Friday, May 8, 2009

How To Register a Custom Motorcycle

Finding out how to register a custom motorcycle or chopper begins long before you present your finished motorcycle at the local registration office for getting everything legal to go on the highway. In fact, the process begins with the purchase of your very first part and continues throughout the build process and after. This report covers the most common situations which arise when preparing to register a custom built motorcycle. Antique motorcycles are not covered since the process is rather complex and most custom builds today are not built from antique components.

First of all you must be aware that every State of the Union is slightly different in its laws and exact procedures for registering a custom built motorcycle, but many aspects are exactly the same. In order to ensure, however, that you do not fail to dot every "i" and cross every "t" along the way, you should open a dialogue with a helpful representative at your local registration office to learn any special details and requirements that may be specific to your State. In fact, it is a great idea to attempt to locate someone at the registration office who is helpful and friendly and be especially nice to this representative because you will probably need to ask some questions along the way and having a contact who is familiar with what you are attempting to do will ensure a pleasant experience when finding answers to hard questions.

Some States limit the number of "builder's titles" an individual can apply for within a specific period of time without holding a business license as a motorcycle builder. In other States, this limit is not simply based on builder's titles but is, instead, based on the number of vehicles of any kind which are titled in a person's name within one year. For example, in order to prevent people from using their front lawns to open illegal used car lots, Florida created a law stating that a single individual could not title 10 or more vehicles within one year unless they could prove either they owned and drove the vehicles (such as a car collector) or they applied to become a business. Be sure to learn about any such regulations in your area.

Much of the process required to register your custom built motorcycle will depend upon exactly how you obtained the parts and equipment used to build the bike. If the motorcycle was purchased as a basket case with frame and engine parts, you should have obtained the title to the motorcycle with the purchase. This is a key to successful registration. The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the frame and engine should match the VIN listed on the motorcycle Title of Ownership and allow you to easily transfer the title. But many situations are not that simple and each situation has differing requirements. Before looking at specific custom build scenarios, let's look at the parts of the process which are the same for each type of build.

Save All Paperwork: Whatever paperwork arrives with your parts or which is provided from the seller should be maintained. Every major component should have some type of proof of ownership provided which states the VIN.

Emissions Inspection: In some States, motor vehicle emissions must meet certain standards established by law. Most of these States do consider motorcycles to be a type of motor vehicle and therefore must meet the required emissions levels permitted by law. This has long been the case in California, but more and more States are setting standards as global warming becomes more and more of a concern. If you live in a State which has legally established emissions standards, you should learn from your Department of Motor Vehicles exactly what equipment must be incorporated into your custom build to control emissions and what standards your motorcycle must meet. Also, inquire about what certification you must obtain and where tests can be run on your completed, functional motorcycle in order to obtain an emissions certificate.

Safety Inspection: After assembly, you must present your operational custom built motorcycle to a law enforcement agency in your State for an inspection to certify that the motorcycle is road-worthy and to certify the odometer setting. This usually must be performed on the proper Department of Motor Vehicles form and a small fee is usually charge for the service. These safety inspections are only valid for a specific period of time, usually 90 days.

Should the safety inspection reveal problems which cause the custom built motorcycle to fail the inspection, you can expect to have to pay the fee anyway. When you resolve the issue and return for another inspection, you will again need to pay the required fee, so try to avoid submitting your bike for inspection before it is completely ready to pass the scrutiny of law enforcement officers who are certain to look at every detail.

Title Application: Regardless of the method used to build your custom bike, you will need to obtain a Title of Ownership, or at least have proof of application of such, before registering the motorcycle. The exact type of Title and requirements, however, vary based on the type of build.

Proof of Insurance: All States require insurance be carried on vehicles to be driven on the streets, roads, and highways of that State. Proof that you have insurance on the motorcycle must be provided in order to register the motorcycle.

New Custom Built Motorcycles

A new custom built motorcycle is usually defined, for the purposes of registration, as a motorcycle assembled from new parts, usually aftermarket parts, which is assembled by a person other than a manufacturer of motorcycles by using major components which are purchased from authorized manufacturers of component parts and which are accompanied by the Manufacturer's Statement of Origin (MSO).

This is, perhaps, the simplest scenario for obtaining a title for a custom built motorcycle. Because each part that is purchased comes with a payment receipt and the larger components such as frame and engine also must have a valid MSO, the builder simply saves and organizes each of these key pieces of paperwork until completing the motorcycle. Parts which do not have MSOs should have the original receipt saved for proof of where the parts were obtained. It is important to be able to prove that each and every part was obtained legally.

In the case of the frame and engine, the VINs listed on the MSOs must be visible on the completed custom built motorcycle for verification. If these numbers do not match, it will be almost impossible to register the bike, so check that the paperwork included with your major components match the numbers on the components and if an error is found, contact your supply source immediately. Do not install the part and think that you can work it all out later; you might have to return the component in a worst case scenario and have replacement shipped. While these errors are very rare, anything can and often will happen during a custom motorcycle build project and the registration office is no place to reach the initial realization that you have a major issue with VINs and MSOs.

