Kate is a small business owner and busy mom who doesn't have a lot of time to spend at the DMV.
How cool would it be to get paid by the hour to sit at the DMV? Not only would the atmosphere in there be a lot less tense, I wouldn't dread it like I used to before I figured out the best times to visit to avoid a super-long wait. I still haven't figured out how to monetize my time at the DMV, but I can at least tell you how much easier the whole ordeal is now that I've found the best times to pop in.
Tips to Avoid Waiting in Long Lines
After I vented to my mother-in-law (who used to work at the DMV), she told me that besides making sure I have the right stuff with me when I go, the easiest way to avoid spending the rest of my life there is to just go at the right times. She said if you make an appointment strategically on the days and times that are less crowded, the staff will be less overwhelmed and crabby. Below, you will find all her best strategies.
When Is the Best Time to Go to the DMV?
Go to the DMV on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday in the middle of the month, avoiding holidays. Go either before 11:00 a.m. or after 2:00 p.m., making sure that you're not within an hour of when the DMV opens or closes.
Strategies for Avoiding Crowds at the DMV
|When to Not Go to the DMV||Why||When to Go Instead|
Don't go on weekends.
Because everywhere is busier on weekends.
The middle of the week: Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.
Don't go right before or right after a holiday.
Because people try to do errands (like renewing their license) right before leaving town for a holiday or right when they get home.
No later than a week before a holiday and no earlier than a week after a holiday.
Don't go at lunchtime.
People try to squeeze in the DMV on their lunch break.
Go an hour before or after the lunch rush.
Don't go right when the DMV opens or right before they close.
Because everyone else has the same idea.
Give them an hour to handle the early risers on their way to work and give yourself at least an hour before closing so you don't get turned away before your situation has been handled.
Don't go during the first week of the month, or the last week.
Many vehicle registrations expire on the first of the month, so people who've procrastinated will be on the first to renew, and people who procrastinated a little less will be in a few days before that.
The middle of the month.
Rule 1: Avoid Weekends
Many don't, but if your local DMV offers weekend hours, it might seem like a convenient alternative to stopping in on your lunch break or after work. Unfortunately, everyone else is thinking this, too.
(If you can't make time during the week, then skip on to rules 4 and 5 to plot when the quietest time to go to the DMV is.)
Rule 2: Avoid Days Surrounding Weekends and Holidays
Some people take three-day weekends, which means Mondays and Fridays can be just as crazy as the actual weekend. Instead, go in the middle of the week, on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Obviously, any bank holiday also means the DMV is closed, but my mother-in-law told me that any days that fall immediately before or after a holiday are totally crazy, with people trying to tie up loose ends before leaving town or hurrying to get errands done as soon as the holidays are over. Every person whose birthday falls on a holiday or who waited until last minute to renew their registration will be rushing to the DMV to avoid late fees or other penalties. Try to go at least a week before any major holiday to avoid this rush.
Rule 3: Avoid the Lunch Hour
Whether you're going on a weekday or weekend, the absolute worst time of day to go is during lunch (between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.). That's because you're not the only hangry one trying to squeeze in the DMV during your lunch break. Instead, go an hour after opening or after lunch, closer to their close time. My mother-in-law told me the sweet spot is before 11:00 or after 2:00.
Rule 4: Go at Opening and Avoid Closing
If it comes down to choosing between opening or closing, definitely go with opening. That's because the employees aren't yet drained from a busy day at work, and of course, there's less of a backup of patrons then. Plus, depending on your DMV's closing policies, there's a chance that if you show up ten minutes before closing time, you'll be forced to leave before your issues are resolved. Even if they don't make you leave, the staff has to stay late for you, and they may be less friendly and flexible as a result.
Rule 5: Avoid the First and Last Weeks of the Month
Most vehicle registrations expire on the last day of the month, and because of this, you’ll often find longer-than-normal wait times then. It’s a bad habit of humans to procrastinate. If you expect this, and adjust your trip to the DMV accordingly, you can skip the long lines.
