Six Things to Know about Renewing your Vehicle License Disk

*** Update Dec 2015: The grace period for renewing your vehicle license disk is 21 days, not 30 days; it’s probably a good idea to renew your license disk before starting the grace period instead of waiting until the end of it – as we all know, South African bureaucracy is not the fastest. As one reader from Cape Town commented, don’t rely on the notice being sent in the mail either but keep track of the date yourself. Also, to renew your vehicle license disk, you must now not only bring your renewal notice (if it was sent) and cash, but ALSO your passport or ID booklet, and proof of residence, to ascertain you still reside at the same address. ***

I recently read somewhere that stories are more likely to be read when their titles contain numbers, as in “101 Ways to Lose Weight.” So you might have to suffer through a spat of such headlines on my blog while I test this theory.

But since I’m a  nice person, I’ll come right out and tell you the six things to know for renewing your vehicle license disk in South Africa, instead of making you suffer through the rest of my story, the telling of which you have learned by now is never brief.

  1. South African vehicle registrations (aka license disks, the little round thing on your windshield) must be renewed every year
  2. You will receive a renewal notice in the mail
  3. You have a thirty-day 21-day grace period
  4. Renewals must be done in person at a post office or at the licensing office (yep, the glorious place you might remember from my Tips on Buying a Car in South Africa) by bringing your renewal notice, your passport or ID, and some kind of proof of residence (see comments below for details)
  5. Call ahead at the post office of your choice to determine if their vehicle registration is operational (might want to read the story after all to find out why)
  6. The fee must be paid for in cash

South African license disk for car registration

The story went thusly (I’ve been made to read a lot of Dr. Seuss to the girls lately, can you tell?): When Noisette (whom these things are addressed to, because, if you’ll remember, I couldn’t do anything in my name at the time I was signing up for all these things, because my visa wasn’t permanent enough) put the renewal notice for the car registration on my desk, I just about had a heart attack, thinking it was another traffic ticket, because the issuing agency is AARTO in both cases. Okay, not really a heart attack, I do get these tickets all the time. But still, my thoughts weren’t very pleasant.

Then, to my surprise, I noticed it was the renewal notice, not a ticket. I put it in my purse, making a mental note to stop by the post office on Rivonia, which is the place where I renewed it without major problems last year. In fact, I remember being surprised how easy it was and that I didn’t need to show anything in terms of personal identification. Which is actually amazing in a country where you learn your passport number by heart after just two weeks, because you need it so often.

This morning I was in the vicinity, so I decided to get it over with. I entered the post office, saw the “License Renewals at Counter 1” sign, stood in line for a while, and then remembered that I needed to note the car’s mileage on the form. So out I went again, copied the mileage from the odometer, and went back to my queue. Except when I get to the front, I saw that “Counter 1” had a sign attached to it, saying that the vehicle registration program was currently offline, “sorry for the inconvenience.”

So far so good. These things are expected in Africa. But what now? I recalled that the Leaping Frog post office next to Checkers has a vehicle registration counter, and do you know why I recalled that? Because that is the one I went to last year, but then their system wasn’t working. Surely, however, it would be working now, it being a year later and all.

Except of course it wasn’t working there either. And you know what? I could swear the little dog-eared paper saying it was out of order was the exact same one I spotted there last year. This is actually not surprising at all. Things stopping to work and never being fixed again is such a commonplace occurrence in these parts that one barely even pauses to think how extraordinary that actually is.

Determined by now to come home with this item checked off my list at all cost, I asked the lady where else I might go, half expecting she’d send me back to Rivonia. But no, it’s the Lonehill post office I should go to, I was told, the one next to Nedbank, they were operational.

Very doubtful this would work out as promised, I made my way to Lonehill, found the post office as described, and stood in the shortest line. Except, the longer I stood there, waiting for a lady who asked a bazillion questions about the package she was mailing, I had second thoughts. Why was everyone else queuing in the line next to me? I craned my neck to see if any of the counters had any signs about license renewals, but couldn’t find anything but a notice that all payments must be made in cash.

This is the precise moment when I had another near heart attack. Cash? I had completely forgotten that tidbit of information from a year ago. Luckily, a quick scan of my wallet revealed that I had over R1000, an occurrence that is actually very unusual, but one that made me very happy at that moment because it was more than enough to pay for the renewal. Except if they looked up the fines I hadn’t paid yet, which was another unpleasant thought that  struck me while I was – still – waiting.

When the lady in front of me was finally done, I stepped up to the counter. As I was half expecting, I was sent to the next counter. Somehow everybody in line had seemed to know this fact eluding me, and I realized with horror that the line at THAT counter was now four people long. A quick calculation based on my observation of that line’s progress revealed that I’d have to wait about 32 more minutes for my turn. But the woman at the front of that line had pity on me and waved me in. I pretty much gushed over with gratitude, but when she revealed to me that this was her FIFTH try to pay HER license renewal, I felt slightly ashamed. My three tries, you see, were nothing special. I still have much to learn about The Art of Patience.

We soon had a conversation going in our queue about the best way for renewing your vehicle license disk and paying these pesky things. A gentleman volunteered that maybe we should go to the licensing office in Randburg after all, because everybody was going to the post office after their horrible experience in Randburg, leaving the licensing office virtually deserted and therefore with better queues. I wondered if there wasn’t a way to pay it online, but was told that no, that was impossible, since you needed to be given the disk in return, and who would want to trust the mail to deliver that.

It turns out I got my disk fairly quickly and no, they didn’t run a check against outstanding tickets (another argument against the licensing office, where they well might do exactly that). When I arrived home, I checked if there wasn’t an online payment option after all, so I could tell you about it, but there wasn’t. What I did find, however, was this website educating the public about AARTO and your rights versus them. I recommend you look at it. It advises, among other things, that you do not have to pay your traffic fines unless they are sent to you by registered mail, something the JMPD never does. So technically all your speeding fines are unlawful. I’m not sure I want to rely on that, because what if you get pulled over and they run a check on the system? I actually spoke with someone the other day who spent a night in jail for speeding, and it didn’t sound pleasant. Although I’m pretty sure I’d get a lot of pageviews for “I spent a night in a South African jail.”

You be your own judge. I just thought I’d pass it on.

Oh, and by the way, don’t think your to-do is crossed off the list once you’ve gotten your new disk. The major part is still in front of you: Getting the darn sticker with the old disk off your windshield! Please excuse me while I go scrape some more…


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