The motorcycle will need to be presented to a local law enforcement agency in your area for an inspection of road-worthiness, comparison of the VINs, and certification of the odometer reading. This certification is required for the next steps in the process.

The next step in the process is application for an Assigned ID Number. This requires filling out an application and providing photocopies of all documentation, including the law enforcement inspection, along with any fees charged by your locale. This is then submitted to the Department of Motor Vehicles. If approved, an Assigned ID Number plate is manufactured and mailed to you. This must be properly affixed to the motorcycle.

Next, a Certificate of Title for a Custom Built Motorcycle from Aftermarket Parts must be obtained. The original supporting documentation, along with an Application for Title, and the specific fee charged by your State, must be submitted.

Once the title is received in the mail, you can obtain insurance and take Proof of Insurance to the Registration Office. You will need to pay the normal fee for registering a motorcycle along with fees associated with receiving a license plate.

Kit Motorcycles

If you are building a custom motorcycle based on a complete kit you purchased which includes the rolling chassis and engine, the VINs and MSOs will be included with the kit. If you choose to use a kit which does not include the engine and you purchase a new aftermarket engine, you will need to use the MSO for the frame from the kit and obtain an MSO for the engine from your supplier.

The remainder of the process will be exactly like that of all other scenarios.

New Rolling Chassis and New Aftermarket Engine

When you purchase a rolling chassis on which to assemble your custom motorcycle, you will be provided with the necessary MSO and VIN. You must ensure the documentation matches the numbers on the chassis. Your new engine will arrive with VIN and MSO.

The remainder of the process will be the same as that of other situations.

Custom Built Motorcycle Assembled from Used Non-Salvage Parts and Components

This situation becomes a bit more difficult unless the motorcycle builder is well aware of requirements and ensures all paperwork is readily available. The frame purchased must have a clear Title associated with it, as must the engine.

The term "non-salvage" does not mean that some of the parts or components may not come from a wrecked motorcycle. It does mean that the wrecked motorcycle has not been assigned a Salvage Title, in some States called a Scarped Title. In other words, if you locate a person holding a clear title to a wrecked motorcycle who wants to sell the engine from the motorcycle while scrapping other parts, you need to ensure that you either obtain the Title to the motorcycle or you contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles and, along with the seller, fill out an affidavit or other form required by the State in this situation. If the seller needs to sell the frame as scrapped, your local DMV can tell you the process to follow so that both parties are protected and have the legally required paperwork. This varies greatly from State to State, so be sure to fully understand your area's requirements for this situation.

By keeping all receipts as proof of purchase and ensuring you have title to the engine and frame, or other proof of ownership acceptable to your state, you can progress through the process through the standard safety inspection, titling, insuring, and registration.

Custom Motorcycle Built from Some or All Salvaged Parts

This scenario is one of the more difficult situations with which to ensure your custom build will be easy to title and register. When a motorcycle has been involved in an accident and declared a "total loss" by the insurance company and the State's Department of Motor Vehicle, the title is taken from the vehicle, reducing it to a pile of parts which can be sold to people like you who are seeking low priced parts for a custom build.

Because the definition of a total loss simply means the cost of restoring the entire motorcycle to its original, safe operating condition is too costly to perform, this does not always mean that all of the parts and components are of no use to a custom motorcycle builder. If you are planning to modify the frame anyway, you may not mind a little damage in certain areas of the frame. Some experts can straighten a frame without weakening the frame strength even when it is slightly bent. Perhaps the engine was not seriously damaged but the rest of the motorcycle is beyond repair and you want that specific engine for your custom build.

Some States make it especially difficult to title a motorcycle which includes salvaged major components. It can actually be beneficial in some situations to go ahead and buy the entire motorcycle and obtain the Title which has been marked as Salvage unless the seller is willing to surrender the Salvage Title with only purchase of some of the parts. Generally, a seller will want the frame and engine to go together in order to surrender the title since these are the parts that carry the VIN displayed on the title's face.

If you buy one motorcycle to get the frame and obtain a Salvage Title with it and buy another bike to get the engine and obtain a Salvage Title with that component, you should still be in good shape in almost every State. Before you invest the money, however, take the time to call the local DMV and be absolutely certain of the regulations in your State if you wish to present two Salvage Titles with the other proof of ownership for your custom restored motorcycle.

In many States, the safety inspection required will be more extensive and more costly, but than that required for custom built motorcycles using non-salvaged components. However, the cost is still usually under $100.

When you obtain a Title for a motorcycle which was created from salvaged parts, the Title will most likely carry a description of "Restored Salvaged" or it may continue to simply be state "Salvaged Title". Some States, however, will provide a clean title to the custom build motorcycle, considering it as if it were simply constructed from used parts. Check with your local DMV to learn the exact policy regarding this issue if it matters to you. As long as the State issues you a valid Title, you will be able to register the motorcycle. Therefore many custom builders do not consider it a bad connotation to have a Salvaged Title for their custom ride.