Great Times to Go to the DMV
Here some other great ideas of times you can go to the DMV and expect shorter-than-usual lines.
- The day of a popular sporting event. Whether it’s a popular local team or a major national event (like the Super Bowl), going to the DMV on a day when the rest of the world is glued to their TVs is an ideal time for lighter-than-usual lines.
- During a major traffic issue. If there's a major accident nearby or a road shutdown for construction, most people will avoid it. But if you know the roads well enough and can sneak into your DMV without getting stuck in traffic, this is a great time to go.
- During bad weather. Generally it seems that the DMV has much shorter lines than normal during bad weather. If it’s safe to do so, your willingness to brave the elements might mean a quick in-and-out.
Bad Times to Go to the DMV
Here are a few other times you’ll want to avoid the DMV:
- The day after a popular sporting event. For the same reasons the DMV may be empty during a major sporting event, it may be packed the day after. People who would have gone during the event probably put it off until the next day.
- Just prior to an election. Prior to elections, you may also note an uptick in visits to the DMV. As some states enact voter ID laws, even non-drivers may need to travel to the DMV to obtain an official state ID in order to vote in an upcoming election.
- The first nice day after bad weather. Let’s face it, most people don’t want to venture out during a snowstorm or downpour. But on the first nice day after bad weather, many people run errands.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers to other common questions about going to the DMV and what to do while you're waiting.
What’s the Best Time to Go on a Friday?
If you have to go on a Friday, go an hour after the DMV opens to avoid the we-got-out-of-work-early-TGIF crowd.
Why Does the DMV Always Have Long Lines?
If it seems like the DMV always has long lines, that's because it does. Here's what my mother-in-law said caused the most backups when she worked there:
- People who don't come prepared with the right paperwork. (Call ahead or check the website to find out what you need to bring with you).
- People who bring way too much stuff and end up rifling through a stack of papers, wasting time for the people in line behind them.
- Some offices are understaffed or have limited hours due to budget cuts. When the demand for services greatly surpasses the supply, you can expect long lines and lengthy wait times.
- Some states streamline tasks like renewing licenses or registration by offering these services online, but other states have fallen behind on the number and types of services they offer online. Some places still require that many, if not all, tasks be completed in person at the local DMV office.
What’s the Best Time to Call the DMV?
When calling the DMV, long wait times can be avoided by calling at least one hour before lunch, one hour after lunch, and one hour before closing. The DMV’s phone bank is more likely to have the longest wait times when most people are on a break from work.
Is the DMV Open on Weekends?
Different places have different rules regarding weekend hours. Some states have weekend hours for all DMV offices, while others may have only one office open in a particular region or district on the weekends. Call your local DMV for a listing of their weekend hours.
What to Do While Waiting in Line
Double-check that you have everything you need to complete your task, so you don't waste time waiting only to get turned away when it's your turn.
If you're there to take your written driving test, go over your notes one last time, or, if you're feeling anxious, use an app like Calm to do some guided meditation.
If you're there to get your picture taken for your drivers license, turn your phone over to selfie mode and make sure your hair isn't sticking up—they really don't like you to ask for a re-do on the picture.
The DMV's Online Services
Depending on your state, you could avoid the lines entirely by doing your business online. Many states have put a majority of their services online, like license renewals and registration. Likewise, there are some tasks that can be completed at kiosks annexed from the DMV, away from the fray.
Even if you can't complete the whole process online, you may be able to print the necessary forms and get a head start that could shorten your time there. For those who aren't technologically minded, some states' DMV or SOS services can also be completed by mail.
To find out exactly what services are available in your state, go to the DMV website for your state. For a list of DMV websites by state, see this directory.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2018 Kate Stroud
Rosalind Whitescarver on March 05, 2020:
Besides the long waits, I've been very pleased with the staff and service at the Fredericksburg DMV office. Everyone is pleasant, helpful, and professional. I feel the customers get "crabby" from the long waits. The employees are always comforting and helpful.