Teardrop: Bureaucracy Day

— on July 21, 2018 by in Teardrop Camper

The day has come… It is time to get a VIN, a Title and Licenses Plates! That means today is Bureaucracy day! Or, if you like, you can call it Stand In Line day, or Which of These 10 Forms Do I Need day.

But, today wasn’t just about the trailer, I also had a property tax hearing and needed to title the suburban (long story). Things kicked off at the Williamson County Tax Assessor Collector. I was 30 minutes early, and I was out the door with everything I wanted in 15 minutes… They seem to have their act together. Scratch item 1. The other item, titling the suburban was a miss due to a hidden check engine code. Sigh. I hate getting duped.

This is a picture light post, but here is the semi-finished trailer hitched up for it’s big day out around the county.

Teardrop - Ready for the DMV - 002

Misstep 0: Taylor DMV

According to the Texas main DMV site, trailers below a certain size and weight (I’m obviously well below it) do not need a VIN or associated inspection. Nor do they need a lot of the other stuff I ended up having to do. What their site didn’t say (at the time of reading it at least) was that counties don’t care and impose all sort of extra paperwork and hoop jumping.

I found that out when I went to the Taylor DMV to try to register and title the trailer. They were perplexed by a home built trailer and kept insisting that I tell them where I had bought it. About the 5th time I said “it started as a pile of steal and some plywood” they finally got the idea that not everyone in this country is dependent on Walmart for everything. Some of us actually build shit still… But I digress.

Once they understood that NO, I didn’t just buy it from a factory in China, they pointed me in the right direction, annoyingly and despite the state’s guidance (Williamson county has their own, but of course the page is 404 not found so I couldn’t check it – go Williamson County!).

Step 1: Sheriff’s Inspection for VIN Application

The first real step in the process of titling a DIY trailer (as I found out when I did what I thought was the first step 2 weeks ago) is to take it to the Williamson County Sheriff impound yard for an inspection to prove I own it. Mostly this involved sitting in a long line of other trailers (and some cars) waiting. After a little over and hour it was my turn.

The process only took a second. The teardrop is clearly home built (and not 100% finished) so there was little question of ownership. Apparently most of the “home built” trailers they see, are not in fact home built. They are refurbs of trailers that were never titled, or kits where ownership is less clear. A few minutes after getting to the head of the line (and after showing the trailer to a couple of other people there that were curious about it) I was off. Step 1 complete.

Step 2: Certified Weight

To get the VIN I needed a receipt from a certified scale. Google was not helpful, mostly because the type of places that have certified scales deal with agriculture. The people that need them know them. Luckily, the sheriff pointed me to a scale in Taylor. $5 later I had a receipt. As is, the trailer weighs 940lb.

I wanted to insert a picture of the weight slip here, but I’ve apparently lost it. 🙁 At least I was done with it’s official use.

Not bad. I was targeting 1000lb or less (a tall order for a queen size bed based on what I’ve seen). There is a little more weight to add in skin, trim, mattress, and other superficial items. Unloaded, but with all the dedicated stuff (including the ice chest) we should be under 1200 easy.

Step 3: Austin DMV for a VIN

One of the advantages of living in Taylor is that you can go to the DMV pretty much any time and there might be 1 person in front of you in line. Easy. Unfortunately, only the main DMV office on Parmer in Austin can issue VIN numbers for DIY trailers. Thankfully, they use a “take a number” system so I could zone out to my current audio book: Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds. I recommend it if you like hard scifi.

The wait was only about 20 minutes. Walking through everything with the clerk took a few minutes. Luckily I had everything required including pictures. I paid my $2 fee (this is the smallest fee I have ever paid at the DMV) and was handed a paper form with my VIN on it and some very vague instructions about where and how to put it on the trailer.

Step 4: Applying the VIN

Applying the VIN is left up to the builder. I was told I could punch it in, weld it on, or grind it in by hand. I stopped and grabbed a set of punches on the way home. Unfortunately, they didn’t work very well on the tubing. It deforms to much for them to leave a real impression. I ended up taking the die grinder and roughly drawing in the VIN by hand. Not pretty, but it is under the trailer so it doesn’t matter. I snapped a picture per the instructions on the form and headed to the Taylor DMV.

Homebuilt Teardrop Camper - VIN Number

Step 5: Taylor DMV

This time I had (nearly) everything I needed. All the paperwork was there (all 4 forms). Of course, there were lots of blanks I didn’t fill in for fear of filling them in wrong. And the various officials I had talked to had also filled things in contradictory. For example, in some places the trailer was listed as 4000lb gvw (filled in by others), which it defiantly is not while in other (filled in by me) it is 2500 lb (the max weight the axle can handle). 

That is what happens when people that don’t understand efficiency design a system around 4 independent forms with redundant fields filled out by 4 different people, all at least a 30 minute drive from each other. Sanity would be nice, but none of the people I talked to had ever had to USE the system they have collectively created, nor did they care how cumbersome and slow it was for me or the other citizens. After all, we are here for them.

And of course, I had pictures of the VIN on the trailer, but A) they weren’t sure if how I had applied it was OK (even though the form SAYS I can do it that way, and 2 other people in the process told me to do it that way), and B) they had no way to accept a digital image. They needed a print. One clerk suggested I take my phone to Walgreen’s to have it developed. I ended up driving home (less than a mile), printing it and returning.

In the end, I got the plates. It took pretty much all day. If I need to do it again, it will be a lot easier because I know the right magic words to say to side step the confusion on the bureaucrats’ part…