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There’s nothing quite like owning a motorcycle. In a lot of ways, it’s easier to own and maintain compared to other vehicles. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some paperwork involved with the process of becoming the actual owner.
Most motorcycles have a title and it’s an important document to keep to prove your ownership. If it gets lost, it can put you in a few dilemmas that’ll likely cause a few headaches down the road.
What do you do if your motorcycle doesn’t have a title? If a motorcycle that you own or recently purchased does not have a title, you’ll need to go to your local DMV and fill out the lost title documents they provide. It is usual to have the bill and bill of sale, as well as the invoice of purchase from when the seller bought the motorcycle. To ensure that the motorcycle isn’t stolen, the DMV will conduct a VIN inspection.
While I was restoring motorcycles, I often had to get new titles because the owner either didn’t have one or I lost them myself. Through a series of paperwork, I was legally able to get the documents I needed. This was what I learned during the whole process.
When you Buy a Motorcycle Without a Title
There are many situations where a motorcycle without a title could be used, but the most common is when the owner doesn’t give the title to the motorcycle. Though I don’t recommend getting a motorcycle without a title, you’re not completely in trouble at this point.
Disclaimer: Each state’s process for obtaining a new title on a motorcycle is unique. While many of them may be similar, there are some differences such as fees and waiting time. They will most likely be different.
It is possible to obtain a replacement title in some states like Idaho and Utah. But in order for you to even think about getting a replacement title, you’ll need to have a bill of sale proving the transaction in the first place. This is something you should do Always When purchasing any kind of vehicle or property, this should be done.
If you do not have a bill of sale, you’ll need to contact the person you bought the motorcycle from and have both them and you fill it out. If you bought the motorcycle long distance, it’s possible to email it to them, have them print it out and sign it, then scan it and email it back to you. If you’re unsure what a bill of sale is, I have an example and PDF version of one you can print out found in the next section of this article.
The next step is to bring your motorcycle along with your bill of sale, and some cash. Once you provide them with the bill of sale, the DMV will first do a VIN inspection of the motorcycle to make sure it isn’t stolen or has a lien on it.
Usually, a worker will walk out to the lot and look at your VIN. They’ll also fill out basic information about your motorcycle. Then they’ll go back inside, call in to either the police department or similar headquarters and read the VIN which will give instant results stating whether or not the motorcycle is clean.
Once you have completed the paperwork, they will send you the required paperwork to generate a new name. They will usually send you a Lost Title Form. This forms asks for the information that will be on the title. You’ll need to have a physical address in that state in order for you to obtain a title from that DMV. You’ll also need to pay a fee to generate a title. Again, every state is different with their fees, but I’ve generally seen fees go around $30.
Within the next few days, your new title is going to be mailed at the address indicated on the lost-title form. Getting a new title isn’t something you can instantly obtain in a day; it’s a long process. But once you have proven that the motorcycle isn’t stolen, the DMV will be able to at least give you a temporary registration for your motorcycle until you get the title. Some DMV’s will complete the registration and give you a license plate.
If your motorcycle isn’t driveable, you might have some luck calling your local police department and have them come to your place and do a VIN inspection there. It was easy to do when I lived Utah, and a lot more policemen were willing. Once that VIN inspection is done, all you’ll need to do is take in the paperwork to the DMV to complete the process of getting a new title.
If the community you live in doesn’t have willing policemen to come to your house to do a VIN inspection, you’ll need to trailer your motorcycle to the DMV so the workers there can physically see it.
When You’re Interested In Buying A Motorcycle With No Title
When you look for a motorcycle to buy, you may notice a few of the listings you’re looking at will state that they don’t have a title. As I mentioned before, I don’t really recommend buying a motorcycle without a title, but there are a few exceptions to doing so that will keep you safe. Buying a motorcycle without a title doesn’t necessarily mean it’s stolen, but you should still proceed with caution.
Once you have determined you want to purchase the motorcycle from the seller (who doesn’t have a title), make sure you understand why they don’t have the title in the first place. Before buying the motorcycle, get a VIN inspection first to make sure you understand it’s complete history (salvaged, stolen, lien etc.).
You can either have your VIN inspected by the local policeman, or you can take it to the DMV for them to check. It’s also possible to contact your auto insurance and have them run a basic VIN inspection for you. This should be done before you buy the motorcycle.. The seller should be understanding that you’ll want to do this and they should expect it if they plan on selling a motorcycle with no title.
