How a typo ruined my day


Most days you wake up and you think it’s just going to be an ordinary day. And once in a while, it just takes a left turn. Yesterday was one of those days.

I’d made an appointment with our excellent mechanic to bring in Melanie’s minivan for an oil change and state inspection sticker. About mid-morning I got a call from them, which I had expected was a notice that the work was done and they were delivering the car to my house. (Did I mention how excellent they are? Abington Sunoco. Tell them I sent you.)

Instead, the mechanic was telling me that when they went to do the inspection, the state computers came back that my registration wasn’t valid. That can’t be right, I thought. I renewed the registration this past February. It should be good until 2011. The mechanic suggested I call my insurance agent—which turned out to be excellent advice—and my agent (who is also excellent; Ahmed Insurance; tell them I sent you too) looked up my registration on the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, i.e. the DMV, computer system, which told him that my license plates had been returned on May 14 and the registration canceled!

A quick check with the mechanic confirmed that, yes, both license plates were still on the car. So what was going on? The working theory was—and still is—that some clerk at the DMV mistyped someone else’s plate number and canceled mine instead of someone else’s. All I could do was to take my plates and a verification from my insurance agent to the closest DMV office and try to hash it out. The problem is that the car was 30 minutes away in one direction in Abington and my agent was over an hour away in the other direction in Salem! But because I have such an excellent agent and mechanic, it turned out to be less of a problem. My mechanic drove the plates and registration to my office in Braintree; did I mention how excellent he is? And the agent found a local independent agent near my office to whom he could send my information so he could fill out and sign my form.

So once I had my plates in hand, I sought out the local insurance agent. This guy is not so excellent. For one thing, he charged me $20 to sign this form. I later confirmed with my agent that this was somewhat sleazy since it’s generally accepted that agents will do this sort of thing for each others’ customers as a courtesy. It took all of 5 minutes to complete the form, if that. Then this guy tried to advise me to leave my old plates in my car and go in to the DMV and just register my car from scratch, which would have cost me at least another $40. Talking to my own agent after he told, “You can do whatever you want, but my advice is to take the plates and have them fix their mistake.” In the end I followed his advice and I’m glad I did.

In the meantime, I drove to the Braintree DMV office and got in line to wait. And wait. And wait. I waited over an hour. When I finally got to the window, I put on my nicest, happiest customer face. I was pleasant and self-deprecatory and understanding and turned my puppy dog eyes to the woman. Where the baseline level of hostility at the DMV is usually around 6 out of 10, I think I managed to bring it down to about 3. She confirmed that the plates had been canceled in the Reading office, miles and miles away from my home and someplace I’ve never been, and that the system claimed that the plates had been turned in, which was obviously not true. So she quickly reinstated the plates. That’s it! No rigamarole and no additional fee. After that, I drove to Abington to drop off the plates and registration so they could finish the inspection, then back to work to try to salvage what was left of the day, and then home to pick up my sister-in-law, and then to the mechanic to pick up the car (by this time it was too late for them to drop the car off; I don’t blame them), and then home.

In the end, I was out $20 and a half-day of lost work. But I acknowledge it could have been a lot worse. If the police had pulled us over and discovered the canceled registration, they would have towed it on the spot and fined us. If it were Melanie and the kids, they could have been left standing by the road. And the fact that the cancelation happened in the same month as the inspection sticker expired was also a small miracle. If the inspection hadn’t been required now, we could have driven around for months and months on an expired registration.

As much of a hassle as this was, I am grateful that it wasn’t much, much worse. But it just goes to show how one innocuous typo in the wrong place can ruin the day of someone you never know about somewhere else.

Photo credit: user M.V. Jantzen. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Find out all about Dom on his About Me page.