Is It Bad To Buy A Motorcycle Without A Title?


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Thousands of people throughout the world will be purchasing a motorcycle today. There are almost nine million motorcycles registered in the U.S., so the paperwork required to obtain a motorcycle is pretty well known throughout America.

Buying a motorcycle can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never done it before. The titling process specifically is often unknown and the do’s and don’ts are things most people aren’t aware of.

Is it bad to buy a motorcycle without a title? It is not advised to buy a motorcycle without a title. A title is a legal form that establishes the owner of the vehicle so without the evidence of the actual owner, you could be purchasing a stolen motorcycle or a motorcycle that still has a lien on it.

There are a lot of people that want to take your money and will go to low lengths to do so. Having previously owned a motorcycle restoration business myself, I bought a lot of motorcycle projects. With that came a thorough knowledge of how titling a motorcycle works and the do’s and don’ts of that process. Keep on reading to learn more about why buying an untitled motorcycle can be risky and what the exceptions to this rule are.

The Risks Involved Buying An Untitled Motorcycle

Every once in a while you may be scrolling through the internet and fall upon your dream motorcycle. You look at the posting and love everything you are reading about the bike, but notice the seller doesn’t say anything about a title or states they don’t have one at all. But it’s for such a good price, it might be worth the hassle, right?

While I will say there are plenty of good people out there that are selling a motorcycle with no title simply because they lost it, it’s always a good rule of thumb to never to buy a motorcycle without a title. Even if it’s selling for a screaming good deal. Trust me, I have been there plenty of times myself and almost did it.

The first major issue you may run into buying an untitled motorcycle is the possibility of the motorcycle being stolen. You’ll have to think of this one logically: any Joe Schmoe could find some motorcycle in a parking lot, load it up in their truck, take it home, and post it for sale stating they simply lost the title. The poor buyer buys into their lie, purchases the motorcycle, and goes to register it only to find that it’s stolen.

In this case, you will likely have to give the motorcycle back to the original owner that the motorcycle was stolen from and you’re completely out the money you just paid for it. The DMV or state doesn’t care that you just paid hundreds or thousands of dollars to buy it. It was stolen from someone and it simply needs to be returned to the owner.

The second issue you run into with buying an untitled motorcycle is that the motorcycle could still have a lien on it, meaning there is still a debt owed against it. If you’re caught in this situation, either you will be held liable to pay the remaining balance of the debt owed if you wish to own the motorcycle, or you simply get it repossessed.

Let me give you an example. I had a good friend in college who decided he wanted to start riding a motorcycle. He bought a motorcycle for the first time and didn’t really know what to look for. The guy he bought the motorcycle from reported he had a title but didn’t have it with him and he “promised” he would mail it to my friend in a few days.

A few days came and went with no title mailed to him. My friend made multiple attempts to contact the seller with no response. My friend tried registering his motorcycle anyway and to his surprise found that the motorcycle still had a several hundred dollar lien on it.

My friend had already paid over $1,000 for the motorcycle and now he had to fork up another several hundred dollars if he wished to officially own the bike. Not only that, the motorcycle ended up having multiple mechanical problems that he simply couldn’t fix. He paid the several hundred dollars to the DMV in order to own it then ended up selling it to another friend of mine for $200 because of the mechanical issues.

A title-less motorcycle can leave you in a money pit and put you in a very avoidable frustrating situation. Stay on the safe side and always buy a motorcycle that has a title.

Exceptions To Buying A Motorcycle Without A Title

There are two exceptions to buying a motorcycle without a title. The first being if the owner still has a loan on it and the bank has the title. This is easily confirmed by a simple phone call or visit to the bank. If this is your case, you can proceed with the transaction and the bank will take care of transferring the title for you.

The second and more rare exception to buying a motorcycle without a title are “barn finds,” meaning you have come across an abandoned motorcycle that’s pretty old and the owner is nowhere to be found nor is it possible to find them.

If you have fallen upon this case, there are still a few steps you can take to ensure you won’t run into issues. If you have tried everything you can to track down the original owner or if someone is selling the barn find and has also tried contacting the original owner with no luck, you can proceed with the transaction.

The first thing you’ll need to do is get a VIN inspection on the motorcycle. You’ll probably need to take it in to your local DMV and have them visually inspect the VIN themselves, or, if it’s your lucky day you may have a police officer come out to where you are and inspect the VIN themselves. Sometimes if you casually mention to the police over the phone of the rare find you’ve found and they happen to be a motorcycle enthusiast, they’ll come out.

