DMV's mistake leaves driver with no car

DMV's mistake leaves driver with no car
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — A Bakersfield man said it was the Department of Motor Vehicles that made the mistake, but he ended up with all the consequences. Danny Lopez said the DMV gave him the wrong sticker for his license plate, so he got stuck with a huge bill when his car was impounded for weeks.

Lopez bought the green 1994 Ford Explorer in February 2011. He went to the DMV, and because of the type of purchase, he was issued new license plates. He also got the colored sticker denoting when it had to be renewed. But, it was the wrong year sticker.

"She was supposed to give me 2011," Lopez told Eyewitness News, "and she gave me 2012." So, it looked like the car was registered through July 2012, but it wasn't.

"All along, I've been driving around on a suspended registration," Lopez said. He never knew, until he got pulled over this April. The officer seized the vehicle, and it was impounded. Lopez started trying to prove it wasn't his fault.

"After I got pulled over, at that point I went to the DMV and the lady said they found the mistake." Lopez was told that happened a couple weeks after he got the plates and wrong sticker. "They sent out the tags, which I never received."

He says that DMV worker gave him some paperwork to fill out, and he figured that would fix things.

But Lopez says he went back to the DMV two days later, and a different clerk helped him. "She was saying there was nothing in the computer showing that they found the mistake." He asked for a supervisor, who promised to see what could be done.

Nothing happened, and Lopez went back again. He still couldn't get the problem resolved, and now the car had been impounded and stored for weeks. "My car is like, it's probably $900 right now to get out," Lopez said. "I don't have the money to get my car out."

So he contacted the office of State Sen. Jean Fuller, and someone there went to bat for him.

"She was able to help me out at this point by getting the DMV to admit that they made a mistake," Lopez said. He then got a copy of the letter the agency wrote admitting the goof.

"I got the letter, faxed it over to the tow place, and they had some compassion on me, and they're willing to waive all of the fees except for the tow, which is $160," Lopez said. By that time, the bill had reached $1,400 he said.

The tow yard is Fleet Services, and Lopez said he's grateful for their help. He's set to finally get the car back on Friday.

But, he still thinks the DMV should kick in the $160 he's stuck paying.

Eyewitness News contacted DMV spokeswoman Jan Mendoza in Sacramento on Wednesday, and she said the office contacted Lopez and they're looking into the matter. She added mistakes do happen, but this is a "rare" situation.

Mendoza said car owners can prevent or avoid a problem like this. When that yearly sticker arrives in the mail, it's a good idea to check the number on it. That should match the number on the registration card, which should also match the license plate number.

Lopez hopes the ordeal is finally over, but he hasn't been satisfied with the DMV response so far.

"My point was from the very beginning, I don't feel like I have to pay a cent, because I wasn't in the wrong," Lopez said. "The DMV was wrong."

His advice?

"Check your paperwork, check your paperwork before you even step out of (their) door."