The Ultimate Guide to Your California Driving Test

Casey O'Brien photo
Casey O'Brien

June 10, 2020 6 min read

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We know that taking your California driving test can be nerve-wracking. With a little preparation and insight into the test itself, there's nothing to be worried about. This guide will make sure you know the specific requirements in California, what you can expect on the test itself and give our best practice tips. Here's exactly what you need to know to pass your California DMV behind-the-wheel test.

What to know before your California driving test

Prior to completing your test, you need to ensure that you have completed an adequate amount of practice so that you are comfortable and prepared behind the wheel. The vehicle that you take should be the same one you have been practicing in as different cars will operate a little differently. Whether you decide to practice with an experienced family driver, take driving lessons or book with our car and driver road test service, you need to be prepared to understand both the technical and practical sides of the test. This encompasses studying the right material and utilizing that knowledge on the driving test.

Once you believe that you are comfortable enough, you can schedule your road test. This is not an option, walk-ins are not possible. Save yourself the time and ensure that you have booked your driving test in California. Certain DMVs will have higher pass rates. Those are your best bet to ensure that you pass.

Prepare yourself for success...

The night before your test, you will want to ensure that you do your own pre-test inspection. The worst situation would be to bring your vehicle to the test and not have it operating properly. Any cracks in the windshield will lead to an automatic reschedule. Ensure that the vehicle is in pristine shape and that your mirrors are adjusted to allow you to have maximum visibility. Any requirements and vehicle details that must be met in California should be looked over.

Your paperwork will need to be completed and accompanied with your permit, valid insurance, and registration details. Once all of that is ready, you should review the material. From road signs to hand signals to the features on your vehicle, it is a good thing to be prepared. On the day of your test, you can have a licensed driver accompany you to the test.

Once you verified your road test, paperwork, and car requirements, it's time for more practice. In California, unlike a few other states, you can practice in the area around the DMV where your behind-the-wheel test is scheduled. We strongly recommend that you do, as this is where part of your road test will be. Take time and get to know the area.

What are the vehicle requirements for the California driving test?

In California, your vehicle is required to demonstrate the following vehicle and driver safety items within the pre-drive checklist. It is a good idea to check all of these prior to going to the testing center. Here's what your vehicle needs to have:

  • Current registration, insurance, and inspection sticker
  • A windshield with no cracks or debris that would obstruct the view
  • Key safety requirements: working speedometer, horn, rearview mirror, seatbelts, and windshield wipers.
  • Working doors: the driver and passenger doors must open from the inside and outside.
  • Working lights: brake lights, turn signal lights in front and back, headlights and taillights.
  • No service or warning lights illuminated on the dashboard

If you don't have a vehicle that meets all of these requirements or a licensed driver to take you to your road test, you have several options. You can get a car through a driving school, see if a friend or family member can accompany you with their car, or Skip offers a car and driver for the California behind-the-wheel test which you can reserve ahead of time online.

What to know the day of your California driving test

First, get to the DMV early! If you're late, they'll ask you to reschedule. Once you arrive, you'll go inside the DMV with your licensed driver to check-in. This is when you'll need your paperwork handy. After check-in, the DMV rep will ask you to go outside and pull your car around (your licensed driver needs to be with you) to the side of the building where the behind-the-wheel tests starts. You'll wait there in the testing line until an examiner comes out to meet you.

The examiner will come to the driver's side window to ask for their Driver's License, your permit, as well as the registration and insurance for the vehicle. Your licensed driver will then get out (and can wait inside the DMV for you) and the examiner will begin the test, which starts with the vehicle safety check. They'll ask you to show them the car's hazard lights, left and right blinker, horn as well as hand signals. Then you'll start the driving portion of the test.

When leaving the DMV parking lot, some locations have a stop sign before you can exit onto the road. Be sure to see this and fully stop! If you roll through this stop sign, it's an automatic failure and the test will end there. Many people fail before they even get out on the road because they miss this.

In California, you can get up to 15 points wrong. If you get more than 15 points off you fail, but if you make any critical errors you automatically fail.

The test itself is 10-15 minutes. It will go by quickly, so take your time. Every minute counts and you'll think and perform better if you don't rush 🙂

California DMV driving test overview

In this video, Terece explains what you need to know on the test, from beginning to end. She explains the pre-drive safety check, the hand signals, all the way to the end. This video has gone near-viral on YouTube!

YouTube's thumbnail image for the video.

Maneuvers to practice for the California driving test

  1. Right and left turns: Make sure you turn into the same lane you are turning from, this is important. Also, don't forget to signal and you should do so about 200 feet from your turn.
  2. Changing lanes: Remember to always look and signal before doing so.
  3. Observing right-of-way: Allow pedestrians to cross. Make sure to pull over and stop for emergency vehicles to pass and don't enter an intersection where you'll interfere with other traffic.
  4. Stopping at intersections: Start slowing well ahead of time to avoid a sudden or jerky stop.
  5. Backing up: Back for a distance of 50 feet at a slow speed while turning your head and looking over your right shoulder to the rear.
  6. Follow at a safe distance: don't follow too close behind other cars. Keep a minimum following distance of three to four seconds.
  7. Driving in traffic: Remember to always be looking and don't drive too fast or too slow.
  8. Looking over your shoulder for bicyclists. There are so many bicyclists and this is important. Examiners love to test on this. You will get points off if you don't look.

Lastly, during your road test, it's highly likely that your examiner will be taking notes. This is nothing to worry about! The examiner may simply be checking off requirements as you complete them. Keep your eyes on the road and not on your examiner, and you'll do just fine.

If you'd like a refresher on California road laws, signs and safety, feel free to review the California driver handbook.

More California driving test tips

In this video, driver Leo takes you on the road and goes over a few more driving tips that you should definitely know for the test. This video compliments Terece's overview very well.

YouTube's thumbnail image for the video.

What happens after my California driving test?

Congratulations on completing your road test! Regardless of the result, you should be proud for going through the test.

If you passed, you will be given a temporary license. It will serve as your license to drive until your actual laminated one comes in the mail.

When you are driving with an experienced driver or a professional, it feels a lot safer knowing that they are there to provide support and quick decision making, but now that you are driving on your own, there are precautions you must take. Not all drivers will be able to read your mind, which is why you should always drive defensively. You are responsible for your passengers, so remind everyone in your vehicle to buckle up. Be a diligent driver and play your part in ensuring that the roads are safe for other drivers.

If you failed your test, don't worry! Most people usually pass on their second try, and it gives you another opportunity to learn and try again. Call your instructor to find out where you went wrong. This will provide benchmarks to help you adapt and test again. In California, you can retake the test in two weeks. Remember to schedule each time, make sure you have a licensed driver with you and car for the test. In the meantime, keep practicing and re-schedule your behind-the-wheel test when you feel ready. 🙂

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