While we generally recommend that new riders buy used motorcycles and there are plenty of great deals to be had out there even for the most veteran of riders, there are many people that are hesitant about it. After all, while most people out there who are trying to sell a motorcycle are probably completely legitimate folk, there are enough scammers out in the world that it’s a bit of a nerve wracking experience. Buying new at least absolves you of title issues, which can be very difficult to navigate.

When you’re purchasing your motorcycle used, you absolutely want to make sure that all of the paperwork is in order. But what if it isn’t? What do you do?

Buying a Motorcycle Without a Title

Should you even attempt this? Is it possible for a legitimate motorcycle seller to not have such an important piece of paper. The answer to this is: yes, it’s possible in certain situations, but it’s also possible that the bike has been stolen or there are other nefarious issues with it.

For instance, in certain states, bikes that are of a certain vintage actually aren’t titled due to their age. And it’s very possible that a potential seller is completely legitimate but has simply lost the title. It happens.

But it’s also very possible that this means that the bike has been stolen. Generally speaking you have a good shot at telling the good from the bad by just getting a feel for the situation. Is the bike missing parts? Is the seller acting like a drug addict? (…is the seller a drug addict?) Is the ignition lock busted? If so, these are all signs of a bad situation. But if you get invited to somebody’s nice house and they show you a bike in perfectly good condition, it just doesn’t have a title… probably legitimate. Or at least, the seller is probably not trying to scam anybody and probably actually does own the bike.

How to Get a Title for a Motorcycle

The first question you should be asking yourself is if it is actually worth getting a title for the motorcycle. If you’re dealing with a lost motorcycle title and you’re looking to buy the bike and have it titled, then you’re going to have to prove that the bike wasn’t stolen. Sometimes this can be easy to do, but other times it can take years, potentially, and may even involve judges.

Whether this is worth it is kind of suspect. The general consensus among most vets is that if the bike is in really good condition and is very rare, or is that unicorn bike that you’ve been lusting after and the price is right, then you may as well take a chance, so long as you’re willing to deal with any headaches that arise. You do crazy things for love, right?

If it’s just a starter bike or something that’s rather generic, it probably isn’t worth the trouble to go through the process of how to register a motorcycle without title. However, you could potentially use the lack of title as a means to drive down the price of the sale, if you’d like.

Selling a Motorcycle Without a Title

If you don’t have a title for your motorcycle and you’re looking to sell it, we suggest you go ahead and do the legwork. Particularly if you are the original owner of the bike, you’re going to have an easier time proving that the bike wasn’t stolen as compared to the person attempting to purchase it from you.

Plus, as we mentioned above, many people are going to use the lack of title as a bargaining chip and you may not be able to get the price you want if you don’t have the title. It’s far easier for the original owner to prove that the bike is theres and go through a motorcycle title transfer as compared to a secondary buyer attempting to do all the legwork.

But if you can’t be bothered or if you bought the bike without a title, you can attempt to pass the buck along.

What’s a “Floating Title?”

You’ll often come across this when looking through used bikes, particularly if you’re dealing with somebody who “flips” motorcycles. That is, they buy a bike at a lower price from somebody else, fix it up, and sell it off at a higher price in order to make profit. Assuming that you are dealing with a reputable flipper, this can be a good way to get a great fixed-up bike at a lower price point than you might find otherwise.

However, when you look at the title… you’ll often notice that the title is not in the name of the person who is selling the bike. Many flippers do this, since title transfer takes time and costs money.

Does this mean that the bike could possibly have been stolen? Unlikely. It’s highly unlikely that somebody would be able to make off with a physical motorcycle and a title, given that the title usually isn’t kept on the motorcycle itself. So if you see a floating title, it’s unlikely that anything shady is going on where acquisition of the bike is concerned.

The main thing to keep in mind here is that a floating title is technically a form of tax fraud, since the flipper never paid sales tax on the bike (a requirement when doing a title exchange). How concerned you are about this is up to you. This is also something that you can potentially use to drive down the price of the bike, if you’d like.

In conclusion, it’s relatively easy to spot title scams with a little bit of background and know-how. Most of the time it’s pretty clear if something is a scam or not, though if a bike doesn’t have a title or has a floating title, that’s not necessarily indicative of the bike itself being acquired through ill-gotten gains. A little bit of street savvy should see you through your motorcycle purchase.

If you’re looking to buy a bike and “flip” it for yourself, make sure that you keep an eye on the best aftermarket motorcycle parts so you can get your repairs done at a great price.