Question: What Is Your Most Kafkaesque Car-Registration Experience?

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
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question what is your most kafkaesque car registration experience

As I gather parts for my 1941 Plymouth sedan road-racer project, I’ve also been slogging my way through the bureaucratic obstacle course that is registering a title-less car that spent 45 years sitting in a Colorado high desert field. I’ve lived in three states during my car-owning years: California, Georgia, and Colorado. Each is what I call a Front License Plate State (FLPS), meaning car-registration procedures are less informal than what you get in states that issue only rear license plates, and so my car-registering experience features many episodes that might have been scripted by this guy. In a FLPS, you will find yourself shunted down numerous tail-chasing infinite loops when attempting to, say, get license plates for a ’58 DKW on a ’70 Ford Courier frame that you bought from a mysterious out-of-state guy who then became the Antarctic Consul for Lesotho. My search for a ’41 Plymouth title has (so far) involved a title search, a lien search, a certified VIN verification (not to be confused with a regular VIN verification; the certified type may be performed only at the office of one of four authorized police departments in Colorado), an appraisal by a registered Colorado car dealer, a surety bond for twice the appraised value, and a dozen lengthy trips to my local DMV… and, compared to some of my California experiences, this is easy. How about you?

Note that we’re not talking about Kafkaesque traffic ticket experiences here; that will be the subject of a future Question of the Day. Share your most nightmarish title/plate/tags-obtainment experiences with us. Those of you who live in flag-of-convenience states or countries can go ahead and gloat at the rest of us. If you haven’t read The Trial yet, you’re in luck— it’s available for free on the Gutenberg Project’s site!

But when K. had the confidence to try and do all this the difficulty of composing the documents was too much for him. Earlier, just a week or so before, he could only have felt shame at the thought of being made to write out such documents himself; it had never entered his head that the task could also be difficult. He remembered one morning when, already piled up with work, he suddenly shoved everything to one side and took a pad of paper on which he sketched out some of his thoughts on how documents of this sort should proceed. Perhaps he would offer them to that slow-witted lawyer, but just then the door of the manager’s office opened and the deputy-director entered the room with a loud laugh. K. was very embarrassed, although the deputy-director, of course, was not laughing at K.’s documents, which he knew nothing about, but at a joke he had just heard about the stock-exchange, a joke which needed an illustration if it was to be understood, and now the deputy- director leant over K.’s desk, took his pencil from his hand, and drew the illustration on the writing pad that K. had intended for his ideas about his case.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Writer d'Elegance Brougham Landau.

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  • ReSa ReSa on Sep 20, 2013

    Sheesh! And I thought we had it tough in Europe! As a Dutchman I bought an Audi A4 from a German dealership a few years back an imported it into Holland. After I bought it, the Dealership passed me the European Type Approval certificate plus the title. It then took me about two hours to go through customs and registration in Holland: 1. German Title, Type Approval and passport were checked 2. European stolen car database was checked 3. Technical safety inspection plus environmental check were 4. I Forked over additional taxes for importing a car A week later I had my Dutch Title and registration plus license plates in hand!

    • Windsormarxist Windsormarxist on Sep 20, 2013

      I grew up in Shawnee Kansas- a suburb of Kansas City, and if you wanted to register a car from Missouri, Woe be you! Apparently, according to the Kansas DMV, every single car from Missouri is stolen, so when you go to register, you have to take it for inspection, where you are considered guilty until proven innocent. Its not the process I have a problem with, but the almost surreal presumption of criminality for the simple 'crime' of having purchased a car on the other side of town. If I remember, it always meant a drive from one office to another, and then another drive back to the insurance company with some stamped document. (remember life before online insurance?) This is the same town where I got a ticket for not wearing my shoulder belt- in a 1965 Corvair. I'm surprised I didn't get fined for not having an airbag- although I'm sure the punishment for that would have been elegantly inscribed on my back. That said, I remember my driving test consisted of driving around a parking lot and parking between two cones at the Mission branch while the 'instructor' looked on from the building, so not everything was bad. Here in the UK though, I've never had a single issue. Even registering a Wartburg with documents from a country that ceased to exist in 1990 wasn't an issue- I just needed to put some tape on the headlamps so they shone the right way, fill out a bunch of forms, hand over some money, and then I was awarded my new registration number. Actually, the UK system is really great. At the annual inspections, mileage is recorded and logged with the DVLA, as are any defects. Thus, you can enter any prospective car's details into a government computer and it will tell you if there is anything dodgy about it. That's big brother working for me rather than against me.

  • Boxer2500 Boxer2500 on Sep 20, 2013

    I currently live in Montana, whose MVD would issue a title and tags to a dead moose - this in spite of being a front plate state. Getting a title is a 5 minute job and no one ever checks the VIN. No state sales tax either. Titles and driver licensing were in two different buildings across town from one another (in Helena) but each was a painless task. Tag fees are high-ish but any car over 10 years old qualifies for permanent tags. Plus, you can choose from one of approximately 7000 plate designs. You will see a lot of sketchily imported gray market cars running around with Montana plates.

    • Joe McKinney Joe McKinney on Sep 20, 2013

      Montana used to be very loose with the distribution of its plates. For quite a few years E-Bay and various online license plate stores were flooded with new Montana specialty plates. These plates were unissued and often had current validation decals. Apparantly the plates were slipping out the back doors of the local tag offices and going straight to the online plate dealers. The sale of current Montana plates became so rampant the state did eventually crack down on its own end and through E-Bay. Today unused, current issue Montana plates are much less common than they were five years ago.

  • Marty S Corey, thanks for your comment. Mercedes has many different models, and will survive. Jaguar is planning on only offering electric models and will be in trouble. They should continue their ICE models as long as possible, but have discontinued the F-Type already and will probably be discontinuing everything else. We purchased the current XF this year, which is a nice car, but would have been splendid if they had just continued the supercharged V-6 in it.By the way, I have really enjoyed your Continental and Eldorado series. Was just showing it to my barber, who owned several 1954-56 Eldorado convertibles.
  • Marques My father had one of these. A black 1984 Pulsar NX with a 5-speed stick and a grey interior. Dad always kept it in pristine shape-that black paint was shiny even in the middle of the night. I swear I could still smell the Rain Dance carnauba wax! The only issue that car ever had was that it was never driven enough-it would sit for 10 days at a time! The Hitachi carburetor on it(and other Nissans of the time) were known to be troublesome. It went to the boneyard at 72K miles when a hole got punched in the block. By that time the Pulsar had long ceased production.
  • VoGhost This is the only new vehicle I have the slightest interest in.
  • VoGhost I love it. Can't wait to get one. Finally, trucks are becoming actually capable, and it's great for America.
  • Peter Just waiting for Dr. Who to show up with his Tardis, and send these things back to the hellish dark dimension from which they came.