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California DMV Survival Guide: Analyzing California’s DMV Wait Times

California DMV Survival Guide, Analyzing California's DMV Wait TImes

DMV hatred is a universal language

From coast to coast, Americans agree – having to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles is basically hell. While the general attitude and pace of DMV employees are well-known comedic stereotypes, nothing beats the wait times. Even with the advent of booking in advance and checking wait times online before you go, the agony of the DMV waiting room is a special kind of suffering.

Nowhere is that truer than in California. The Golden State is said to have some of the worst DMV wait times in the country, so we wanted to know just how bad it really is. We watched their online portals for three weeks, collecting data from 134 different offices to determine where in sunny California the dark cloud of the DMV looms largest. Read on to see what we discovered.

It’s not always sunny at the DMV

Best of Times, Worst of Times, Average Waite in California DMV Offices

California is one of the biggest U.S. states – only Alaska and Texas cover more area. It also happens to have the largest population of any state. Census data suggest that more than 39 million people currently live in beautiful, scenic California. That means, depending on where you live in the state, DMV traffic can be pretty severe.

Sacramento, California’s state capital, takes the prize for longest DMV wait times – averaging more than 105 minutes. That might be worse than the wait at most Disneyland attractions and without the satisfaction of a much-enjoyed ride at the end.

Los Angeles-area DMV offices, such as downtown Los Angeles (almost 93 minutes), Hollywood (87 minutes) and Long Beach (86 minutes) were not much better than Sacramento. As the most populated city in all of California, the City of Angels has more than just notoriously bad traffic it also has three of the top five worst DMV wait times in all of California. Some have suggested that these wait times may be due in part to a new law enacted in California last year that allows state residents the opportunity to apply for licenses legally without having to prove U.S. citizenship.

However, DMV wait times weren’t all doom and gloom in California. Areas like Red Bluff and Napa had fewer than 10-minute wait times. While these may be some of the less populated areas of the state, their wait times are nothing to whine about.  

See for yourself


Use our interactive guide to see just where in California the wait times are the longest. We measured the average wait time for patrons waiting without an appointment. Passing well into an hour (or more) in some places, we highly recommend booking online whenever possible – or at least bringing a nice book to read.

 

Monday, busy Monday

Waitin' It OUt at the DMV, Average Wait Times of California DMV office by day and time

The DMV may be a Monday through Friday operation, but not all weekdays are created equal. We looked at each day of the week to see when you might be able to get right in and out, and when you should probably plan to stay awhile.

With limited-to-no services offered Saturday or Sunday, the busiest days for California DMVs were on Mondays and Fridays.

If you have the time and willpower, getting to the DMV between 8 and 9 a.m. may be your best bet. Wait times were shortest every day during the early morning. However, if you can’t make the morning hours work, you might want to try right around 5 p.m. Further, wait times around 6 p.m. were the worst, averaging just about – or more than – an hour every day.

Midweek days, such as Wednesday and Thursday, were the best for a relatively expeditious turnaround. However, depending on the time of day, you might still find yourself waiting 30 minutes or longer without an appointment.

The City of Wait Times

Los Angeles Line-up, Average wait times for Los Angeles DMV Offices, with and without an Appointment (in minutes)

Los Angeles may be home to the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, but that doesn’t do much to relieve the pressures those living there feel at the DMV. With more than 20 different DMV offices to pick from, some had much worse wait times than others. The downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and Long Beach offices averaged between 86 and almost 93 minutes when waiting without an appointment. The good news? You could knock that wait time down to 5 to 15 minutes if you book in advance.

Booking an appointment before heading to the DMV could save you a lot of time. At some LA offices, such as Van Nuys and Fullerton, booking ahead could save you 50 minutes or more. In the Hollywood office, the difference was staggering – more than 87-minute wait without an appointment and fewer than 5 minutes with an appointment. You don’t need to be a celebrity to get VIP treatment in this part of Hollywood – you just need to plan.

Worst of the worst waiting

Dowtown DMV Blues, Average Wait Times for the Los Angeles DMV Office, by Day (in minutes)

Los Angeles might have its ups and downs with DMV wait times, but downtown LA is pretty cut and dry. Without an appointment, those visiting can expect to wait roughly anywhere between 90 to 110 minutes to be seen. Based on the wait times that we examined, Friday was the worst day to visit.

