If you don’t read anything else before moving to Los Angeles, read the rules of the DMV. Take it to heart, memorize it, print it out and stick it to your refrigerator. Most everybody I know who has moved to Los Angeles has learned the hard way and has paid hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in fines. Your car can be booted and towed, impounded or even sold at an auction, just for not paying attention. Los Angeles, its suburbs and surrounding areas have some of the strictest parking regulations and highest fines I have ever seen anywhere. It has nothing to do with public safety and is all about generating revenue and perpetuating a bureaucracy. In addition to that, California has strict smog regulations and some of the highest car registration fees in the country. It all can be a bit overwhelming to people first coming here. This is part of the price we pay to live in nice weather.
To begin with I take this directly from the California DMV website:
Fees must be paid within 20 days of entry or residency to avoid penalties. Any vehicle owned by a California resident must be registered within 20 days of entry into California unless a special permit was obtained. Nonresidents whose vehicles are properly registered to them in their home state or jurisdiction may operate their vehicles in California until they:
Accept gainful employment in California.
Claim a homeowner’s exemption in California.
Rent or lease a residence in California.
Intend to live or be located here on a permanent basis (for example, acquire a California driver license, acquire other licenses not ordinarily extended to a nonresident, registered to vote).
Enroll in an institution of higher learning as a California resident or enroll their dependents in school (K-12).
NOTE: Nonresident military personnel stationed in California or their spouses may operate their vehicles with valid out-of-state license plates from their home state or the state where the military person was last stationed.
You have twenty days. That is not a lot of time. Don’t think you are going to be able to drive your car with Iowa plates indefinitely. You will be pulled over, and guess when it is going to happen? The time that you leave the happy hour and have had one cocktail too many and then you get to enter California’s criminal justice system, but that is another topic. The point is, don’t wait. Get your car legally registered within California as soon as possible. You can make an appointment with the DMV to lessen the wait time. You will have to get a minimum level of liability insurance which you can purchase online. You will also have to pass a smog inspection. As soon as you move to California start doing these things. Don’t wait, or mark my words, you will be sorry. Here is a link to the DMV website for locations and other important information.
You will also need to get your California Driver’s license right away. Some people just automatically think of these things and they never have a problem, but others, particularly young people tend to put DMV issues off until they get situated and get a job, etc. That is a mistake. The DMV and various government agencies have all of the power here, and they want to take your money and your car, and they have the laws in place to do just that. I have known so many people from other states who have run into major problems with the state because they didn’t get their cars registered, insured, and smogged properly.
The fine for driving without insurance is over $1000. Almost every other traffic violation from speeding to making an illegal U-turn is a minimum of $270 fine. If you fail to appear for a traffic violation, you will receive another charge and the fines quadruple. It is pretty hard to get pulled over for speeding in Southern California, but guess who always gets pulled over? People with out of state plates. I know this from experience, because I tried to drive with out of state plates for two years when I first moved here and it cost me thousands of extra dollars. They can also impound your car for all kinds of things and it will cost you hundreds of dollars to get it out. This can all be avoided by simply educating yourself and following the laws. Trying to ignore or skirt the law will not work. You will not get away with it.
The fines attributed to parking tickets in Los Angeles and other cities in California are so beyond the scope of anything reasonable that it borders on outright extortion. If you park in a metered spot and the meter runs out, expect to pay a $65 minimum fine. If you do not pay that fine within 21 days it will nearly double. Get five tickets and ignore them and they will put a boot on your car. You will get off work and see a strange contraption attached to the front wheel of your car. You will see a sign on your car that says “DO NOT MOVE”. Then a tow truck comes along and tows your car to the impound yard. Impound and towing fees quickly add up to hundreds of dollars. You must pay the delinquent parking tickets and fines, and show proof insurance before they will release your car. The towing yard people sit behind thick bullet proof glass and you must play their game to get your car back. By the way, the impound lots hold monthly auctions where they sell the impounded cars of the poor souls who thought they could beat the game.
You may say to yourself that anybody who gets five parking tickets deserves to have their car impounded. Well, it is really not too hard to get five parking tickets in Los Angeles, especially for new arrivals. The signs are misleading and confusing – some are deliberately confusing. There are fire hydrants you must watch out for. There are streets that have “street sweeping” days that begin early in the morning and are designed just to generate a bunch of revenue. You must look at every street parking sign very carefully every time you get out of your car. Do not ask anybody on the street because they may give you the wrong information. Also, there are many neighborhoods where you must have a special resident parking permit to park on the street during certain hours or you will be towed. There may be as many as four separate parking signs on any given street. There may be fine print on the parking signs that you can barely see.
Things to watch out for:
- Streets with closed parking lanes during rush hour. You will be towed from these areas, not just ticketed.
- “Valet Parking” only areas during certain hours and nights. You may be towed.
- Broken meters. Do not chance it; the city of Los Angeles goes back and forth on this issue frequently.
- Red zones.
- You must turn your wheels inward when parked facing down a hill, and outward when parked facing up a hill or you will be ticketed.
- Parking signs that are obstructed by trees.
- Street sweeping days.
- 15-minute, one-hour and two-hour parking zones. You will not get away with staying longer. You will be ticketed even if you are just five minutes over.
- Residential permit-only zones. Particularly in West Hollywood, Westwood, Beverly Hills. They are situated throughout the city.
- If you see all kinds of open parking on a street and think you have hit incredible luck, be careful. It is probably because you arrived during restricted hours.
You must pay attention to these things at all times to avoid trouble. That means not talking on your phone when you get out of your car. That means focusing on the signs and reading them carefully. If there is any doubt, I suggest paying for parking in private lots. Even if you have to pay ten dollars for parking in a private garage, your car is safe from the city extortionists there. I have tried to save money by parking on the street and it ended up costing me hundreds. I once was not paying attention and parked in a residential neighborhood on the street to avoid paying an $8 garage parking fee and it ended up costing me $645 in tickets and towing charges because I parked in a rush hour lane. If you think your car has been towed, the phone number of the towing company is on the parking signs where your car was parked.
The parking ticket laws are unfair, have nothing to do with public safety and punish the working poor more than anyone else. If you are already struggling to make the rent the last thing you need is $400 worth of parking tickets. People have to work in areas like Beverly Hills and other areas with little parking and are constantly moving their cars to avoid the army of parking police, who are like vultures. I think that the authorities in California want to make it hard for the vast majority of people to drive and own cars and they are doing everything in their power to get them out of cars and force them into public transportation. In my opinion it is a form of illegal taxation and extortion. You cannot avoid paying parking tickets, because when you go to register your car every year, you will have to pay any unpaid parking tickets before you can register your car. Fighting the tickets is futile, it will cost you more time and money and you most likely will not win. This is a fact of life in Los Angeles and will not likely change unless thousands of angry residents descend on City Hall.
I have made vows that I would not get one ticket for a year, and have never made it. I think I have received at least one parking ticket for every year I have lived in Los Angeles, as hard as I have tried to avoid it. It is tricky, and is designed to be tricky. People get in a rush and get careless and sloppy. Pay attention, check the signs twice and when in doubt, pay for parking. And good luck!