How to Buy a Motorcycle Without a Title?


Purchasing a used motorcycle can be a bit intimidating. You don’t know who the seller is or what the motorcycle has been through. Whether it’s your first bike or your tenth, the truth is, you’re taking a risk. Especially when you find the perfect bike and realize it doesn’t have a title. There are many reasons why a motorcycle wouldn’t have a title, but not all of them mean you shouldn’t go through with the sale. So why wouldn’t a motorcycle have a title and when should you avoid the situation all together?

What is a title and why is it so important?

The Certificate of Title is the way you prove ownership of the motorcycle. Without the title, you cannot ride the motorcycle in public. There are some exceptions to the rule that vary state to state depending on the year of the bike and if it’s classified as an antique. However, each state is different. Most require a title to register the bike. Others, like Alabama, only require the bill of sale. Otherwise, almost all motorcycles need to have a title in order to ride the motorcycle on the streets.

Reasons why a motorcycle wouldn’t have a title:

  1. The previous owner died and the estate is handling the sale.
  2.  The owner was a victim of a natural disaster like a fire, flood or tornado.
  3. The state the owner lived in didn’t require a title for older motorcycles.
  4. The owner moved recently.
  5. The owner had the motorcycle for many years and lost the documents.
  6. The seller has stolen the motorcycle and the title is with its lawful owner.

How to avoid problems

If you’re in contact with a seller who has no title, they may be completely legitimate or a total scammer. This is where having a good judge of character comes into place. The easiest way to avoid falling victim to a scam is to ask the seller for the VIN number prior to meeting with them. A VIN number is unique to every motorcycle and represents its origin. There’s no reason a seller shouldn’t disclose the VIN number to you. It’s typically located on the frame of the motorcycle and needs to match the one on the title or registration for it to be considered legitimate. You can come across many problems if the VIN on the frame doesn’t match the one on the title. This used to happen more frequently many years ago when VIN laws weren’t as strict. If an owner wanted to fully customize their bike and it involved getting a new frame, then the technician would then transfer the old VIN onto the new frame or keep the VIN on the new frame all together. This would create a catastrophe for the owner. Now they have two different VIN numbers for one motorcycle. If they were to get pulled over by the wrong police officer who happened to run an inspection, the VIN on the motorcycle wouldn’t match the one on the registration; communicating to the police officer that your motorcycle was probably stolen and chopped for parts. Running the VIN number allows you to research the motorcycle’s history and make sure it wasn’t reported as stolen, involved in any accidents or had any major repairs.

If you prefer not to run the VIN online, you can always call the non-emergency state police department and they can run a VIN number for you. You can also take it to a dealership to see if it has a lien against the bank.

If you do purchase the motorcycle without running the VIN and it comes up as stolen once you go to register it, your motorcycle will be taken to impound and all that money you just spent will have been wasted.

If the motorcycle was never titled or registered, you have to get a bill of sale in order to prove ownership at the DMV. They will help you, but you will have to go through many hoops in order to get your motorcycle street legal. You may have to register your motorcycle as an ORV, meaning it’s designed for or capable of cross-country travel on or immediately over land, water, sand, snow, ice, marsh, swampland, or other natural terrain. Then you can have your title upgraded to make it a street bike, but you will need to have the bike inspected to make sure it has all the right requirements to be street legal.

Floating Title

If the name on the title is someone other than the person selling it to you, then the seller was acting similar to how a dealer conducts business. They never filled out the title and or paid sales tax. This can happen when a person intends on “flipping” a bike. Technically, this is illegal because the seller is not a dealer and did not pay the state the revenue tax for the sale. In this case, proceed with caution and try to talk down the price since you’re onto their devious plan! Some buyers look for motorcycles with no titles to get great prices.

How to request a duplicate title

According to the DMV, all states allow vehicle owners to replace a lost title fairly easily if they have the right paperwork, which will vary state to state. There’s usually an application that’s required for a replacement certificate of title. There are a few things to consider that will vary state by state when completing the application. Keep in mind, you can always hire a title service to alleviate you from potential legal repercussions.

  • It’s not such a hassle if the person selling is the only owner of the motorcycle. If not, the paperwork becomes a lot more intense. All people on the original title may need to sign the application. Most states require a notary to witness the current and previous owners signing the application.
  • If there is an open lien on the motorcycle, the lien holder might have to apply for the duplicate title, or submit a lien release witnessed by a notary.
  • Most states require a statement with regards to what happened to the lost title. It’s important to be as honest and transparent as possible.
  • Lastly, the owner will either have to submit this application to their local DMV or county’s treasurer’s office. This will cost around $65 to process the request and will take a few days to receive the new title. The state needs time to review the information on the application to determine the motorcycle hasn’t been stolen.


Purchasing a used motorcycle that doesn’t have a title can create a whirlwind of confusion, paperwork and many hours at the DMV. For the layman, it’s best to avoid these types of situations. The task of trying to request a duplicate title that has multiple previous owners will become a huge hassle and you may end up with with a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Whereas, some people specifically find motorcycles that do not have a title. They know they can get a great price for the motorcycle because the owner is going to have trouble selling it. It’s best to equip yourself with some street smarts when dealing with this kind of situation so you can avoid any problems down the road and enjoy your new motorcycle.

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