New Jersey’s most hated bureaucracy: Motor Vehicles Commission

There are many benefits to living in New Jersey.  I live about 30 minutes from Midtown Manhattan (if there’s no traffic), and yet have a nice backyard for the kids to play in.  Our local suburban streets are clean and safe.  We know our neighbors.  And yet we are spitting distance from the Meadowlands and the new Newark Arena, and our local train will get you to Madison Square Garden in about 35 minutes.  Philadelphia is only about a two-hour drive south.  We live an hour from the shore.

Somerville Traffic Circle in New Jersey.
(Courtesy Wikipedia).

The culture of New Jersey is vibrant and diverse, with people from all over the world, of all faiths, living closely together and in harmony.  We are the most population-dense state in the US.  Furthermore, we have the most cars per mile of road in the US.  And we have world-famous jug-handle and traffic-circle intersections that will truly bewilder out-of-staters. New Jersey has spawned the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Woodrow Wilson.  Albert Einstein lived here (though there is no evidence that he could figure out how to navigate the Somerville Traffic Circle, shown at right.).  Now with Republican Chris Christie as our governor and a devoutly Democratic Assembly and Legislature, our corrupt politics make for a fascinating spectator sport.

There are two downsides to living here:

  1. Obscenely high taxes
  2. The NJ Motor Vehicles Commission

There is perhaps no entity more hated and disrespected in New Jersey than Motor Vehicles.  We hate it more than taxes.  Lines in Motor Vehicles here can literally take hours, and the dirty and crowded offices seem to resemble what I imagine prisons or customs inspection stations look like in third-world countries.

Whatever you do, bring the right paperwork to meet the strict requirements of our Kafkaesque 6-point identification system.   Interestingly, you can get a driver’s license with your birth certificate (4-points primary), a social security card (1-point secondary), and a health insurance card (1-point secondary), none of which have a verifiable signature or photo.  (I have to admit that it is somewhat entertaining to watch new residents ruffle through their wallets and pocketbooks, pulling out all sorts of odds and ends to try to meet the Draconian 6-point identification system requirements.  “Wait I have a Lottery Ticket?  Is that good?”  “No, but is that card from your prescription drug plan?  That’ll do.”)  If you don’t have the right paperwork, then you need to run home and find it, and then get to the back of the line.

Best times to go are at the beginning of the month, and in the morning.   You see, when paperwork comes due, pro-active New Jerseyans come at the beginning of the month, in the morning, to get their licenses and registrations.  They are invariably turned away for not meeting the requirements.  Then they return in the afternoons, and later in the month, and these times get very busy.  Never go to MVC at the end of the month or in the afternoon.  You’re better off taking the bus until the beginning of the next month.

Well, our Motor Vehicles Commission now has something else in common with third-world-prisons and customs inspection stations.  You can buy your way out of there for a price:

It seems that several offices in New Jersey (including my own local MVC office in Lodi, NJ) were selling false-ID drivers licenses.  Drivers licenses here (bring your own picture) sell for $2500 to $7000.  Pay your local drivers-license broker, make up a name, any name, sign the forms, and they will take care of the rest.  I assume you don’t even have to wait in line.

What are your experiences with Motor Vehicles offices?


About Mark P. Holtzman

Chair of Accounting Department at Seton Hall University. PhD from The University of Texas at Austin. Worked at Deloitte's New York Office. BSBA from Hofstra University.


  1. I have been going to different NJ DMV/MVC's for the last 16 years. I remember early on during the years that it was the DMV in Springfield NJ it was horrible. I would usually wake up in time to get there at least a half hour before they opened only to see that I needed to get there much earlier to be close to the front of the line. Anything I would need to do at the DMV was a 2 hour minimum that I learned to account for. The people there were miserable and it was just a horrible experience. When the DMV was taken over and changed to the MVC, I remember being incredibly impressed with the service. People were happy, the process was fast. It was great. Recently though I purchased a used car and went to register it at the Springfield MVC. It was again back to the process that I was used to. Angry people who have no desire to be at work at 8:00 in the morning, yelling at people who have no desire to be at the MVC at 8:00 in the morning. You will inevitably do something wrong when you get called up to the counter, and they will highlight something on your form and ask you to fix the highlighted portion and "come right to the front of the line". What they don't tell you is that they are about to take a break, and no one will let you back in the front of the line. I will hope it gets better, but I will always plan for at least two hours of frustration every time I need something from the MVC.

