Car stuff -- moving to Cali
August 20, 2011 1:58 PM   Subscribe

I just moved to California. Tell me every automobile-related thing I should know.

I recently moved to LA. I currently have Missouri license plates and a Missouri registration and a Missouri driver's license. At some point, I need to get everything related to my car to be California instead of Missouri. (Going strictly by the book, I know I should have transferred everything already.) Please help me in this regard!

This is my first car (a 2001 Nissan Altima). I bought it this past January and registered it in Missouri. Assume that you're talking to someone who knows absolutely nothing about cars, about registration, about insurance, about everything.

I am currently a AAA member, though not AAA of Southern California. (If I go into a AAA office, will they walk me through things step by step?)

Before I moved to LA, I took my car to the shop to get the oil changed. Immediately after I left the mechanic, the "Service Engine Soon" light popped on. Because the light turned on right after the mechanic changed the oil, the mechanic did a free diagnostic check. The problem is the following: "PO 1446 evap vent solenoid actuation." I have not yet taken any actions with regard to this problem. I have a feeling that this may make the car fail an emissions test -- but again, you're talking to an ignorant person. I see many signs for "Smog Check" around LA, but I don't really know the details. I gather that California has higher emissions standards than other states -- but one more time: blergh, this is not really my thing.

This whole situation is making me antsy -- and then the more I Google, the more anxious I get. I know I should just LMGTFY everything, and maybe it's ridiculous that I need handholding -- but still: hold my hand. Walk me through it.


Please consider my questions as broadly as possible. However, in particular, I am wondering:

1) What do I do about this "evap vent solenoid actuation"?
2) What is the process by which I get everything about my car legally California-ized? (Consider license, registration, emissions, insurance, and anything else I'm not thinking of.)

But again, imagine you're talking to some who knows NOTHING. A point-by-point list of "Do this, and then this, and then this" would be VERY much appreciated!

[Also consider one other thing -- I have limited funds, and none immediately coming in, either. I'm afraid that I will have to pay huge amounts of money (for the "evap vent"? for registration? for new insurance? for who knows what else?) and that rent and food situations will become very tricky, very quickly.]
posted by lewedswiver to Travel & Transportation around California (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You won't pass smog check with the check engine light on.
If you're low on funds, I'd keep the other plates until you have the money to register and smog your car.this is against the law, but I know many people that never registered (for years) with no problems.
posted by k8t at 2:08 PM on August 20, 2011

The evaporation vent solenoid is not operating correctly, and the engine computer has
detected it. It could be that a connector to the solenoid was dislodged as a result of
the oil change. Locate this solenoid in your car, and check the connections to it.

As to the other part,
posted by the Real Dan at 2:08 PM on August 20, 2011

PS, the California DMV website has everything you need to know.
posted by k8t at 2:09 PM on August 20, 2011

Go get your CA license now. You have 10 days to get a CA license when you move into the state. If you get pulled over, and show your Missouri license, you risk getting a ticket for being an unlicensed driver.
posted by Joh at 2:10 PM on August 20, 2011

I sold a 79' Jeep as it was originally bought in Nevada (hardly any emission laws) and could not sneak it through anymore. I forewarned the person I sold it to. He was in military with 6 months off and was going to rebuild it as a project. It was not an issue for him as he was from Florida and could register it there.

If you need a lot done with emissions, I would suggest to keep vehicle registered in Missouri until you have the funds to take care of it.

The good thing about L.A. is you can be as weird as you want and nobody minds.
posted by goalyeehah at 2:11 PM on August 20, 2011

Response by poster: Okay, again, total newbie here.

What does "smog your car" mean?
posted by lewedswiver at 2:17 PM on August 20, 2011

AAA can definitely help you sort this all out. I'd go to one of their offices and have someone explain everything to you step by step - that's going to be a lot more useful than getting piecemeal advice from people on metafilter.

That said! I have things to tell you.

One thing to consider is that your insurance is going to go up. A LOT. When I moved from St. Louis to California, it more than doubled. That, coupled with the fact that your car will probably need some kind of repair to pass the smog check, means you should probably wait as long as you legally can to change your registration.

Also, one fun quirk about LA is that the DMV is a total nightmare situation basically all the time. They recommend you call ahead for an appointment when you need to go there, and I highly encourage you to do so.
posted by something something at 2:21 PM on August 20, 2011

"Smog your car" means get a smog check done.

The longer you are in CA without registering the car, the higher the registration fees become. Get the smog stuff taken care of soon so you can get the car registered.

Make an appointment online at the DMV website when you want to register your car. Don't just walk in.
posted by twblalock at 2:42 PM on August 20, 2011

Response by poster: The longer you are in CA without registering the car, the higher the registration fees become.

Why is that? And how do they know how long you've been in CA?
posted by lewedswiver at 2:46 PM on August 20, 2011

You should definitely check out the CA DMV website. Lots of good information there. Also, you should definitely call AAA ASAP! Switch yourself over to the Southern-California branch, and basically ask them to help you sort everything out. I can't get over how helpful AAA is for everything vehicle-related here. I plan to never ever go to the DMV again (and with good reason—it is the worst nightmare).

