One of the most important things to consider when buying a motorcycle is the title status. It holds the power to make or break an otherwise stellar deal, and while it’s usually okay to buy a motorcycle with a salvage title, a road-going motorcycle with no title at all is a big red flag.
Anyone can spot damage on the surface of a motorcycle. And as it turns out, looking into the past is just as easy.
It might sound like some Buzzfeed scare tactic, but the truth is there are tons of people out there who just want to make a quick buck however they can. They'll cover up the truth if it makes them money, and while we love to think those people are the exception and not the norm, it only takes one bad apple to put everyone else on high alert.
When it comes to buying a motorcycle, it’s best to know exactly what you're doing.
Run the VIN
Your first step in buying a motorcycle should always be to confirm the title status.
The reason for this is simple. If a motorcycle is totaled, nothing changes about the paper title until the next time it’s transferred. That means the seller could hand you what appears to be a clean title only for it to come back salvage after you register it. Talk about bad business.
Avoid that scenario by running a VIN check on any bike you plan to buy. Ask the seller for the VIN and run it through a VIN checker before buying the bike.
That VIN check will also reveal any liens currently placed on the bike. An active lien means the owner financed the bike. In other words, the lienholder owns the bike until the lien is paid off.
Shady sellers will try to offload a bike they still owe money on, leaving you to fight an uphill legal battle to straighten everything out. Be sure to ask the seller about any active liens shown on the VIN check or printed on the paper title.
Learn the Title Status
There are several possibilities here, so let's look at the most common title statuses.
Great! Make sure it hasn’t been signed or dated by a buyer already, and make sure the VIN matches the bike.
In the following states, the seller must have the title notarized before the sale:
Salvage or rebuilt
This means the motorcycle has been totaled by an insurance company at some point. The paper title will be branded as such in big bold letters, usually near the top right corner.
Some states require an inspection before the vehicle can be titled again. Check your state's requirements before committing to a purchase.
Buying a salvage title bike may sound like an easy way to get a discount. But insuring a previously totaled motorcycle costs more than a clean title would. And existing damage could prevent you from filing claims on those parts of the bike in the future. That’s money flying right out of your pocket. Not to mention…
That means it’s been wrecked. A change to Salvage or Rebuilt only happens if an insurance company deems the motorcycle a total loss. That could be anything from a harmless low-speed layover to a frame-bending high-side, so ask the seller for details.
Was the damage fixed by Honda of Fort Myers or by JimBob McGee in his carport? Without a paper trail there’s no way to know for sure. Ask the seller for receipts detailing the repairs and any insurance payouts, and if they’re long gone, maybe you should be too.
Oh, and dropping a bike “at 0 mph in the driveway” doesn’t cause huge scrapes in the plastic or cracked engine cases. Those are telltale signs that a more serious accident occurred.
Missing or lost
It’s legal to buy and sell powersports toys without titles, but it’s illegal to buy a regular road vehicle without a title.
9 times out of 10, buying a motorcycle without a title is a bad idea. To protect yourself, ask the seller to provide you with the bike's VIN number and run a check on it. It won’t hurt to call your local highway patrol office and run it by them too, just in case it was stolen recently.
If you think buying a stolen motorcycle is no big deal, think again: when the right person finds out you have it, police officers will knock at your front door and all that money you spent will disappear into thin air.
Never had a title
If you’re buying a dirt bike or other off-road vehicle, chances are it never had a title to begin with. That’s fine! Just ask the seller for an MSO or bill of sale after you check the VIN. Be sure to pay less than you would for a bike with a title!
It's pretty easy, really. As long as you take precautions to ensure you're not buying stolen goods, and you check the bike for any damage, you'll be good to go!
We hope this article answered some of your motorcycle title questions. If you have a question we didn’t answer, feel free to drop a comment or contact us and we’ll help however we can.
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