Make my car Cali legal
August 3, 2011 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Movin'-to-California-Filter. Taking a car edition...

My son has a long-term plan to move to California, hopefully as soon as next year. He's working extra shifts to save the cash he's going to need.

He plans to drive out in a rented truck, trailering his car behind. Ignoring, for now, my enormous parental concern over the whole "first-time big rental truck driver with car in-tow negotiating the Rockies" aspect of this plan, I have a car-related question for those MeFites who may have made the same sort of trek.

Did you make sure your car met California emissions requirements before you made the trip, or did you do it once you got out there?

We live in a state with NO emissions testing and, given the age and state of the boy's car, I'm somewhat certain it probably doesn't meet Cali emissions (even if it started life as a 50-state car.)

Is there also a basic safety requirement that a car has to meet?

If it matters, he plans to move-in with a friend living somewhere in the general Bay Area.

posted by Thorzdad to Travel & Transportation around California (30 answers total)
Just my two cents, but if I were in this situation I would put my stuff in a moving pod and drive the car out. Safer and probably cheaper with the price of gas. Get a place to live, then have the moving pod delivered. You can pack the pods yourself, and have them delivered to a self storage business.
posted by effluvia at 9:11 AM on August 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

I took the southern route in '95. The biggest consumer Ryder, towing a Honda Accord on a half trailer. Only big issue was that the truck air conditioner went out in Needles. I looked at the map, said "how bad can it be", and... well... got off at every exit between there and Mojave to get the biggest drink container the convenience store sold, filled with ice, and drove using the engine thermometer, not the speedometer, as my limiter.

Car registration wise, I'd call the DMV and find out what the rules are, but if it's post '97 (ie: has an OBD-II computer) and the "Check Engine" light hasn't been on recently you're probably fine. I don't remember whether or not you'll end up paying a premium on registration for the formerly out of state, you did when I moved in but they later refunded some of that.
posted by straw at 9:16 AM on August 3, 2011

Seconding using a PODS or similar service. I used ABF when I moved to Texas from Wisconsin about a year ago, and it was a huge weight (pun intended) off my shoulders knowing that I only had to drive my Honda Civic the 1200+ miles as opposed to a big moving truck that I was not used to.
posted by King Bee at 9:17 AM on August 3, 2011

I just got my car emissions checked in-state, but neither of my cars were of especial concern. One of mine is over 10 years old and met it with no problem. I'm actually not sure if you even could get your car California emissions tested outside of California, though I imagine there's a way. They do a walk-around type inspection just to make sure the very basic safety equipment (lights, turn signals, etc.) works, or did a couple years back when I did there.

I don't know where he's coming from, but if you want to ease your mind on the Rockies thing, suggest he head down to I-10 and take it across rather than going through the mountains. It still gets a bit hilly, but it's not as bad as the other passes through the Rockies (having driven them all). Though I'd rather use PODS, as others have suggested, and just drive myself.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:20 AM on August 3, 2011

Years ago I bought a ten year old Honda Accord from my Dad in Colorado and brought it to California. It sailed through the smog test without a hitch, and continues to do so to this day.

The car will need to be inspected by the DMV before registration. More information here. The inspection probably varies a great deal based on the actual person doing the inspecting- mine seemed kind of perfunctory at the time, and said nothing about the tinted windows that eventually got me a fix-it ticket from a grouchy CHP officer. YMMV.

As an aside, we've also used the Door-to-Door pod-type service and were very pleased.

Also be sure he knows that he is supposed to register the car within 20 days of moving to California.
posted by ambrosia at 9:21 AM on August 3, 2011

Response by poster: I hadn't thought about the PODS thing. He doesn't have a ton of stuff, but it still might be cheaper than renting a van all the way out.

Of course, with his luck with his car, it'll die in the middle of Kansas. '97 VW Jetta, btw. Coming from Indiana.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:21 AM on August 3, 2011

- There are plenty of places in the Bay Area where a car is very needed
- The DMV will require a smog test in order to get the car registered. The smog test is done at a gas station/oil change place or similar retail place. Either it passes or it fails and can't be registered. It will normally fail because something is wrong with it -- failing part, loose parts, etc.
- Once I had my smog test and an appointment at the DMV (to save lots of hours), someone from the DMV walked out with me to the car to make sure the tail lights/brake lights worked and the VIN matched
- There was an extra fee for cars that were sold to be compliant with other state's emissions, but not California's, but they would have let me bring it in
- The registration for cars was much higher here than it had ever been for me in the Midwest, but they've dropped that a bit. Still make sure he expects to pay a bit

I've seen some really crappy cars pass, so unless it's dangerous or he's towing it because he also doesn't think it'll make the drive on its own, there's a good chance it'll pass.

