If you're a true Michigander I don't need to tell you, you already know-- we do things a little differently up here.

For example, we save our bottles to get our 10-cent deposit back at the bottle return, we're obsessed with a card game called Euchre that few outsiders have ever heard of, we call it "pop" and not "soda", and when we need to register to our new vehicle we go to the "Secretary of State." But why?

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Having been born and raised in Michigan, the only time I ever heard of a mythical mystical place called the "DMV" was in the movies. When I eventually moved out of state to places like Nebraska and Missouri I found myself suddenly dealing with a very real place-- the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

I'm sure it sounds silly but I was actually excited to count myself among the millions of Americans who referred to it as the DMV because "Secretary of State" takes too long to say-- and what does it even mean anyway?

Secretary of State

We know the Secretary of State is an elected official that we vote for every 4 years. In Michigan, Jocelyn Benson is our current Secretary of State. This is the 3rd highest-ranking position in the State of Michigan and the Secretary may need to fill in as the "acting governor" should the Michigan Governor or Lieutenant Governor be both absent or unable to perform their duties.

But what does that have to do with cars?

In addition to running the Department of State, which oversees elections and notaries public, the Secretary of State is in charge of overseeing the registration and licensing of motor vehicles.

Google Maps
Secretary of State - Allegan. Via Google Maps

So What's the DMV?

The main difference between the SOS and the DMV seems to be the services that each department offers. A DMV is strictly for vehicle-related services such as titling whereas a Secretary of State's office also handles driver's licenses and state identification, business licenses, and voter registration.

The short answer is: they're called different names because they do different things!

And Other States?

Just to add to the confusion I also found out Indiana calls it the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) because they also handle car-related services and nothing else!

Here's what others shared about the SoS/DMV/BMV debate on Reddit:

  • "The DMV that I know of where I am (TX) handles car things, and for other things like my handicap placards I go to Southlake town hall. I'd only call the DMV if it were strictly related to operating my car. When I lived in Warren, you'd go to SoS for almost everything, which was a big part of why the wait would be so damn long." - u/girlikecupcake

  • "Michigan doesn't actually have a separate Department of Motor Vehicles; the Secretary of State's office just handles those services... In my current state (AL), the Dept. of Revenue handles tags & titles whereas the Dept. of Public Safety handles licenses." - u/picklestreamer

So it all comes down to government structure. It's enough to make your head spin! Does that clear anything up?

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