division and were flamboozled to be told there were 300 calls ahead of them! When last heard from, she was on Facebook critiquing the Muzak while they waited. 😀

In Arizona, one of the hoops you have to jump through, if you drive a car, is an annual air pollution test nuisance. To drive your car, you have to waste an hour or 90 minutes of your time on that before you can update the registration, which you have to do every year.

Each year – in my case, smack in the middle of the hottest part of the summer – the state sends you a form that you have to drag down to the pollution test site, get certified, and then mail in to the Department of Motor Vehicles (known idiosyncratically as MVD in these parts).

Ummmm….  I don’t recall doing that. True, I’m a senile old bat. But the process is annoying enough that it surely would catch my attention. Especially since I would have enjoyed performing that bit of my civic duty in 118-degree heat.

Did I pay for two years? You can can do that…but…I can’t find the receipt!

Trudge out to the garage: the registration tag on the license plate says “expires in September 2020”!

Ohhhhhhh f!ck!!!!!!!

If a cop catches me with an expired license plate, I’ll get a killer ticket.

No way to find out on the MVD website whether they imagine I’m registered for two years. No way to ask a live human, because presumably there are no humans in attendance. Anywhere.

I can’t not drive my car: you can’t survive in Phoenix without a car.

On a clue from Shannon, I finally found a page where a form invited me to pony up $241 + change to renew the registration. But NOTHING about the emissions test. Normally they don’t allow you to renew your registration without proof that your car passed the emissions test. So I imagined they must have opted it.

I now charge the $241 that I can’t afford on my American Express card and forge on in search of the form to give to the emissions test guys.

But nayyyy, this scheme is not to be.

Online I find a form to fill out to entitle you to a “no contact” emissions test. This also entails your coughing up money, and it requires you to physically go to the emissions test place and be exposed to whatever the members of the public are carrying. In the 118-degree heat.

You have to fill in a VIN number, which I can’t find in the usual place one would find the damn thing on a car.

After a fruitless search, I come back to the computer and try to get to the form you need to take to the emissions test people, so I can fill that in and tote it over to the nearest testing station, so as to get the test done so as to get the car registered. But now I can’t find it online, even though earlier in the day I’d found it but gave up when it demanded the VIN that I couldn’t find on the car. After my son tells me it would be on the insurance card, I try to go back into the site and download the emissions nuisance form. Can’t find it for love nor money.

I message someone unfortunate enough to have his email posted on the Department of Environmental Quality site. He emails back and says later in the day someone from the DEQ will telephone me.

This personable fellow—let’s just call him Bob—surfaces around 4 p.m. 

He says that when you fill out a registration form online, the system will say you can’t enter data until you have the emissions test.

I say wellll….I had no problem filling it out and in fact have a receipt saying “Your vehicle registration renewal is complete…”

He says the only explanation for that is some kind of system glitch.

After a fair amount of back & forth, in which I get the receipt and read the first paragraph to him over the phone, he says (I summarize greatly…) that MVD has such a huge backlog that no one may notice. On reflection, he suggests I may already have paid for a two-year registration, in which case the test is not necessary. If that is the case, it would explain why I never got the paperwork this year.

He proposes the following: On Thursday: check AMEX. If the charge went through, it means MVD accepted the application without the emissions test.

If that’s the case, he says, then just go on about your business and do not waste time with the emissions test. It probably means I paid for two years and do not have to do a test this year,

But, he adds, if  the charge has not gone through by Thursday, call the MVD and ask if an emissions test is required, and ask them to send (or resend) the paperwork. (Reference, if you will, my friend’s experience with this hopeless maneuver…)

HOWEVER, Bob’s guess that I paid for two years is wrong. The vehicle registration receipt from last year, which of course I kept for tax purposes, says it expires 9/30/2020. So clearly there’s some kind of screw-up here.

Apparently things are such a mess down at MVD, they don’t know their collective ass from a hole-in-the-ground. He said it would be the end of September before the tags show up, at soonest. I said I sure don’t want to get a ticket. He said it was extremely unlikely the cops would pull someone over for out-of-date tags. Besides, I have the receipt from MVD stating that the car is registered and registration is paid for.

Why we have emissions tests… Yeah, that IS smog over lovely downtown Phoenix.


This is sounding suspiciously like another piece of mail that got misdelivered to my larcenous neighbor’s house and thrown in the trash. That would be the one who signed for a certified letter addressed to me from my doctor, who couldn’t get through to me on the phone and was trying to tell me I had a nascent cancer and needed to get my a$$ to her office and have it treated. That neighbor.

