When you purchase a used car, you already know you need to obtain the title from the owner so that you can legally transfer ownership with your state. But does the same rule apply to a used motorcycle purchase? Or is a bill of sale sufficient enough to register your vehicle?
This article will examine what steps you need to take to register a motorcycle with a bill of sale and how to find a sample bill of sale.
Reasons A Motorcycle Seller May Not Have The Title
Ideally, every vehicle sale – both big and small – should come with a transfer of the title. A title is a legal document that provides proof you are the owner of the vehicle. However, some motorcycle owners may not have the title to their vehicle in their possession. Here are some of the reasons that could apply:
- The previous owner did not have a title
- The current owner lost the title
- The previous owner died, and their estate is handling the sale
- The title was damaged or stolen
- The motorcycle was stolen
This last reason is the most problematic, and you want to take appropriate steps to avoid buying a stolen vehicle. Do not sign the bill of sale or transfer any money to the seller until you know for sure. In addition to the absence of the title, a few other red flags could be:
- A low selling price
- No service records
- No previous bill of sale
Here’s how to check out the bike’s history. Find the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which usually is found on the steering neck of a motorcycle or on the motor near the bottom of the cylinders.
Next, you need to use that VIN to see if the bike was stolen or involved in criminal activity. There are three ways you can do just that.
- Law enforcement database. You can take the VIN to your local police station and request that an officer run the numbers through the National Crime Information Center database.
- VINCheck website. The National Insurance Crime Bureau, a nonprofit organization, comprised of a group of insurance and car-rental companies, operates the website to fight insurance fraud. You are allowed to conduct up to five free VIN checks within a 24-hour period.
- Commercial websites. A third option is to use one of the commercial websites to check the VIN.
Creating A Bill Of Sale For A Motorcycle
If the VIN reports don’t indicate the motorcycle is stolen and you still want to buy it, then your next step is to obtain a bill of sale as proof of purchase. The bill of sale should include the following information:
- name and address of the buyer
- name and address of the seller
- make, model, and year of the motorcycle
- current odometer reading
- brief description of the motorcycle
- Vehicle Identification Number
- selling price
- any warranties
- signatures of both parties
In some states, the signatures on the bill of sale must be witnessed or notarized. To make things easy, you can download a sample bill of sale found here.
Applying For A Title
Not that you have the bill of sale as legal proof of the transaction, you can apply for a title. Take the bill of sale and your motorcycle to your Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office.
The DMV representative will first examine your bill of sale and perform a VIN inspection to make sure the motorcycle was not stolen or does not have a lien on it (since you have already done your own similar search, you have nothing to fear).
Next, the DMV representative will ask you to complete the paperwork necessary to become the owner of the record. Each state has its own forms and fee structure for this procedure.
The DMV will issue you a temporary registration that is valid until you receive your new title in the mail, typically within four to six weeks.
FAQs About Motorcycle Titles
What if the owner has a title, but it is in a different person’s name?
Often called a floating title, a title in someone else’s name typically means that the seller intended to “flip” the bike. The term “flip” means the owner did not want to spend time and money registering a bike they intended to sell soon. Check the VIN to make sure the bike was not stolen, but, in many cases, it is safe to proceed with the steps outlined above.
What does it mean if the VIN is scratched out or obscured?
If numbers have been removed or marked out in some way, the bike is very likely stolen. Most experts recommend you find another bike to buy.
What happens if you purchase a stolen motorcycle?
Let’s say you buy a motorcycle without verifying that it has not been stolen and try to register it with the state. If the DMV runs the VIN and finds out it is stolen property, it will impound the vehicle. You may need to hire a theft crimes attorney to prove you didn’t steal the motorcycle. Unless you are able to find and press charges against the person who sold you the bike, the money you spent on the purchase will be wasted.