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 should you do if a motorcycle has no 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. Having the bill of sale as well as the bill of sale from when the seller bought it is usually required. The DMV will perform a VIN inspection to ensure the motorcycle is not stolen.
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. I was able to safely and legally get the documents I needed through a series of paperwork. This is what I learned throughout the process.
When You Buy A Motorcycle With No Title
There are a lot of situations that could involve a motorcycle with no title, but the most common situation motorcyclists find themselves in is having bought a motorcycle in which the owner did not give them the title for whatever reason. Though I don’t recommend getting a motorcycle without a title, you’re not completely in trouble at this point.
As a disclaimer, each state is different with the process in obtaining a new title for a motorcycle. A lot of them are similar, but specific things such as fees, waiting time, etc. will likely be different.
Some states, such as Utah and Idaho, are quite easy to get a replacement title for your motorcycle. 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 that should always be done when buying any sort of vehicle or property.
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.
Your next step will be to take your motorcycle to the DMV with your bill of sale and some money on hand. 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 come out to the parking lot with you, look at the VIN, and fill out a piece of paper with basic information about the 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.
After that, they will be able to give you the appropriate paperwork to fill out to generate a new title. This usually includes a lost title form; it asks for your information that will show up 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.
Your new title will be mailed to the address given on the lost title form in the next few weeks. 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. I had a lot of luck doing this when I lived in Utah because a lot of policemen were willing to do this. 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.).
Again, you can have the VIN inspection either done by your local policeman or take it in to the DMV and have them check it for you. It’s also possible to contact your auto insurance and have them run a basic VIN inspection for you. Make sure you do this before you actually 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 have found that the motorcycle is clean, go ahead and complete the transaction. Make sure you complete a bill of sale with the seller. A bill of sale should look something like this:
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:
Motorcycle make, model, and year:
I, the seller, affirm to be the lawful and true owner of this vehicle and certify that this vehicle is free and clear of any encumbrances. I, the seller, affirm that the information provided in this bill of sale is true to the best of my knowledge.
Seller’ signature and date:
Buyer’s signature and date:
Click here to view the free printable PDF version of this 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. Again, the seller needs to be prepared to provide these documents if they want to sell a motorcycle without a title.
Once you obtain the bills of sale and have bought the motorcycle, you can then go to the DMV and proceed with the steps indicated in the first section of this article to obtain a title for your motorcycle.
You also have the option of having the seller get the title before you buy it. 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 on a motorcycle, or the Vehicle Identification Number, is a code specific to that bike. It can give a history of any accidents, service records, and whether or not it has been reported stolen. Doing a VIN inspection before buying it is your best way to know if it’s a safe purchase.
There are several resources out there to check the VIN of a motorcycle. You can call your auto insurance and have them run the VIN for you or you can use some online platforms that will do it for free though they may not be the most reliable. The most reliable way to perform a VIN inspection is either through a DMV or a policeman.
There are also a few sings from the seller you can take note of. 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. Also notice if the deal is too good to be true. Motorcycle thieves want to get rid of the motorcycle quickly so they sell for a low price to have it gone. See my article here for more information about ways to tell if a motorcycle is stolen.
Reasons A Seller Doesn’t Have A Title
As I had mentioned before, there could be several reasons why a seller may not have a title. Some of these reasons are legitimate and can be considered when looking to buy a motorcycle.
The seller may have become a victim of just simply losing the title. This can easily happen from moving, natural disasters, or just straight up 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.
Proceed with caution if you plan on buying a motorcycle with no title. 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 Motorcycles And Barn Finds
In some states, titling a motorcycle didn’t happen until a few decades ago. This means there are a few motorcycles floating around that have never had a title issued to it whatsoever.
These types of motorcycles are usually referred to as “barn finds.” A barn find is a motorcycle that has been sitting for years and it’s unclear who the owner is. Because it was made before titles were being issued in that state, it almost becomes impossible to know who the original owner was.
This is how I purchased my 1969 TR25W Trophy. It had been sitting in a field for years and there was no titled issued to it. This surprised me when I asked for it during the transaction and the owner said it was too old to have one.
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. The DMV will recognize that there was no title for it in the first place and issue you a new one when you present your bill of sale.
What are some ways to secure your motorcycle while it’s parked? To increase security of your parked motorcycle, you can use a disc lock that has an alarm system on it that will keep the motorcycle from moving and sound an alarm when it senses movement. You can also use a GPS tracker in the case it does get stolen. See my list here for other recommended ways to secure your motorcycle.
Where is the VIN located on a motorcycle? The VIN is usually located on the steering neck of the motorcycle. The engine may also have a VIN on it which is usually located near the bottom of where the cylinders are.