DMV Doesn't Tell Me I Owe Money, Charges $80 In Late Fees

Mark writes in with a nightmarish tale of government bureaucracy costing him ever-expanding late fees by failing to inform him he owed money, then making him wait several weeks to set up a meeting and apply to appeal.

Convinced the amount he owed was the California DMV’s error, he writes:

I recently moved so I completed the online forms from CA’s DMV website to update my drivers license and registration information. I received a new driver’s license in the mail, but I did not receive my registration renewal forms by the time it had expired. I called the DMV, and they said that my forms had been sent several months prior but had been returned for unknown reasons resulting in $80 in late fees. I requested that the fee be removed since I didn’t even receive a notice but was told I could only appeal the charges in person at a DMV office.

The first available appointment at my closest DMV office was in 4 weeks! I didn’t want to put this off and garner more fines so I decided to take my chances and go when they first opened at 8 AM the next day and was astonished at the line, which literally wrapped around the outside of the entire building, with people who had been waiting since 7 AM. Really? I spent an hour outside and over an hour waiting inside before being helped. I explained how I had not received my renewal notice and that I just wanted to pay the original amount due. Somehow, my address was incorrect in their vehicle registration system, which explains why the notice had been returned, but didn’t make any sense because the address on my drivers license, which arrived just fine, was obviously correct. You would think this information would all be stored in one place to avoid data entry errors such as this.

Despite the error on their part, I was told I still had to pay $80 in late fees, which I insisted were out of my control and completely egregious, because it is apparently my responsibility for knowing when my registration expires. I had never been late on any previous payments so they agreed to waive the fees, but only this time, and not before I made a written statement agreeing to this one time “favor.” Seriously, I had to hand write on an official form the following: “I know that my car registration expires at the same time every year. I am responsible for paying my car registration in a timely manner to avoid penalties. The late fees will be waived only one time, and I will never ask that they be waived again in the future. I must contact the DMV every year before my registration expires to ensure correct delivery of my renewal notice.”

I was so sick and tired of waiting for two and half hours and just happy that I didn’t have to pay the late charges so I signed my statement, paid the renewal fee, and got out of there as fast as I could. Having finally decompressed, I now feel like I was totally taken advantage of and tricked into taking responsibility for a mistake that wasn’t my fault, which may hurt me at some later date when they try to pull this on me again.

What’s the worst a DMV ever did you wrong?

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.