Once the VIN has been inspected and has been cleared of being stolen with no liens, you are clear to purchase the motorcycle and title it under your name. You can see our other article here to learn more about how to title a barn find motorcycle (something I’ve done several times myself).

Tips For Buying A Motorcycle Safely

Along with making sure the motorcycle has a title before you buy it, there are several other tips you can abide by that will make your purchase much more legitimate and will save you frustrations in the future.

First, request that the seller not “warm up” the motorcycle before you get there so you can see how it reacts to a cold start.

Wait 24 hours before buying the motorcycle if possible. Buying a motorcycle can involve a lot of emotions, so giving yourself time to mull it over and think about it will ensure you make the right decision in the end. This is especially helpful if you ended up looking at several other motorcycles and are deciding which one to buy.

Always make sure you have a bill of sale filled out by you and the seller. A bill of sale indicates who the seller is, their contact information, the information of the motorcycle, and how much you bought it for.

Though it may look a bit informal, a bill of sale is actually a legal document that the DMV needs in order to get the motorcycle registered and titled under your name. It also provides evidence that the sale happened in the case some issues come up in the future. A bill of sale should look something like this:

MOTORCYCLE BILL OF SALE

Seller’s name and address:

Buyer’s name and address:

Motorcycle make, model, and year:

Motorcycle VIN:

Date:

Price:

Seller’ signature:

Buyer’s signature:

You can click here to download a free printable PDF version of this Bill of Sale.

Lastly, if the seller has them, request any maintenance paperwork and receipts they may have including previous registrations. This will be a good indication of how well the owner took care of the motorcycle. If the motorcycle hasn’t been registered in their name for a while or they never registered it at all, that can present some questions on your part that would otherwise not have been answered.

See my other article here for more helpful tips with buying a used motorcycle.

How To Title A Motorcycle

Getting a title for a motorcycle is usually a simple process, though it does take a little bit of time to get the title in your name. Each state in the U.S. is a little different with their procedures and fees, but for the most part they follow the same rules.

When you go in to the DMV, bring your bill of sale as well as the title that the seller gave you. You will usually need to fill out a new title application that indicates all of your information that will be displayed on the title. After you pay your fees and taxes, your title will be mailed to you within a few weeks. You should be able to get plates and registration that same day.

Some states require that you have insurance before getting a title. If you’re in need of motorcycle insurance, you can see our other page here that lists motorcycle agencies near you and you can compare rates that are right for your situation.

The process is a little different if you used a loan to purchase the motorcycle. You will not get the title under your name, rather the title will be under the bank’s name since they are technically the official owner of the motorcycle. The DMV will work with you and contact the bank to get the title under the bank’s name.

If you bought a motorcycle with no title (and assuming there are no issues with the title), you will simply need to fill out a “lost title” form given to you by the DMV as well as provide the bill of sale.

The DMV will do a VIN inspection on the motorcycle to make sure it isn’t stolen or still has a lien on it. Once that is cleared, a title will be issued under your name and will be mailed to you within a few weeks. If there are issues with the title, the DMV will notify you the day you go in to fill out the application.

Conclusion

It can be incredibly tempting to buy a motorcycle for super cheap when the seller claims they don’t have a title or “they’ll give it to you later.” Having been through this process before many times myself, I concur that buying a motorcycle with a title ensures that you aren’t buying a stolen motorcycle or a motorcycle that still has a lien on it. The exceptions are if the bank has the title or if you stumble across a barn find.

Have you guys ever bought a motorcycle without a title or are you thinking about buying one? What have your experiences been like? Feel free to reach out if you have any motorcycle titling questions, I’ve been through that process enough times that I could answer almost any questions about it!

Related Questions

Is it illegal to sell a motorcycle without a title? In most states, it is illegal to sell any type of vehicle without a title. If they are in a state that does not require a title to sell, the seller is still obligated by law to eventually present a title to the person they sold the vehicle to.

How can you tell if a motorcycle has been in an accident? Some things to look for if you suspect a motorcycle has been in an accident are wobbly wheels, bend handle bars, a bent frame, crankcase scratches, and an overall strange feeling while riding the motorcycle. For more hints to look for, click here to see my detailed article.

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. He loves restoring motorcycles, has a vast knowledge of how they work, and has sold his restoration projects to customers from all over the United States.

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