RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Last December, Linwood Sealey decided to take his 2008 Dodge Avenger off the road, so he removed the plates and dropped them off at a DMV office.
He thought that was the end of it. It wasn’t.
Several weeks later, the DMV told Linwood he was being fined. “Sometime in February or March, I get a letter from the DMV staying I owe $50 because I had no insurance on the Dodge,” Sealey said.
So what went wrong? The culprit was the license plate return box outside the DMV building in downtown Raleigh. The box is outside the DMV office, but it’s not run by the DMV, it’s run by a contractor for the license plate agency that works for the DMV.
“I walked up to it, put my tag in the box and drove off. I waited a couple of days and cancelled my insurance,” said Sealey.
But because his plates were still active, the DMV thought his Dodge was still on the road, and fined him for driving without insurance.
A red sign on the box says “customers may return plates here or inside during normal business hours.” But the sign is confusing, because the DMV says only expired plates should go in the drop box — something that isn’t stated anywhere on the box itself.
“If your tag has not expired, for insurance purposes, it’s best to bring it inside and get an insurance receipt,” explains DMV spokesman John Brockwell.
Sealey says the sign was unclear, and he wants others to be wary. “I’m just worried that somebody else, another citizen out there, will go up there and do what I did,” he said.
There are a number of those drop boxes outside license plate agencies around the state with the same confusing sign. The DMV admits the signs need to be fixed, and the department has told the privately run license plate agency that.
“We think it’s necessary to have a better explanation with the signage on the drop box. We’re working with contractors and hopefully will have changes before too long,” said Brockwell.
As for Linwood’s fine, he says the DMV removed it after he spent several weeks going back and forth with them. But the DMV can’t explain how the license plate contractor made the mistake in the first place.
“After an investigation, we don’t exactly know what took place at the time,” says Brockwell.
Sealey believes the contractor was lax. “To me they weren’t doing their job,” he said.
The DMV says the license plate contractors need to be vigilant. “What we want license plate agencies to do, is to check these boxes at least once a day to make sure plates are being processed once they are dropped off,” said Brockwell.
The DMV has asked that the drop box signs be corrected. CBS North Carolina will update you when that happens.
Email CBS North Carolina’s Steve Sbraccia if you have a consumer issue.