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3 Ways to Save Time (and a Little Money) at the California DMV

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Ding. The email sailed into my inbox without fanfare. Dreading the contents, I clicked the headline. A quick skim confirmed the worst: It was time to renew my driver's license (DL).

Visions of DMV lines snaking out the door consumed me. But a quick Google search saved me from scheduling an appointment at car purgatory. Turns out, you can easily skip the line at the California DMV by renewing your ID via the official state website.

Ordering a new driver's license online took me less than 10 minutes. A-maze-ing. I did a bit more browsing on your behalf. There are three simple ways California residents can save time (and a little money) at the DMV. Here's how.

1. Renew IDs online

I renewed my driver's license online. You can, too, but that's not all. California residents can renew any of the following vital documents online:

  • Driver's License and REAL ID
  • Vehicle Registration
  • Commercial Driver's License

How to renew:

  1. Navigate to the official CA DMV website and create an account (or log in to an existing account).
  2. Click “Online Services” in the header.
  3. Scroll down to survey your options.
  4. Click what you'd like to do.
  5. Follow instructions.

To create an account, you must provide an email address, a California ID number, and other personal information, including a phone number and the last four digits of your Social Security number.

Creating an account took me less than 10 minutes — it's quick and easy. Order ahead of time if you can — the renewed card may take three to four weeks to arrive.

2. Make in-person appointments online

Do you need to take an in-person driving test? You can jump the line by scheduling a test online. Navigate to the DMV Appointment Scheduler and enter your information. Doing so could cut wait times in half or more.

Most things you can do in person, you can also do online faster. But you can book visits to the DMV for just about anything. Use the Service Advisor to the right of the Appointment Scheduler to explore your options. Be sure to bring all necessary documents to the DMV.

In 2021, the average wait time for someone without an appointment was 26 minutes (and longer for busy DMV offices). But the average wait time for someone with an appointment was less than half that, according to California DMV data. If you can make an appointment, it's worth doing.

3. Pay fees with a linked bank account

It costs just as much money to use DMV services online as it does in person. The best way to pay is with a linked bank account. That way, you aren't charged a 1% fee for using a credit card. It could save you a couple of dollars on renewal fees.

To pay with a checking account, you'll need your routing and account numbers. Have them handy before making an online payment.

Tip: Online banks like Chime let you quickly find routing numbers on the website. Log into your account and search for a page that says something like “Account Information.” On the Chime website, you click your name in the upper-right dropdown menu. Then, click “Account Numbers.”

Benefits of using the website

Use the California DMV website to skip lines, save time, and go at your own pace. If the DMV stresses you out like it does me, you may appreciate being able to skip it entirely.

You save money by paying with linked bank accounts and driving less, thereby saving you gas money. Creating an account is easy, and I highly recommend doing so — it took me less than 10 minutes and zero stress. It should save you time and (and a little money).

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