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Mercedes Sprinter: California Resident Buying Out of State: Vehicle Registration
Photographer and cyclist and Mac expert and software engineer Lloyd Chambers is available for consulting on general Sprinter considerations at his usual consulting rates via phone, or in person in the Palo Alto, CA area. Save yourself hours and mistakes by discussing issues up-front. More about Lloyd....
This page applies to California residents buying a vehicle in Nevada (or other state), particularly brand-new.
To register a vehicle in California that was purchased out of state, at least two things have to happen:
- VIN verification (DMV can be a huge hassle, go to AAA or other auto club which can also do it)
- Smog certifcation (even for brand-new vehicles).
While Mercedes of Reno provides a free registration service (Mary at M&M did a great job), the above two things have to be done to register the vehicle before that service can get it registered for you. But there are two perils.
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Peril #1, VIN Verification: personal or commercial registration?
The best option is to join AAA or other auto club and have them do it (first check that they offer it). It’s worth joining just for this one service to avoid the awful DMV experience.
You might get a bad actor at the DMV as I did, who has ill will towards you for whatever reason (was it my cycling jersey?). To protect yourself, have the dealer fill-out and print the California DMV Statement of Facts, section G (and Section H) with something like this:
This Sprinter van was sold to <insert full name of buyer> and will be utilized for personal use as an RV.
<insert dealer name and address>
Then be sure Section H is signed and dated. Unclear is whether the buyer should also fill out the same form, similarly. But it does not hurt to go prepared, just in case it is your lucky day with a DMV troll.
The outrageous experience at Bishop, CA DMV
The DMV kept me waiting in the sweltering sun for half an hour; after taking a number and waiting for my turn. The woman who came out said “oh, were you waiting?”. That is, the one who directed me to that very spot half an hour earlier. Was this incompetence or deliberate? It was my turn, and all she had to do was come right out and get it done—nothing to prepare except get the paper form.
When this DMV woman came out, she immediately began insisting that it had to be registered as a COMMERCIAL van (“vehicles this big are not for personal use, and see, it has no windows”). Her cognitive limitations aside, I insisted it was for personal use, tried to explain but it was just no good. She seemed to take a perverse pleasure in insisting and making me squirm, and telling me “it will have to be weighed, since it is commercial”. She REALLY wanted that to happen.
She mentioned an exception for “human habitation”, which I took for living in my van (permanently). I explained it was for personal use as a photographer in the mountains and such. But she resumed the commercial thing... and then I caught on to the game (I had no idea what that meant at first)—after I showed her the bed she finally relented. But what if I had not had a bed in there? It seems she really wanted to make problems for me, and took absolutely no time to explain, only to to force the commercial designation.
This DMV woman was malicious from the moment I walked in: when I asked a simple “do you do VIN verification” yes/no question, I was rebuked with “take a number”. That is take a number to ask a question to see if taking a number was worthwhile. Also, I was rebuked twice for wanting to use a desk in a totally empty area to fill out a form (innocently, not knowing it was a special empty area devoid of people for an hour that One Must Not Use): to fill out a form... “go over there, but no desk for you there ”. No explaining, no helping, no nothing but what appeared to me to be perversity of having power over hapless applicants and enjoying abusing that power, enjoying doing absolutely nothing to help or explain the process. And that’s after waiting for my number to be called. When walking, doing so at a indolent pace, as if half-dead. This is what tax dollars pay for. No “sir” no “thank you”—these people get an overpaid salary and benefits on my dime for this kind of performance that would get anyone fired instantly at a private company. May bad karma seek them out and haunt that woman.
Peril #2: smog test failures for new Sprinters
Contrary to what dealers might tell you, the Mercedes Sprinter is likely to FAIL smog testing brand-new, because some of the sensors will not run their self diagnostic tests until 500 to 800 miles are driven. A sensor that has not yet run its test automatically causes a smog test failure. When bought in California, this issue does not arise, because a new vehicle bought in California is not required to have a smog test.
Be sure to allow time to break in the Mercedes Sprinter engine properly.
I took my Sprinter van to TJ's Firing Line in Bishop, Callifornia. The proprietor informed me that most new Sprinters fail until they have enough miles on them (recommended mileage before smogging: 800 miles). TJ's offers a smog pre-check for $25 that will show whether all the sensors have completed their self-diagnostic tests. The regular smog is $73, which means that many people are going to burn $73 on a test that will fail. In addition to “lots of failures” for Sprinters with low mileage, she said one Sprinter failed three times. My impression is that any Sprinter with under 500 miles will almost fail, guaranteed.
At 400 miles driven, my 2017 Mercedes Sprinter FAILED the smog test because two of the self-diagnostic sensors (see below) had not run their internal tests (too few miles driven = “NOT COMPLETE”). The smog test will automatically fail unless and until all Sprinter diagnostics sensors have run their internal tests. Which practically guarantees a smog test FAIL for a new Sprinter with low miles.
Advice: plan on putting on 800 miles with your new Sprinter before smogging it.
Many California residents buy vehicles in Nevada. This does not save on sales taxes.
By arrangement with California, dealers in Nevada are set up to charge full sales tax at California rates, presenting you with a sheaf of paperwork for registration in California.
The extra registration step is a hassle, and the vehicle will require a smog check even though it is brand-new, as per above.