How to Title a Barn Find Motorcycle

register vintage motorcycleIn one of my very first posts, I provided some sage advice on how to buy a vintage motorcycle.  It was based on my years of experience buying and selling used bikes.

I still stand by everything I said in that post, including piece of advice #4 – make sure you get solid paperwork (clean title, bill of sale, etc.).  Depending on the situation, the convenience of good paperwork can be priceless.

Again, let me emphasize – I stand by everything I previously said; but what is a guy or gal to do if you come across a downright, honest-to-goodness barn find?  That and the deal is just too good to pass up. ? I am going to tell you how to title a barn find motorcycle in your name.

What’s a barn find?

First, before going any further, let’s define a “barn find.”  Basically, I am referring to a motorcycle with no title and in the possession of someone who is not and never has been the legal owner.

That said, the prior legal owner is 100% truly gone – maybe they abandoned the bike, moved to a foreign country, were recruited for the first manned mission to Mars.  The point here is that they are truly unreachable, but also never coming back for this piece of machinery.

This week, I came across an amazing vintage motorcycle project that fits into this category.  Basically the bike had been in a storage unit for 15 plus years, the owner stopped paying rent, and the storage company foreclosed and sold the entire contents of the unit including the bike to the current “owner.”  

Neither the storage facility or current holder of the bike ever became the legal owner (they should have, but didn’t), but the prior legal owner is also long gone and never coming back.

I was unfortunately too slow (the bike was gone by the time I called the guy with it).  However, like a good little HappyWrench, I did all the prerequisite research into how to title a barn find motorcycle.

Before I lay out my research into how to title a barn find motorcycle, let me make a few things clear.  I am not a lawyer, and I definitely do not know all the different motor vehicle laws of the different states.  Some states are strict and some states not so much (more on this below).  My findings are based on two days of sporadic research.

That said, I am confident enough in the research I am presenting below in how to title a motorcycle barn find that I would be willing to give it a try myself on a reasonably priced project (before laying out too many clams In case I am wrong). Note that this will only work on vehicles older than 15 years.

6 Steps to Title A Barn Find Motorcycle

1) Make sure you are not eligible for a bonded title

According to the Florida DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) you are only eligible for a bonded title (Certificate of Title Surety) if the person you bought it from was the legal owner, you lost the title after the purchase, and the prior legal owner is unfindable/unreachable and you have documentation showing you tried to contact the person.  Note the distinction here about the prior legal owner. This means that bonded titles are not available for abandoned or stolen motorcycles.

2) Get the VIN of the bike and run a detailed VIN check using a service like InstaVIN.

This is to make sure there are no liens on the bike or it wasn’t stolen.

3) Pick a friendly state to title your bike in first

There are many “no title” states that do no issue titles for older (15+ year old) motorcycles.  They only issue registrations.  Georgia is one, but you need to know a resident.  Vermont is the best I’ve found, as you can do everything via mail and don’t have to be a resident.

4) Transfer ownership to your name in Vermont, with just a bill of sale

Basically, if the vehicle is more than 15 years old, Vermont will accept a basic bill of sale (from anyone; doesn’t have to be prior legal owner) to transfer ownership to your name.

Everything can be done via mail and Vermont will issue you a registration form of ownership along with Vermont plates.  Since that is their version of a title (costs about $48), you can obtain it with just a bill of sale.

5) Transfer title from Vermont to your state

Once you get the VT registration, transfer the title to your state. To do this you have to present the registration form of ownership from Vermont to your state DMV, who are then required to issue you a legal title in your name, in your state. Make sure to check if your state allows the transfer of Vermont registrations.

6) Make a VIN inspection for a bike over 500cc

You will need a VIN inspection for a bike over 500cc, but this can be done by anyone authorized to do one in your home state. This, of course, includes a police officer, the DMV, but in many states like my own (Florida), also includes a notary.  I suggest a mobile notary.  For the notary, just make sure to also get a letter on the notary’s letterhead identifying them.

That is my two days worth of research into how to register a motorcycle without a title.  From what I can tell reading online, this process should work.

If possible always get a signed off title

Again, I always suggest getting a signed off title, if possible; but, if one day you find yourself in a jam with a barn find you simply can’t walk away from, I hope this post provides you a workable solution for getting the title.

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Didn’t find what you needed in this particular post?  Check out the HappyWrench Motorcycle Repair Link Database.  It is a one-stop shop for all your DIY motorcycle repair information needs.

Also, forgive any typos or grammatical errors a I wrote this blog post from my phone.

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