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Here's Exactly What You Need To Know to Pass Your California Behind-the-wheel Test

We know that taking your California behind-the-wheel 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 behind-the-wheel test.


What to know before your California behind-the-wheel test

First, you need to have a road test scheduled. There are no walk-ins. You can save time and schedule your California behind-the-wheel test online. We recommend seeing if you can schedule your test at a DMV with higher pass rates.

Next, make sure you have valid registration and insurance for the vehicle you'll be taking your test in. You'll need these documents when you check-in at the DMV. Lastly, make sure your testing vehicle meets California requirements, and that you have a licensed driver to accompany you to your road test. We've listed out the car requirements for you in the next section, to make it easier to go through and check off each one.

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 behind-the-wheel test?

Many people are denied testing because their car doesn't meet the California requirements. Check these and check them again. 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 a few options. You can get a car through a driving school, see if a friend or family can accompany you with their car, or YoGov 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 behind-the-wheel 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 start. 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 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 behind-the-wheel 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!



Maneuvers to practice for the California behind-the-wheel 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 dont 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 behind-the-wheel 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.



What happens after my California behind-the-wheel test?

Congratulations on making it this far! If you passed, the tester will let you know where to go to get your license. Your actual laminated license will come in the mail. If you failed, not to worry, most people pass by their second try. In California, you can re-take your test as soon as two weeks later. 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 🙂