I hope they're not going the way through Reno (the northern way in) with a rental truck and car during anything close to cold months. It's more scary than dangerous -- but not for the faint of heart or bad of breaks. I've done a car and I've done a rental truck, but not both at once.

There are better months than others to move to the Bay Area, based on student sublet availability, weather (not just here, but along the way) and job openings. I'm sure he's starting to look at Craigslist to get a sense of housing costs, towns/neighborhoods and to make plans, but just in case, yeah, do that.
posted by Gucky at 9:22 AM on August 3, 2011

You might have him look into shipping the car, honestly. Having moved long distance several times, it's usually about break-even once you factor in the hotel stays, gas, and food along the way, though you do have to rent one on the other end until they get it to you and the process is shady as hell. Still, if breaking down in the middle of nowhere is a concern, it's something to consider.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:26 AM on August 3, 2011

Definitely PODS or ABF U-Pack.

Another way it's cheaper is that because he'd be driving at car speeds instead of rental-truck speeds, he'd probably spend one or two fewer nights in a hotel on the way, and one or two fewer days eating road food.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:28 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

That it's newer than a '96 is good news, since that means that it's OBD-II (On Board Diagnostics) compliant. If none of the warning lights are illuminated on the dashboard, there's a good chance it'll pass.
posted by hwyengr at 9:31 AM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

California used to have a smog impact fee but it was illegal and they had to refund money. My gf had to pay it and she got a refund. The way it works now is: a used car coming from another state is OK if it meets 49-state smog requirements but a car with less than 7500 miles on it is considered new and it has to meet CA smog rules.

Looking on VW-specific enthusiasts' boards is probably a good way of anticipating problems with smog checks.
posted by jet_silver at 9:43 AM on August 3, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, jet_silver. That bit about only having to meet the 49-state requirement is good to know.
My next step would be to ask over on VW Vortex...But those guys can be a bit...difficult...sometimes.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:48 AM on August 3, 2011

I think we're missing a sense of budget. PODS may be cheap relative to other moving services, but they still cost several thousand for a cross-country move. I'm picturing your son as a recent grad - does he *really* have a truck worth of stuff that is valuable enough to make it worth the expense and hassle of moving across country? I've said it before, but I'm 28, and my husband's 30, and we did this move recently. One Scion tC filled to the brim, 5 boxes sent media mail, 5 boxes sent FedEx ground, and 2 suitcases. So I come at this from a pretty thrifty angle, possibly closer to where your son's at financially.

I think registering the car cost under $200, without the cost of smogging it. If you can get the car smog-checked in your existing state, it might provide the confidence that it'll actually pass in CA. If so, he should register it as soon as he gets here, since the process is painful and the DMV isn't open weekends. If a local mechanic says the car probably won't pass.. then it becomes a question of how much the cost would be vs buying a used car here, I suppose. But I would't think the car's age alone would mean it will fail inspection.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:55 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

deludingmyself makes an excellent point. While PODS seems rather convenient, they are not budget friendly. A majority of my peers (we're all academics) cannot afford it. I imagine your son most definitely can't.

So I'd suggest packing all all the books, dvds and printed material in boxes marked media mail. The remaining important* stuff can go via fedex. If he does not know where he would be living, he could leave the boxes with you to ship. This will be far cheaper than using a moving company.

* When considering cross country moves, several items that your son might own could be purchased for the cost of shipping (or lower) in the bay area. So it may not be worth moving at all.
posted by babby╩╝); Drop table users; -- at 10:02 AM on August 3, 2011

DMV's answer page for bringing in a 'new' vehicle is here.

And driving I-80 (Salt Lake - Reno - Sacramento) even with a trailer is not a horrible idea. The grades are reasonable and you don't have to drive through the friggin' desert. There are big grades on I-15 too, etc ....
posted by zomg at 10:07 AM on August 3, 2011

Also seconding Gucky's point about not going across 80 with stuff in tow in the winter time. I've had two near death experiences and would not recommend it for a first-time big rental truck driver.
posted by babby╩╝); Drop table users; -- at 10:07 AM on August 3, 2011

Oh. Winter? No, don't do 80 in winter.
Also Ambrosia also already posted my link
/useless today, sorry
posted by zomg at 10:09 AM on August 3, 2011

Seconding deludingmyself. Having done a cross-country move when I was 24, I came with only things I could fit in my car driving a 4-door sedan. I even had room for a passenger who came with as company. Only stuff that came with me was: clothing, computers, books, a couple of toys, bedding, bathroom necessities and one case full of personal belongings. Keep one bag separate and easy to access for stops along the way. Furniture can be cheap if you know how to buy used and use craigslist. Same goes for things like kitchen equipment. Budget in a large grocery run to get a base once he's moved into a place, somewhere around $300 for food, cleaning supplies, storage, etc. Never once did I miss a stick of furniture or junk that I left behind.

