Pandemic complicates a registration Catch-22 - Albuquerque Journal

Pandemic complicates a registration Catch-22

THEY TOWED HIS CAR DURING THE PANDEMIC?! They sure did – and the tow yard won’t release it until it’s got an up-to-date N.M. registration, which Dave can’t get without a vehicle inspection usually done at a Motor Vehicle Division office.

But let’s back up.

Dave moved to New Mexico from Texas in July 2019. And while state law requires a vehicle owner to register it here within 60 days, like many transplants Dave admits that because he had unexpired plates on his vehicle, he put off going to MVD.

Those plates expired in February 2020. And on March 30, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Executive Order 2020-016 that “waives the collection of all late fees or other penalties that are triggered by the failure of an applicant to timely submit an application or other required documentation for a registration, license, permit or other privilege under the Motor Vehicle Code.”

Yes, Dave acknowledges he should have taken care of his registration long before March 2020. And yes, the governor’s executive order technically applies only to transactions that should have happened from March 11, 2020, on.

But the fact officials at his apartment complex called a tow company this month, knowing MVD remains closed except for appointments, and that by seizing his vehicle they would make it that much harder to get the mandatory VIN inspection, and that daily impoundment costs would rack up on top of the cost of the boot put on his vehicle and the tow, well, it all may honor the letter of the law.

But even a spokesman for MVD says it does not honor the intent of the governor’s executive order.

NM REQUIRES A VIN INSPECTION: When you move to New Mexico from another state, you are required to get a VIN inspection when registering your vehicle. The Motor Vehicle Division says this is to be done “by a certified VIN inspector to verify that the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the Certificate of Title corresponds with the vehicle.” Registering a car from out-of-state requires an in-person appointment, impossible to get at the beginning of the pandemic and difficult to book until recently. (Go to to check out what can be done online or to book your appointments.)

So Dave has struggled for the last week to get a certified VIN inspector to meet him at the tow yard, inspect the vehicle and fill out the magical form that shows his vehicle is indeed his vehicle. He needs that so he can then get an appointment at an MVD office to register his vehicle, then take the registration back to the tow yard and get his vehicle out of hock.

Easier said than done.

Dave says he called MVD Express and learned they have a five-month backlog. I called MVD Express and was told they don’t do off-premises VIN inspections, though their website says clearly that they do. I filled out their email request for information and an appointment and have not heard back.

Welcome to the confusion.

But a little-known feature of our local law enforcement agencies is they have certified VIN inspectors – that includes the Albuquerque Police Department and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. Andrea Tuepell with APD’s Criminal Enforcement Division, which oversees the Auto Theft Unit, says those officers do VIN inspections on Tuesdays between 8-11 a.m. – free for Albuquerque residents. Those are done at the North Valley substation, 5408 Second NW, and require the vehicle to be driveable or on a trailer. Call 823-4209 for an appointment. Tuepell says there is usually no backlog and the “longest (wait) we’ve ever had is two to three weeks.”

For folks who don’t live in Albuquerque or, like Dave, need the inspector to meet them, APD does VIN inspections on Chief’s Overtime and charges just over $100. Call 768-2308 for an appointment.

Dave, who lives in Rio Rancho but whose car was towed to Albuquerque, was able to get a BCSO deputy who’s certified as a VIN inspector to meet him at the tow yard Friday. BCSO spokesman and Deputy Joseph Montiel says the department’s Mobile Community Action Team (MCAT) handles everything from lost hikers to abandoned vehicles.

Dave now has an appointment with MVD on Tuesday, and with any luck will get his car back that same day. While procrastinating got him into this, the help of law enforcement who understand we all make mistakes and this has been a year like no other got him out (fingers crossed).

Tuepell, who shares her APD office number if folks need some help navigating the system (768-2369), says the bottom line is “we’ve gone through a tough year. If we can help anyone, that’s what we do. We are here to help.”

Editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the metro area on Mondays. Reach her at 823-3858;; or 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109.

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

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