  2. Blackswan87:Having gone to four different DMV’s, here is what I found: The better the socio-economic status of the town, the better and more efficient I found DMV to be. Maybe I shouldn’t divulge these secrets, but I never had any trouble at the DMV in Springfield or the one in Route 46 (I believe it’s in Wayne). DMV is no different than a bank, it’s all about timing (try going to a bank on a Saturday at 11:35am). I found the best times to be either as soon as they open up, or about 2 hours before they close during the week. If you go on a Saturday, you can pretty much kiss your Saturday morning good bye.My experience at a Newark DMV was straight from a horror movie. Employees eating French fries with one hand while touching my documents with the other, rap music in the background, and employees on their cellphones while talking to you.Here is one true horror story:My mom went to a DMV in Elizabeth to renew her license, and after taking her picture, the clerk returned her driver license and the check that she paid with to another person. When she went to complaint, they refused to help her and said that there was nothing they could do about it and she should fill out a form (this is after they punched a hole in her original license, so she couldn’t even drive that day). I ended up picking her up and we went to the Springfield DMV where they took care of everything.

  3. I very much understand why motor vehicle offices are so disliked and seen in a negative light. The whole process is very mechanical and not a pleasant experience for the taxpayers who have to go through the whole process. The point system for example, makes sense, but should not be the end all be all. If you don’t have an address on certain documentation or something irrelevant, they should not give people such a hard time. Also the offices should be better supported to accommodate larger amounts of people who come, especially on the weekends. This would help out people who have 9 to 5 jobs and do not want to wake up in the early morning to go Motor Vehicles and not get turned away if they don't.

  4. I have had some hellacious days at varioua Motor Vehicle Departments both in New Jersey and New York. It seems that no matter what you are going there for and no matter what time of day you go, it is always quite an effort to get in and out. I definitely think the process is in desperate need of streamlining. The technology that is now available to us can surely save plenty of time at the DMV. A lot of the things that you are currently required to go to the DMV should be able to be done at home on the computer, which would prevent alot of the traffic into the DMV.

  5. DMV is one of the government offices that I hate going to. The bureaucratic red tape that you have to break thru makes you feel as if you are doing business in a developing country. From my experience, the DMV staff I dealt with always behaved as though they were doing me a favor and at their discretion, I could be denied service.In my opinion, the DMV needs to invest in training there staff in customer service/relations, instead of technology to track the number of persons being "served" per day.

  6. The bureaucratic red tape at MVC is due to Statute and Legislative Laws. I honestly don't understand why the "Taxpayers" don't get that MVC is a Regulatory Agency. Oh by the way I am a "Taxpayer" as well.

  7. Deborah C. Cusick

    I am furious with them. I mailed my registration renewal on 6/08/13, but the check had not cleared the bank by 6/24/13. So…I had to trek into the local office and pay the $46.50 fee again. The clerk assured me (ha ha) that they would not cash my check if it happened to show up. The MVC would return it. The VERY NEXT DAY, the check cleared my bank. I contacted them through their website and they are insisting that I file a form and provide proof that I overpaid! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? THEY took my money twice, and they think I have to prove it! I contacted the Governor’s Office, who directed me to a Raymond Martinez. I sent him an email. Again today (7/02/13), I received an email from some bureaucrat who insists that is the only way to get my money back from them. I am not letting this go. They have an extra $46.50 of mine SOMEWHERE. Who has it? What are they doing with it? If it happened to me, does it happen to others? The State can’t just keep my money indefinitely. It’s an overpayment. Refund it. Oh, I am so furious right now.