Once you are satisfied that the motorcycle is in good condition, proceed to the final step. You should sign a bill with the seller. This is how a bill of sale should look like:
MOTORCYCLE BILL OF SALE
Seller’s printed name:
Seller’s street address, city, and state:
Seller’s phone number:
Buyer’s printed name:
Buyer’s street address, city, and state:
Buyer’s Phone Number:
Make, model, year, and year of motorcycle:
VIN number for motorcycles
I, the seller, declare that I am the legal and true owner and certify that this vehicle has no encumbrances. I, the seller, certify that all information in this bill are correct to the best of mine.
Seller’ signature and date:
Buyer’s signature and date:
Click here for a PDF version of the bill of sale.
You’ll also need to get a copy of the bill of sale from when the seller bought the motorcycle. A lot of DMV’s will ask for both the bill of sale from when you bought it as well as for the bill of sale from when the seller bought it. If the seller wants to sell a motorcycle, they must be able to provide these documents.
After you have received the bills of sale and purchased the motorcycle, you will be able to go to the DMV to get a title.
The seller can also get the title. You can negotiate a price for it and state that you won’t buy it until they get the title. It’s a lot easier for them to get the title than it is for you to get one.
How To Make Sure It’s Not Stolen
You need to always make sure a motorcycle isn’t stolen before you buy it. But just because a seller doesn’t have a title doesn’t mean it’s stolen. There are a few steps you can take to make sure you’re not getting yourself into a world of mess.
The VIN (or Vehicle Identification Number) on a motorcycle is a unique code. It can include information such as a history, service records, and whether it was stolen. Doing a VIN inspection before buying it is your best way to know if it’s a safe purchase.
You can check the VIN number of your motorcycle using several different resources. You can either call your insurance company and ask them to run the VIN, or you can do it online for free. However, they might not be the most reliable. VIN inspections can be done through either a DMV inspector or a policeman.
You can also take note of a few comments from the seller. If they’re a bit skiddish, hesitant, and/or doesn’t seem to know a lot about the motorcycle in the first place, that could be a red flag. You should also be careful not to make a deal that seems too good to true. Motorcycle thieves will sell your motorcycle for a very low price in order to quickly get it out of their hands. For more information on how to determine if a motorcycle has been stolen, see my article here.
Reasons A Seller Doesn’t Have A Title
As I have mentioned, there are many reasons a seller may not possess a title. You should consider these legitimate reasons when you are looking to purchase a motorcycle.
Sometimes, the seller might have been a victim to losing the title. This could be caused by moving or natural disasters, as well as just being unorganized.
It’s also possible that the seller didn’t get a title from the person they bought the motorcycle from. It’s still possible to title a motorcycle if you buy one like this, but it does make it a lot harder because according to the state, the seller never technically owned it because they never got a title.
If you are looking to buy a motorcycle without a title, be cautious. I don’t recommend buying a motorcycle without one, but if you’re extremely thorough and know for a fact that it isn’t stolen, then you can proceed with the transaction.
Titling Older Motorbikes and Barn Finds
In some states, titling a motorcycle didn’t happen until a few decades ago. This means that there are some motorcycles out there without ever having a title.
These types of motorcycles are commonly referred to by the following: “barn finds.” A barn find is a motorcycle that has been sitting for years and it’s unclear who the owner is. Because the item was created before any titles were issued in this state, it is nearly impossible to identify its original owner.
This is how I bought my 1969 TR25W Trophy. It had been lying in a field since years, and no title was issued to it. This surprised me when I asked the owner for one during the transaction. He said that it was too old.
If you’re caught in a situation like this, you’ll still need to do a thorough VIN inspection before buying. If nothing suspicious comes up, you’re free to buy it. When you present your bill, the DMV will acknowledge that it didn’t have a title and issue you a new one.
What are some ways to secure your motorcycle while it’s parked? A disc lock with an alarm system can be used to increase the security of your parked bike. It will prevent it from moving and sound an alarm if it detects movement. A GPS tracker can be used in case your bike is stolen. For more ways to secure your bike, see my list here.
Is the VIN on a motorcycle located? The VIN can be found on the neck of the motorcycle. A VIN may be found on the engine, which is located at the bottom of the cylinders.