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How to Navigate California DMV Services During Covid-19

Discover which tasks may be completed online, in person, or at your local AAA branch.

Your local AAA branch can help you with many DMV services.

James Bueti

While life looks different, many routine tasks continue—and that includes DMV services like smog checks, license renewals, and name changes. Since March, several deadlines have been extended in California, and many DMV services can now be accessed online. For those that do require an in-person visit, you can often skip the wait by visiting your local AAA branch instead. Here are some frequently asked questions and how AAA can help.

How do I get a REAL ID?

For REAL ID, you will need to visit a DMV field office in person, although you can start your application online on the DMV website and upload the required documentation (proof of your identity and any prior name changes, evidence of Social Security number, and two documents attesting to your home address). Your confirmation code serves as an entrance ticket for finalizing your application in person at your local DMV office. You’ll need to show the code when you arrive, so be sure to print it out or take a screenshot or a picture with your phone so you have it on hand.

How do I renew my license?

Earlier extensions granted to drivers age 69 and under have now expired, but for drivers age 70 and over, licenses expiring between March 1 and December 31, 2020, will remain valid for one year from the original expiration date. As of December 6, 2020, most drivers of any age now qualify for renewal online or by mail.

How do I renew my vehicle registration?

You can renew your vehicle registration at your local AAA branch or on the DMV website. Before you begin, be sure to have your license plate number, the last five digits of your vehicle identification number (VIN), a renewal notice confirming your current address, and your payment information.

Can I get another copy of my registration certificate or replacement stickers at AAA?

To obtain a duplicate registration card or replacement stickers, fill out the forms at your local AAA branch, or apply by mail or on the DMV website. Some replacements require a fee.

You can now complete more DMV tasks from home.

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I just moved to California from out of state. How do I get a new license and registration?

For registering most automobiles and light commercial vehicles, you can visit your local AAA branch to complete the Application for Title or Registration form and Verification of Vehicle form, or apply online on the DMV website. The application must be signed by all registered owners shown on the out-of-state registration or title. Bring your last issued out-of-state registration certificate or current-year renewal notice, and the last issued out-of-state title (which will be surrendered to the DMV). Smog certification may be required. Registration fees must be paid within 20 days of the date they become due.

To apply for a California driver’s license if you already have a license issued by another state, you must complete a Driver’s License or Identification card application on the DMV website. Then you need to make an appointment to visit a DMV office in person, where you will:

  • provide your Social Security number;

  • prove your identity;

  • present acceptable residency documents;

  • pay the nonrefundable application fee;

  • have your thumbprint scanned;

  • pass a vision exam;

  • have your photo taken;

  • and pass the knowledge test.

If you have a license issued by another country, you must complete the previous steps as well as pass a driving test and provide proof of insurance that meets or exceeds California requirements.

How do I get disabled plates and placards?

You can apply for and pick up disabled license plates and placards at your local AAA branch, or apply on the DMV website. Note: A doctor or other approved health professional with knowledge of the disease or disability will need to complete and sign the Medical Provider’s Certificate of Disability section.

New drivers can begin the process to get a learner’s permit online.

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Can new drivers get a permit? Are behind-the-wheel driving tests being offered?

As of November 16, 2020, all learner’s permits expiring March 1, 2020, through May 31, 2021, are extended for six months or to a date 24 months from the date of application, whichever is earlier. New permits are available by filling out an application on the DMV website and uploading the required documents, then visiting a DMV office in person to take the knowledge test and finalize the transaction—no appointment necessary. As of December 14, 2020, behind-the-wheel driving tests have been suspended and appointments will be rescheduled. Motorcycle driving tests are still being offered.

How can I transfer the ownership/title of my car, RV, or boat?

You can complete a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability at your local AAA branch or on the DMV website. To complete this form, you will need the new owner’s name and address, the first five digits of the license plate or vessel number and vehicle identification number (VIN) or hull identification number (HIN), the vehicle make or vessel builder and model year, and the odometer reading. You are required by law to notify DMV within five calendar days from the date you sell or transfer the title and deliver possession of the vehicle to the new owner.

Do I still need a smog test?

Yes, smog inspections are required when you register or renew registration for a vehicle in California. Exceptions include gasoline-powered vehicles 1975 year model or older, diesel-powered vehicles 1997 year model and older, natural gas vehicles, electric vehicles, and gasoline-powered vehicles less than four years old. For a smog check, find AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities near you that offer emissions inspections.

You can update your address online.

James Bueti

How do I change my name or gender or update my address on my ID or license?

For a name change, you may apply for a new card online on the DMV website, but the transaction will need to be completed in person at a DMV office, where you will scan your thumbprint, pay the licensing fee, and present documents proving your identity. Additional documentation is required if applying for a REAL ID, or if you have changed your name previously.

To change your gender identification, you may apply for a new card and fill out a Gender Category Request form online, but the transaction will need to be completed at a DMV office, where you will scan your thumbprint and pay the licensing fee. Additional documentation is required if applying for a REAL ID.

To change your address, submit a Change of Address form online, by mail, or in person. California law requires you to notify DMV within 10 days of changing your address.

If I cannot complete my transaction at AAA or online, can I walk into any DMV office, or do I need to make an appointment?

While the DMV recommends that customers use its online services, field offices are open for existing appointments as well as walk-in customers with confirmation codes for transactions that were started online but must be completed in person.

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