Taking the California behind-the-wheel driving exam

I was thrilled to take the California driving exam. It meant that we’d finally be able to complete the vehicle import process and get our vehicle registered with the California DMV. Don’t worry, the exam is straightforward. Hopefully the tips below will help make your exam a successful one.

Just like with the written driver’s exam, schedule a behind-the-wheel exam appointment:

  • Go to the California DMV
  • Click Online Services >> Appointments
  • Select “Behind-the-wheel driving test appointment”
  • Enter your contact details, including your “Permit/Driver’s License #” that is found on your “Application for DL Original” temporary license paper (issued on the day you passed your written exam).

Please allot 2-3 hours for your exam – appointments often run behind. If you’ll be importing and registering your vehicle after your exam, suggest adding another 1-2 hours to your DMV visit.

On the day of your behind-the-wheel exam:

  • First: Good luck!
  • You will need to bring your passport, Canadian insurance papers and your “Application for DL Original” temporary license paper.
  • If you plan on completing your vehicle import/registration process, the completed documentation mentioned in “Bringing your car down from Canada to the USA” will be needed too.
  • When you arrive at the DMV, go directly to the behind-the-wheel exam check-in window. It is unnecessary to line-up at the “Appointments Only” DMV entrance queue.
  • The DMV agent will review your behind-the-wheel documentation and process your payment of $31 (as of 2012). Next, you will need to park your car in the “examination” line at the back of the building and wait for the DMV examiner.

What to expect during your driver’s exam:

  • Your DMV examiner will check your familiarity of your vehicle from locating the emergency/parking brake to the defroster.
  • The exam will cover driving in major intersections, residential area, business areas and school zones.  Remember the different speed limits!
  • Changing lanes, turning left/right and recognition of traffic signs (e.g. stop, yield sign) will also be tested.
  • A pass grade means no critical driving errors (e.g. unsafe driving maneuvers), and no more than 15 errors.
  • Common errors are:
    • Failure to shoulder check on right turns or lane changes
    • Not making full and complete stops behind the limit lines and at all stop signs
  • When your exam is finished, the DMV examiner will discuss your exam results and provide you with a copy of the “Driving Performance Evaluation Score Sheet”.

Congratulations on passing the driver’s exam and getting your license!
Hopefully your availability lets you complete the final vehicle import/registration steps to save you another trip to the DMV.**

Otherwise, if you need to reschedule for a retake, please review the DMV “Driver License and Identification (ID) Card Information” Frequently Asked Questions regarding retries.

** After signing your driver’s license papers, the DMV agent will issue a paper driver’s license. Triple-check that your contact details, birthdate and sex. It is much more timely and difficult to get corrections made afterwards. Your permanent driver’s license card will arrive in the mail within 2-3 weeks.

To continue with the vehicle import and registration process:

  • Park your car in the “vehicle check” line at the back of the building.
  • Following the vehicle check, pick up a number at the DMV entrance “Appointments Only” line to meet with a vehicle import/registration agent.
  • Please see my earlier post “Bringing your car down from Canada to the USA” for remaining details on this process.

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