As for emissions: the majority of cars are built to California emissions specs. California emissions law is the model legislation. In general, as long as the check engine light is off and the car isn't putting out smoke it should pass. You should still have him take the car to a mechanic for an inspection prior to the trip. Nothing is more of a bummer than being in the middle of a desert with a broken down car containing all of your worldly posessions.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:10 AM on August 3, 2011

I did 80 in late April with the aforementioned Honda, and it was a lot closer to winter driving conditions than one might expect. I was fine in the Honda (and heck, I grew up driving in Colorado, mountains in winter were no biggie for me) but I wouldn't want to contemplate that in a u-haul truck. Nope.

And yes, your son should purge his possessions mercilessly in Indiana before moving. Most furniture is fungible and easily replaced- boil it down to things that are really needed or not easily replaceable. The rest of it is just stuff.
posted by ambrosia at 10:14 AM on August 3, 2011

Is there also a basic safety requirement that a car has to meet?

If you mean one of those 20-point kind of annual checks you need before you can register your car, then no, we don't have those.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:27 AM on August 3, 2011

People have covered the other basics, so I will give you my one additional tip: before he leaves, have him go to the tax office/registration entity, and get whatever proof of registration they offer. I assume from your description that this is a paid-off car, but he might want to go ahead and get a title report to check/show that there are no lienholders (because if that info is wrong, it'll be a bitch to clear up from CA).

It's taken us over a month, including having a friend go to the tax office in Texas for us, to get one of our cars registered. It requires appointments and waiting rooms. You don't want to have to leave and start over because you're short a piece of paper.

We did use a PODS, the big one ran about $2500 Dallas-San Diego. They make much smaller ones if he has a very few things he wants to take, but I'm with the other folks: he doesn't sound old enough to own heirloom furniture. They've got IKEA in the Bay Area, I believe. They definitely have thrift stores, and he'll have to have roommates anyway. (Also, has he priced one-way Uhaul/Ryder rentals? Not cheap. Costs way more than a bed.)
posted by Lyn Never at 10:59 AM on August 3, 2011

Unless the car has been horridly maintained and is about to die, it should pass emissions standards. A simple once-over by a mechanic should be enough to pinpoint any potential issues. The car will, however, be difficult to sell once your son is in California. Nobody here wants to buy a car that's endured the rigors of Midwestern winters, among other issues. So if he has any sense that he may want to get rid of it before it runs into the ground completely, he is much better off doing that in Indiana than out here.

This is completely unrelated to your question, but I would point out to your son that selling unnecessary possessions not only saves the cost of moving them, it increases his cash on hand to fund the move. If he gets enthusiastic enough about this, the whole question of the truck in the Rockies may well become moot.

I just did a NY/Bay Area move, and took next to no furniture with me. There's Craigslist, thrift stores, and son will not sleep on the floor.
posted by psycheslamp at 11:07 AM on August 3, 2011

Did you make sure your car met California emissions requirements before you made the trip, or did you do it once you got out there?

I've moved from back East to California twice (and once in the other direction).
The second time doesn't count (as I was driving a car I'd bought in California) but the first time, no, I didn't give California emission requirements a second thought, and had a little trouble getting it to pass, but that was because it was an old VW whose engine had been slightly modified.

Is there also a basic safety requirement that a car has to meet?
If there is, it's cursory at best. A CA DMV guy came out with me and verified the VIN, but there was nothing like I've experienced in VA, where they check brakes, lights and even headlight alignment.

And... count me among those shaking their heads at the 'renting a truck and towing the car' plan -- just fill the vehicle to bursting, and drive on out -- it's the traditional way; all that extra stuff can be shipped later or obtained out here.
posted by Rash at 11:24 AM on August 3, 2011

I'm gonna nth deludingmyself. Especially if he's moving in with a friend, the friend will probably have all sorts of things your son won't need right away -- pots and pans, silverware, dishes -- and it will be much cheaper to buy a bed and a few things in California than to ship them out. I did a 1000 mile move back in 2005 in a coupe stuffed to the brim with clothes, linens, toiletries, and my brother, and bought everything else I needed when I arrived, sleeping on an air matress until I could afford a real bed.