    • Good luck. Whatever you do, don’t deduct it on your state tax return next year.

      • Deborah Cusick

        Hi. I’m not sure what you mean, unless it’s a joke and I’m missing it. Quite possible! I’m a bit calmer now, mostly b/c I know I’ll have to jump through their hoops in order to get my money back. It’s just so dang frustrating. I called MVC Refund Division today and told the person that I was going to dispute the charge on my credit card and they should find the money and show it as payment for my registration. She informed me that if I did that, MVC would suspend both my registration and license. Nice!

  8. Bella

    If you think it is difficult dealing with them in person, try doing it from out of state…

    Two years ago (while on furlough in the U.S. from work in an African country) I went to the California DMV to renew my license. Having lived in California for over 20 years, what a SURPRISE it was for me to find out I could not get it because of some “issues” in New Jersey.

    The information they (CA DMV) gave me lead to an old accident in Roxsbury (which had been concluded in 1985) & 9 parking tickets from East Orange (spanning 1986-1988). Although I had not technically lived in NJ since 1986, I had given my car to a family member who, unfortunately, had not taken responsibility for the tickets.

    In the end, although I was able to prove that was not even present in NJ (during ANY of the times tickets were given), the car was in my name – so the tickets were mine.

    In the end, the tickets were paid.

    That was about 2 months ago and WHO KNEW concluding this (monies having been paid) would be SUCH A NIGHTMARE!

    If you are out of state, they have you call a number (609-633-9450), where, it is stated, they will get back to you in 7 – 10 business days. They ask for specific information (all of which I have left twice) and TELL you NOT to call a second time as it leads to confusion.

    Here’s the problem, however.

    THEY NEVER CALL YOU BACK!!! (At least not in my case.)

    I called 6 weeks ago (after talking to a lot of other people in NJ). Left the information. Waited.

    After 3 weeks, I called again and repeated the process.

    That was almost a month ago and I still have not heard from these people.

    During that time, I have gone to the CA DMV once (they said NJ has to close out these situations on the National Directory), and made (and cancelled) appointments twice to secure my license.

    My question is — having done what I was supposed to do, how does a person get around this?

    They have ALL of the information they need. (They even had to give me my NJ license number. If you’ve lived in half a dozen or more places — would you be able to remember yours after 25 years?)

    This has been a nightmare!!!

    Having lived in CA since 1988 (I lived in Europe before then – just in case you are wondering about all of these time lapses), their DMV is much, much more efficient.

    What a pain this has been…

  9. Alexa Jones

    I was the DMV at Lodi NJ. I bring all of the six poiint requirements. I was coming from another state not a foreign country. I had all documentation and was past by two checkpoints. Is this wartime? At the last checkpoint they refused me a license because my name was abreviated on my previous license. They also proceeded to ask me what country I was from. I had a US passport but knot a birth certificificate. They told me that it was a courtesy and a privilege to get a New Jersey license without taking another test. I have my out of state license for over 30 years. I was arguing with them trying to state that they were not logical and the police officer walked over and shut me up. I walked out.

    • It’s oppressive. I’m not sure if it’s true, but supposedly one or more of the 9/11 hijackers used false id to get a NJ drivers license. They could have taught the people there how to recognize false id. Instead we all have live with this insane point system.

    • Bella

      I received a letter about their point system and have done nothing. Rather than submitting to their Draconian idea of what constitutes “appropriate identification” I am planning on writing to the New Jersey Governor and contacting the Senator for California.

      Really! When you think about ALL of the hoops you need to jump through to get an American passport — you would think if you were born in the U.S. (and your mother was born here, and her mother, and her mother and her mother…) that you would not have to jump through so many hoops but THIS is what happens when the “spirit of lawlessness” (not properly enforcing written law for the few so you end up writing stupid laws for the many – most of whom should not be treated in the same manner as though who do not respect the law).

      It’s really ridiculous and, sadly, where the U.S. is headed.

  10. Kael Montas

    wow it helped me a lot. thanks

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