He did, though, say that the place was pretty much in chaos. So it’s possible that maybe they really didn’t send the annual notice. Except…welll….those things would’ve been-machine generated and stuffed into pre-stamped envelopes. Wouldn’t exactly have required legions of skilled workers…

Apparently state offices are off the tracks because so many staff are either sick or have been told to stay out. Got the impression from Bob that there essentially was nobody there at MVD — that they’re so understaffed the department is inoperative.

Here, the emissions test procedure would put EVERYBODY at high risk of covid. The driver is taken out of the car and told to sit in an enclosed booth. (Yeah: if the guy ahead of you had the bug, you sit there for ten or fifteen minutes breathing in his viruses!) The worker has to get inside the car, handle the controls, and run it for ten minutes or so. So he gets royally exposed to whatever you may be carrying. And if he’s got the virus but is asymptomatic, he’s still contagious, meaning when you get back into your car, you get exposed to whatever bugs he deposited on the steering wheel or breathed into the air.

So…it would seriously make sense to cancel the tests for the duration of the epidemic.

Apparently that’s not what they’ve done here, though. Our Bob said I could just go over to the facility and get the test: no paperwork needed on my end. They give you the paperwork there. BUT, said he, since MVD apparently accepted my application for registration (we quickly found, at the AMEX website, that they’d charged my credit card), he thinks they screwed up and the best thing to do is lay low and go yup yup yup, thankee boss!

The guy theorizes that they messed up at MVD. That’s why he suggested that I wait for a couple of days to see if the charge on the AMEX card goes through. He said if it does and the state accepted the money for the registration bill, then we’re looking at what he called “a glitch in the system”…and what I would call “a f**k-up.”

6 thoughts on “Adventures in Bureaucracy: Motor Vehicle Division”

  1. When my husband and I were in business, one year we didn’t get a renewal for some state license/permit. When I got an expiration notice with a penalty fee, I asked for the penalty to be waived due to nonreceipt of the renewal notice.
    They refused, saying it was my responsibility to keep track of when it was due. It wasn’t like that was the only license/permit our business had (we had a service station) or that that was all I had to do.
    I always felt they liked the extra money for the renewal being late. This was back when it was unusual not to get your mail. Now it’s common, so you would need to keep track of renewals.
    My daughter lives in an apartment and she signed up for the Post Office mail delivery notification. She gets notice of what’s going to be delivered. She was notified that the grand-daughter’s birthday card was to be delivered that day and a month later, it still hasn’t come.

    • Yeah, that makes sense…that they would figure it was your responsibility,

      But I tried, with no luck. And I have a receipt that says I paid — the AMEX charge has gone through, BTW.

      So the car IS re-registered….they can’t argue that the registration is expired. If they send me the tags, the cops will be none the wiser. The only problem will be, as you suggest, if next year they realize I didn’t get the emissions test. If what “Bob” says is correct — they MVD is not supposed to let you even fill out the registration form if you haven’t jumped through the emissions-test hoop, then it’s their screw-up, not mine.

      The mail is not getting through here. Where usually the mailbox is jammed with trash, now it’s empty or very nearly so. If the junkmail isn’t getting delivered, chances are the actual, real mail is also not getting delivered. That is something Donald Trump is engineering — and since I didn’t vote for the Orange Clown, I would say the nondelivery issue is Mr. Trump’s doing, not mine.

    • You’re a genius, Ozzy! The car’s a 2004. Et voilà! The explanation.
      Wonder why they hassled me every year for the Sienna…it was a 2000 model Oh well. Doesn’t matter now.

  2. Dear heaven, you make me grateful for my state. Every year I get a renewal card in the mail that tells me by when I have to renew and if it’s an emissions year. If it’s an emissions year, it tells me if I have to get an in-person emissions test or if I’ve driven through enough of the roadside auto-emissions test setups in the preceding year so that I don’t have to. When I get the card in the mail, I can renew online and they mail me the tags. The only time I have to go into the DMV is when I need to update the photo on my driver’s license, which is pretty infrequent. (Once every 10 years, I think? I’m not even sure. But I do know that they’d notify me about that, too.)

    • 😀 Yeah, we usually get a notice in the mail — hard-copy forms to fill out and mail back. But just now the mail is barely being delivered here. Thanks to the virus and to Mr. Trump’s attack on the USPS, days go by without anything showing up in the mailbox. The PO has stopped delivering junkmail altogether (thanks, DonnieBoy!), but it looks suspiciously like franked mail may also not be coming through. My guess is that MVD sent a notice that was either delivered to my mail-thieving neighbor or else lost in transit.

      We don’t have the roadside thing, though. That would be nice. I actually do not resent the emissions test procedure — though I’d like it a LOT if my time to jump through that hoop occurred any time other than midsummer. The Valley used to have a serious smog problem, fast approaching the magnitude of Southern California’s. Thanks to more efficient engines and the required emissions tests, the air is fairly clear most of the time.

Comments are closed.