If he's dead-set on renting a truck and hauling the car, it might be worth it for your peace of mind to see if a friend or relative could ride along and then buy them a one-way plane ticket back. That's what I did with my brother!
posted by jabes at 11:46 AM on August 3, 2011

I moved from Austin to San Diego and ended up just packing my car to the gills (it is a 2008 Jetta) instead of moving my stuff. I got estimates for renting a Ryder/U-haul setup and also a PODS/U-Pak (smallest size). Either way the cost would be over $2,000 and I just didn't feel my stuff (ikea and discount furniture) was worth it. I'd rather spend $2,000 or less on all new (or new to me) stuff. I mean why take up space moving an end table that Ikea sells for $7?

It was a great feeling to get rid of so much old stuff. Going through the closet and asking myself if I'm really every going to wear a shirt or pants again? If I really need that mass market book? I had definitely take, maybe take, and shitcan as my three categories for my stuff. Looking through the maybe category until they became definite or shitcan wasn't as hard as I thought.

Since my car was relatively new, it had no problem passing the emissions test. Based on the amount of cars of your son's model year on the road, I don't think it will be much of a problem to pass. There is no safety inspection but as Rash says, when go to register the car at the DMV, someone has to go out and compare the VIN to what is on your title/registration/insurance/application to make sure it is the same car. There isn't a safety inspection like I had to did in Texas. I made an appointment in advance and got the car registered and got my driver's license in an hour.
posted by birdherder at 11:48 AM on August 3, 2011

I think we're missing a sense of budget. PODS may be cheap relative to other moving services, but they still cost several thousand for a cross-country move.

Yes, but renting a truck from Indiana to California plus renting the trailer to tow the car plus buying the gas to drive that far plus staying a few nights in hotels plus paying for road food every day really adds up fast.

I just checked and ABF says about $1300 to move one of their PODS-oid containers from Indianapolis to LA on 8/23.

To the extent that you mean just packing the VW with what will fit and buying the rest of the stuff when he gets there, sure, fine. But these things really have been cheaper (and more convenient, and safer) than driving a van in my experience.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:10 PM on August 3, 2011

You might have him look into shipping the car, honestly. Having moved long distance several times, it's usually about break-even once you factor in the hotel stays, gas, and food along the way, though you do have to rent one on the other end until they get it to you and the process is shady as hell

The process of having your car shipped shouldn't be "shady as hell," but it's not cheap either. I suppose if you find a really cheap way to do it, that might explain the "shady as hell" part... For a car with a value as low as the car in question here, it might be more cost effective to just sell it and buy a different one on the other end. However, as someone who sold my (2000) Jetta in January and misses it terribly, I understand the hesitation...
posted by sharding at 12:40 PM on August 3, 2011

CA resident here - we just had an older car (a '98) given to us from out of state and had to do the whole thing. I think other posters here are a bit too optimistic about the smog check - it actually doesn't take much for a car to fail - depending, of course, to some extent on the place you take it*. It's true that if it runs well and has no idiot lights on, that's a pretty good indication it'll pass, but it's no guarantee. And as I discovered in researching the issue, there's really no way to get a car tested anywhere outside of CA to make sure it'll pass the test here.

I think jet_silver has misread the DMV info at his link - in certain limited circumstances, a 49-state vehicle can waive the smog test, but even then it's iffy. Perhaps the biggest catch there is the catalytic converter. Call the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) at 800-952-5210, and/or the California Air Resources Board (ARB) at 800-242-4450. Talk to an actual person, who (in my experience) is very knowledgeable about the ins and outs and will give it to you straight.

My bottom line opinion - don't bother bringing the car, get here another way and buy a car. Cali is so crazy with the regulations sometimes it's easier to just avoid them (just buy a car here) rather than try to navigate them (bring in a car and maybe get it approved).

*He may well be able to find a place that will let a car slide if it's pretty close, probably for an extra fee.
posted by attercoppe at 3:11 PM on August 3, 2011

Forgot to mention also that new residents now have 10 days, not 20, to get their driver's licenses. From the site, emphasis added:

"Residency is established in a variety of ways, including the following:

Being registered to vote in California elections.
Paying resident tuition at a California college or university.
Filing for a home owner's property tax exemption.
Receiving any other privilege or benefit not ordinarily extended to nonresidents."
posted by attercoppe at 3:17 PM on August 3, 2011

My bottom line opinion - don't bother bringing the car, get here another way and buy a car. Cali is so crazy with the regulations sometimes it's easier to just avoid them (just buy a car here) rather than try to navigate them (bring in a car and maybe get it approved).

and if it doesn't pass, impossible to sell. If he can sell it where he lives, it might just be easier to fly out and buy a vehicle here. Or just drive the moving truck, if he really needs all his stuff.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:58 PM on August 3, 2011

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