Can You Buy a Motorcycle Without a Title?

2020 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S

If you’re in the market for a used motorcycle, you won’t have any trouble finding one. There are thousands of them out there for sale. Most sellers have the benefit of a title that goes with the bike. There are some instances where you might run into a situation where the title is missing. Maybe the original owner has passed away. Relatives may not be able to find the title. This leaves them in a peculiar situation. Can you buy a motorcycle without a title? While it’s not the best scenario, technically, you can make the purchase and take it home with you, but you may be asking for problems down the road. We researched this odd situation. Here is what we learned about buying a motorcycle without a title.

Can you buy a motorcycle without a title?

According to JD Power, most states require motorcycle owners to have registration documents and titles for motorcycles. In California, miniature motorcycles are exempt from this law, but ATVs, dune buggies, snowmobiles, trail bikes, and road bikes must have a title to operate them legally. You can buy a motorcycle that does not have a title, but you will not be viewed as the legal owner of the bike without switching the title into your name.

Requirements for proof of ownership

Switching a title into your name includes paying the transfer fee and any other fees, producing an odometer disclosure if the bike is under 10 years old, a current smog certification, the signature of the buyer on the title, the signature of the sellers, and lienholder on the title and the possession of a pink slip at minimum.

The best way to buy a motorcycle without a title

If you find a great deal on a motorcycle but the owner does not have a title, all is not lost. The first thing that you should do is to verify that the person selling the bike is the legal owner. If you buy a stolen motorcycle you will forfeit your right to ownership when you attempt to get it switched into your name. There are a few reasons why a person may not possess a motorcycle title. According to Cycle Crunch, it could be because the previous owner passed away and the estate is selling the bike, the title may have been lost in a recent move or natural disaster or fire, the state may not require titles for older bikes, or the documents may simply have been lost by the owner. It’s essential to confirm that the bike has not been stolen.

Ask for the VIN Number

One way that you can verify that the person selling the bike is to obtain the VIN. This will provide you with access to the name of the current owner on record. If the frames have been switched out, the VIN may not match the name of the registered owner. If there is a discrepancy it could be due to the bike has been in an accident or it may have been made from stolen parts from chopped bikes. Either way, it is probably best to pass on the deal and go with a bike that you can confirm the legal owner’s name. You can also use the VIN to determine if there are any current liens against the bike before you purchase.

Get a bill of sale

Once you’ve established that the bike is the legal property of the seller, with no liens from titleholders, you’re in a more solid position to obtain legal ownership and have the title duplicated and switched into your name. Motorcycle Habit points out that every state has its own set of rules and regulations for motorcycle requirements, so check these out first. You will need to request a duplicate title and have it switched into your name. You must have a bill of sale from the seller to start this process. This proves that you purchased the bike. You will need to take the bill of sale and the motorcycle to your local DMW. The DMV agent will inspect the VIN to ensure that there are no liens on the bike and that it isn’t stolen. The agent completes a form for this process then phones the local police department with the VIN to get immediate results. if the bike checks out with no liens or reports of being stolen, you are given the appropriate forms to complete to request a duplicate title for the bike. In most cases, you must complete a lost title form and provide the information as you want it to appear on the title. A physical street address in the state that you order the title from is required in addition to the associated fees for making the request.

Patience is required

After you complete the necessary application forms and pay the fee at the local DMV, the process for obtaining a new title has been started. It usually takes a few weeks for the new title to appear. You may obtain a temporary registration for the motorcycle while you are waiting for the new title to arrive. If applicable, you may also receive the registration and a license plate for the bike. If the motorcycle is not in driveable condition, you may want to have it inspected by a local police department before you start the lost title process. This can save time as the department will give you the paperwork to take to the DMV, saving you a step. In cases where the motorcycle is not drivable, plan on trailering the bike and taking it with you to the DMW. The agent must do a visual inspection before starting the process for a lost or replacement title.

Final thoughts

It’s possible to successfully buy a motorcycle without a title and have it transferred into your name, but it’s a process. Unless you can verify that the sale is legitimate and the seller is the owner of the bike, you’re taking a gamble. Whenever possible, choose a motorcycle that has a clear title that is physically held by the seller.


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