By Sarah Mizes-Tan
Editor's note: After this article was originally published March 26, the DMV announced it would close all field officers starting March 27 and would extend registration deadlines for some drivers. We've updated our answers to reflect that.
After an employee at a Department of Motor Vehicles office in Riverside tested positive for COVID-19, the DMV has closed all offices statewide to appointments and visits, effective Friday, March 27 until Thursday, April 2. All in-office appointments are canceled indefinitely.
Even before then, we'd received questions about how the coronavirus could impact the DMV and driving in California. CapRadio spoke with experts to answer your questions:
When will the DMV be open?
All DMV offices are closed for the time being. Customers can complete transactions such as license renewals and registration renewals online, or they can visit the DMV virtually starting on April 2.
Starting April 2, when the DMV re-opens, it will be virtual-only via a site called virtual.dmv.ca.gov. The virtual site will start by serving customers who might have needed to complete title transfers or complex registration renewal, two tasks that previously had to be completed in person. The department hopes to expand its virtual service to other tasks that previously had to be completed in-person as well.
Have any DMV registration deadlines changed?
Yes and no. Seniors over 70 who have a license that expires between March 1 and May 31, 2020 will be given a 120-day extension to renew to keep them from having to make an in-person DMV visit. Drivers who have safe driving records will be given a 60-day waiver on renewing their license in-person, beginning March 30. This would also temporarily waive in-person renewals for identification cards. Starting on April 8, these drivers will also be able to complete a license renewal online here.
The DMV also asked that law enforcement be more lenient with citing people with expired registrations or licenses until May 14. You can also renew both these items online through DMV Online Services or DMV Anytime.
All behind-the-wheel driver's tests had already been canceled through April 17.
I need to get a STAR station smog check in order to renew my vehicle registration. I am a senior living alone. Should I risk going out?
The DMV advises that seniors follow the quarantine orders put forth for people over the age of 65 and those who may be categorized as high risk.
If you have a recently expired license or vehicle registration, the DMV has instituted a 60-day grace period through May 14, 2020, when people can reschedule visits to renew these items. The same will be done with vehicles needing smog checks.
“The DMV has taken a number of steps to protect seniors from having to come to a DMV office, including asking California law enforcement to exercise discretion before issuing citations for driving with a recently expired license or vehicle registration,” said Anita Gore with the DMV, prior to Thursday's announcement of statewide closures.
Are they doing things to make it safe to go to offices?
All offices are closed to the public for the time being. The DMV will be cleaning their offices before employees return to work on April 1, but there will be no in-person appointments.
Previously, the DMV had been taking steps such as offering text services so people could wait outside, reduced lobby seating to uphold social distancing, stopped taking walk-ins and curtailed hours.
Is the deadline for REAL ID being pushed back?
Yes, the federal government has pushed this deadline back a year, to October 1, 2021.
How often should you drive your car to keep it in working condition?
Experts say letting your car sit for a few days without being driven shouldn’t be a big deal, but that those who plan to not use their car for weeks or months should plan to run the engine once every two weeks.
Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader said the biggest issue an undriven car could have during this time would be losing its battery charge. But if owners have a car battery charger they can use once a week, their car should be just fine not being driven.
“You could go half a year without starting your car, and if it’s on a battery there will be almost no negative effect to it,” Brauer said.
For owners without a battery charger, he suggests a quick drive once every two weeks to keep the battery working.
“Start the car and let it run, ideally you’d start it and drive it around for probably 15 minutes, until you see the engine temperature get up to the fully operating zone, and then go back to your house and re-park it again. If you did that every two weeks, you could do that indefinitely as long as you had gas in the car,” he said.
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