This is the story of how I went from this:
I recently acquired a 1975 Honda CB125s. Among other issues, the bike didn’t have a title. I wasn’t at all convinced I’d ever get it together and running, so that little issue was pretty low on my list of worries. Fast forward a bit, and it became clear that I would, indeed have to tackle this issue. Now, I know for a fact, the last place this bike was titled was in Oregon. The Oregon DMV, like many other states, has no mechanism for a private citizen to do a title search. They will do them for dealerships and impound lots and the like, but since I’m just a guy, clear on the other side of the country, that wasn’t going to be an option.
Now, a quick Google search will tell you, there are companies out there you can pay to take care of these things for you. I suppose THEY can run a title search, and jump through all the hoops of sending certified letters to the last name on the title, or sometimes you “sell” them your car, and through some kind of black magic, “sell” it back to you with a title. Whatever, they’re shady AF, and expensive to boot.
Some states DMVs have a procedure for titling a vehicle with no title. Again, many hoops to jump through, expense, and sometimes court appearances. And that’s if your state even allows such things. As near as I could tell, Virginia is NOT one of those states. They have procedures for tow lot operators, mechanics and other institutions to place a lien on a vehicle and then eventually apply for a title, but again, I’m just a dude with an old commuter bile he would like to ride legally. Fortunately, in some cases, there is a 3rd, far easier, less expensive, quicker option.
Enter the grand state of Vermont. I love Vermont. I love the people, I love the scenery, I love Ben & Jerrys, but most of all, I really, really love their incredibly lax DMV/greed. See, Vermont has some rather odd rules about vehicle registration and titling. Like most state governments, Vermont likes money. So much, in fact, that they will gladly take your money, and register your vehicle, no matter where you live. There’s no trickery or shady business here, their own website flat out says you don’t need to live in the state, visit the state, or even be able to find the state on a map to register your vehicle there. You just fill out the application, send them a check for the registration fee and taxes, and sit back and wait. Now, depending on what you’re registering, you may need a certified VIN check from your local PD as well, but that’s about it. If you’ve filled out everything correctly, and sent them the correct amount of money, in a couple of weeks, you’ll get your Vermont plates and temporary registration. A few weeks later, you’ll get your official registration, and that’s it. your dealings with Vermont are done. From there, you can slap on those sweet, sweet Vermont plates and drive legally.
But I want a title, you say. Legit Vermont plates aren’t a title! Well, yes, that’s correct, and here is where the (sometimes...) in the post title comes in. You see, if your vehicle is over 15 years old, (or under 300cc, if we’re talking about a motorcycle), Vermont doesn’t even ISSUE titles. Therefore, you take your Vermont tags and registration to DMV, tell them you’d like to title and register your vehicle in whatever state you live in. If your state is anything like mine, you’ll likely be met with “we need an old title to issue a new title”. Politely explain that Vermont doesn’t issue titles to vehicles over 15 years old, and encourage them to look it up. In my case, the somewhat confused lady at DMV had to consult with not one, not two, but THREE supervisors, but in the end, verified that I was right, and I walked out with a completely clean and legit Virginia title, license plate and registration.
Now, of course, you need to do the basic legwork of making sure your vehicle hasn’t been reported as stolen, or obviously you’re going to have a bad day, but for a few minutes of paperwork, a few bucks, and a little time waiting, you too can stop ignoring all of those Craigslist ads selling awesome shit for stupid cheap because they don’t have a title.
Oh, and full credit to the fine folks at Chin on the Tank for THIS article that walked me through the entire process. A great step-by-step guide with links to everything you’ll need to do this yourself.