Should You Need to Register a Car in Albuquerque

Whenever you learn something, you should share it. Particularly if you learn something quite time-consuming, painful, irritating, and complex.

I just learned how to register a car in New Mexico. It took me three separate trips to the DMV, several phone calls, a good bit of web research, four conversations with four different car repair professionals, and two screaming-throwing-things fits to figure all of this out. So in case you ever need to do this, here’s what you’ll need to do:

  1. Go to a Pep Boys or Quick Lube, or any kind of drive-in emissions checking stand (they are legion) and get an emissions test. If you fail the emissions test because your car is from the ’90s, they will tell you that you need to take your slip of paper and go to their friend’s repair shop, where you will receive an expensive estimate for figuring out why your car failed. Don’t listen to this.
  2. Instead, if (when) your car fails the emissions test, take your car and your slip to the dealer for your vehicle and explain to them that your car is totaled and on its last gasp and you simply want to register it here so you can legally drive it for six more months. They will add a note to your slip that says that bringing your car up to code would be prohibitively expensive. If the guy at the dealer flirts creepily with you, try to be nice about it. He knows how to fix cars, after all, and you don’t.
  3. Take your slip with its new note to the Vehicle Pollution Management office and go to the garage to get your car reinspected. The mechanic there will want to talk for awhile — be pleasant and patient. “Yes, it is hot. Yes, the children do seem to be going back to school this week.” Once he signs your slip, take it (and your vehicle’s registration and title) into the office there and get a one year extension that will permit you to register your car without passing the emissions test. Do not go into that office so early that the lady who works there has not had time to put down her purse and have some coffee, or she will be irritated with you. But she will apologize later, after she’s gathered herself.
  4. Once you have your extension, collect the following materials:
    • Your driver’s license.
    • The title of your car. If the title of your car is not in your name but is signed over to you, you will also need an affidavit. Make sure you have the correct affidavit, though! If the title says that it was signed over to you for $0, you will need an affidavit of gift and if you have the other kind of affidavit – the kind you thought you needed – you will have to mail the correct one to your mother in TN, she will have to sign it and have it notarized and mail it back to you, you will have to go to a notary and sign it (and make 20 minutes worth of small talk with the notary), and then you will have to go back to the DMV again.
    • Two different proofs of residence — so you can have a utility bill and a bank statement, or a bank statement and your lease, but if you have two utility bills you’ll have to go all the way back to your house and get something else and then come back and take a number and be at the back of the damn line again.
    • Your emissions test and/or extension.
    • Proof of insurance — it doesn’t have to be New Mexico insurance yet, but if it isn’t, everyone will give you a hard time about it, and make you promise that you’ll get New Mexico insurance like AS SOON as you leave the DMV.
    • Your social security card (which for some reason, even though it’s a tiny, unlaminated piece of actual physical paper, all of us are expected to somehow keep track of from birth to death).
    • Your car with its VIN number.
    • A small crystal vial of the blood of a virgin who rode a pure white horse on the 14th day of her 12th year in seven perfect circles, and then killed that horse and ate of its flesh.
  5. Bring all of this to the DMV. For best results, arrive just at opening on a weekday toward the beginning of the month. Popular wisdom would have you get there before it opens, but the line will already be long, and if you get there when it opens, it’s actually less tiresome to sit inside from 8:00am to 8:35am than to stand outside in line while people blow smoke in your face from 7:00am to 8:00am.
  6. BONUS TIP: If you are navigating any sort of complicated process like this, and somewhere along the way some bored official tells you that you are missing a piece of the puzzle, do not run off right away to secure that piece. You will only be told, upon returning with it, that there is another piece of the puzzle you are missing. Rather, say the following: “Please walk me through each step of this process, in detail, and list for me each individual piece of information that I will need to provide at each step.” Then, listen carefully, think creatively so as to identify and predict possible snags that could occur in each step described, and ask good questions.

If you can successfully complete all of these tasks you’ll be able to register your car!

At some point during the process, the helpful DMV person will say to you “This title was signed over to you in June, and you’re just getting around to this now?”

Resist punching through the plexiglass and strangling the helpful DMV person.

Next time you despair about the intelligence of your fellow man, consider that the vast majority of people have at some point successfully navigated this or some similar complex, multiphase project. Respect.

It’s unlikely that anyone in need of this information will ever stumble across this post, but in the off chance that some poor soul wants to register her parents’ old car somewhere in New Mexico, I hope this guide will be a small beam of light shining through the chaos.


  1. Arlene says:

    You should try registering a car in Puerto Rico … it could take weeks (at least that’s how my brother told it). Glad you finally made it through the process.

    But hey, you did get that New Mexico insurance by now didn’t you? Kidding!!! 🙂


    1. Elizabeth says:

      Oh God, I can’t even imagine. Part of the reason I moved here instead of out of the country is I just couldn’t deal with all the paperwork.


  2. Ash says:

    You must give off the appearance of the most friendly individual ever. When I go through processes like these, the auto-body shops, the emissions people, the notaries, the DMV folks . . . they all just kind of eye me fearfully and then grunt something about where I need to go next.

    I think it’s the menacing growl. You need a growl.


    1. Elizabeth says:

      Well, it’s also the ponytail, probably. 😉 Makes people think you’re some kind of rebel. I am unfailingly polite, I can’t help it! I was born and bred in TN.


      1. Ash says:

        I am unfailingly polite, I can’t help it!

        This . . . this has not been my experience. 😉


        1. Elizabeth says:

          Touché, sir. 🙂


  3. Ashana M says:

    I don’t have a car, and I don’t live in New Mexico, but your post did make me laugh! Thanks!


  4. Oh gosh! This sounds like the car corollary to the horribly entry experience into the United States I had a couple months ago! Though you were much more polite 🙂


  5. Oswald8027 says:



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