Growing old in line

Hopelessly Waiting, Best and worst days and times to visit the Los Angeles Downtown DMV

Rush-hour traffic in LA can be just as miserable. It’s possible certain peaks might relate to carefully considered lunch hour errands in favor of postwork traffic delays. The time between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. had the longest wait – averaging more than 100 minutes every day of the week.

Golden City delays

Bay Area DMV Blues, Average Wait Times for San Francisco Area DMV Offices

The Bay Area might be one of the best cities in the country for public transportation, but San Francisco and the surrounding areas still utilize the DMV quite frequently. Outside the main city, DMV wait times at Walnut Creek, the Oakland Coliseum and Concord were the worst – they averaged between 62 and 78 minutes without an appointment. Not even the splendid Bay view can help temper the frustration of waiting for your number to be called at these offices.

However, in San Francisco, Corte Madera and Novato, wait times were significantly shorter. They averaged between 14 and 20 minutes (you might not even be able to scroll through your entire Instagram feed before making it up to the counter). These quick turnarounds may be due to the decreasing number of young people who are driving in the city.

City in Waiting

Keep It Waiting San Diego, Average Wait Times for San Diego Area DMV Offices

San Diego is the eighth largest U.S. city based on population and second most populated city in California (second only to LA).

In Poway, located in San Diego County, wait times for the DMV climb by more than 86 minutes. San Marcos Rancheros, San Ysidro and El Cajon are among those that also averaged more than an hour wait without an appointment.

The best wait time averages were in the San Diego office, but unfortunately, it’s still more than 57 minutes. Thankfully, there are more than just beautiful views to keep you occupied in America’s Finest City while you’re waiting.

How to pass the time

The DMV isn’t exactly known as one of the most rewarding human experiences – but at some point or another, most of us will find ourselves there. In California, the wait times can be especially horrendous. In places like Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego, there isn’t much you can do to escape the insufferable wait times (besides, of course, booking online before you go).

Here are a couple of ideas to pass the time if you happen to find yourself waiting an eternity for the DMV to call your number.

You can also take the opportunity to check CheapCarInsurance.net and make sure you aren’t overpaying for car insurance. Like waiting at the DMV, car insurance is a part of life on the road, but it doesn’t have to be painful. Visit us online today to compare car insurance premiums in your area and make sure you’re getting the best deal available. Your free, customized quote only takes minutes to prepare and can save you thousands of dollars a year over overpriced providers. That’s worth a few of those extra minutes.

Methodology

We scraped www.dmv.ca.gov for three weeks, collecting data from 134 California DMV offices that report their wait times online. We collected the online times once per hour five days a week. We then created averages by day and time. For the U.S. map, we pulled data from a study by dmv.com.

Sources

https://www.dmv.ca.gov
http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-zootopia-production-20160304-story.html
http://lifehacker.com/5974078/how-to-get-through-the-dmv-with-your-sanity-intact
http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20150331/how-bad-is-traffic-in-los-angeles-new-report-says-its-the-worst
http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk
http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2015/01/30/california-dmv-wait-times-on-the-rise-as-immigrants-apply-for-drivers-licenses/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/even-google-is-waiting-on-the-dmv_us_5649f15ee4b08cda3489971c
https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/wcm/connect/5aa16cd3-39a5-402f-9453-0d353706cc9a/official.pdf?MOD=AJPERES
http://la.curbed.com/2014/3/5/10136008/the-absolute-worst-times-to-drive-on-every-freeway-in-la
https://smartasset.com/mortgage/best-cities-for-public-transportation
http://sfappeal.com/2013/10/sfs-car-contradiction-while-more-people-choose-not-to-drive-number-of-cars-registered-in-sf-continues-to-rise/
http://www.ranker.com/list/most-beautiful-cities-in-the-us/ranker-travel
http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/San-Diego-Most-Attractive-City-Travel-Leisure-283206391.html
http://thegarage.jalopnik.com/here-are-the-some-of-the-most-bizarre-dmv-horror-storie-1711970247
http://thoughtcatalog.com/johanna-mort/2015/09/19-foolproof-ways-to-pass-the-time-at-the-dmv/

Fair Use Statement

If you find yourself waiting in any of these DMV offices and feel like sharing our findings or images, please just remember to link back to this page so that our contributors get credit. You’ll probably have more than enough time.