There is no way this will ever work for you, but when I moved here it wasn't until my first trip back home (several months later) that I was able to bring my vehicle out with me to get properly registered. *wink, wink*
In other words, they can't know unless you fuck up somehow and get pulled over or otherwise ticketed. BEWARE PARKING SIGNAGE!
posted by carsonb at 3:11 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

The one thing you don't want to do is have a CA drivers license and drive a car still registered some place else. Technically if you're a student you don't need to switch. I know people who did this (some legitimately as students and others just to save $ on insurance) and when they got parking tickets or other tickets (cell phone) were never questioned. The person I know who got busted had a CA drivers license and out of state car registration.

The friend who kept her out of state license and registration got a CA state ID (ie not a license, but still issued by CA). What she did is entirely not legal, but she lived like that for 3 or 4 years without problems before moving out of state.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:21 PM on August 20, 2011

As for parking tickets (hell, even getting towed for parking in the wrong spot) with out of state plates, nothing happened other than the usual fines. Pay those on time and it should be ok.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:24 PM on August 20, 2011

I have done this. While the DMV website has all of the information, it is sort of scatter shotted all over the place.

1) Get your license. Bring in whatever documentation is needed per the DMV website. You will be tested on the basic rules of the road with a multiple choice exam.

2) You need to get a smog inspection, but get whatever is wrong with your car fixed first. Any illuminated warning light, even if it's not engine or emissions related, is an automatic fail.

3)After the car is fixed, get your emissions test done. Any station that has the "Smog Check" sign should be fine, but a lot of places get reviewed on Yelp if you want to narrow the choices. It'll cost a little under $100. You will need to get the car re-smogged periodically in the future. Modern cars usually have little trouble passing smog, so long as everything is working.

4)With smog inspection certificate in hand, you have to make the dreaded slog for the worst DMV visit ever, where one of their folks will also visually inspect your car. MAKE AN APPOINTMENT ONLINE. If you have any aftermarket modifications related to intake, engine, or pre-catalytic converter exhaust, go back to stock or make them look stock. The fees for this are on their website. When you go in to fill out the registration paperwork, make sure you have all of the information from the online calculator, including info regarding purchase price and taxes paid.

5)Even if your insurance from MO is with a national insurer (i.e. State Farm, Allstate, etc.), you still need to change your agent to someone local. That should just be a phone call and some details.

posted by hwyengr at 3:46 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

And one more thing I forgot. DMV mails your new license to your address and just issues a temporary paper license on the spot. And since they punched a hole through my out-of-state license, I had trouble buying beer at the grocery store as they wouldn't accept the paper or punched license as proof of age. So in the interim, carry some other valid proof of age (like a passport) if you're going to need it.
posted by hwyengr at 4:09 PM on August 20, 2011

AAA is different by state and region. You'll also need to sign up specifically with the one for your part of California.
posted by ZeusHumms at 4:30 PM on August 20, 2011

"Smog your car" means get a smog check done

And a smog check means an emissions inspection. Service stations which perform them have a red, whirte and blue sign that says, Smog Check.

And how do they know how long you've been in CA?

They ask you when you moved, at the DMV. Remember the date you tell them, it will be useful for your records come tax time.
posted by Rash at 4:44 PM on August 20, 2011

AAA is easily worth the money--any DMV is like a lower rung of hell.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:45 PM on August 20, 2011

Welcome to California! Not sure what the laws are like in MO, but talking/texting on your phone while driving is illegal in California and you must wear your seatbelt.
posted by wherever, whatever at 6:43 PM on August 20, 2011

Have you considered selling the car before you move?

It's going to cost several hundred dollars to get the solenoid fixed, another couple hundred for the gas to drive it out here, a hundred or so for the smog test, and then another few hundred for the out of state transfer and registration fees, assuming you pass emissions testing.

You're looking at about $1000 just to get it out here. A quick search of STL's Craigslist shows 2001 Altimas selling for $4000 to $5000. That's more than enough to fly you out here and buy you a car that's from CA already.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:41 AM on August 21, 2011

Oh, I missed the part where you're already here. That sucks dude.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:42 AM on August 21, 2011

Anecdotally, my wife has friends who have made the move to California with their car and, universally, have lamented the expense of getting their 49-state-emissions car converted to pass the California requirements. A 2001, non-California (or non-50-state) car, will almost certainly fail inspection, even if it's in perfect running order.

I recently asked a very similar question on the green and the general consensus was to sell the car before the move and buy a Cali-legal car once relocated. Of course, you are already out there, so that point is moot.

I don't believe you can legally sell a car that isn't Cali-legal, anyway (California residents, please correct me here, if I'm mistaken). So, you might as well take to an inspection and see what all you're going to have to do to it to get it legal.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:04 AM on August 21, 2011

A 2001, non-California (or non-50-state) car, will almost certainly fail inspection, even if it's in perfect running order.

Disagree. My 2000 Corolla was purchased in Missouri and always passed the LA smog tests with no issues.
posted by something something at 7:13 AM on August 21, 2011

Call the DMV or your insurance carrier- they can answer all of your questions.
posted by TheBones at 7:24 AM on August 21, 2011

Re: being a pre-2001 non-Cal car - our 1991 Volvo wagon we brought from NY in 2004 passes smog every time.
We completely agree that AAA membership is essential. You can do many DMV tasks right there. We registered the car there and turned over our NY plates for CA without an appointment in a very pleasant atmosphere.
posted by krikany at 9:58 AM on August 21, 2011

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