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Title a Custom Motorcycle
By Jason Van Wyhe
One of the most common questions I receive is:
"If I buy a frame or rolling chassis, how do I title it?"
There is no easy answer to this. Each state has different regulations, and you should check with your state's DMV for the procedure you need to follow. But here are the most common procedures:
This varies, but most states require: headlight with low/high beam, horn, left-side mirror, fenders, and turn signals. Some states are sticklers on loud pipes, others will let you slide. It wouldn't hurt to have a set of baffles in your pipes just in case. Same goes for handlebar height - some states have exact measurements from the seat to the top of the bars that must be adhered to, while other may use simple regulations such as "shoulder height", or none at all. Other than that, it just needs to be "road worthy."
You will need to have an MSO (Manufacturers Statement of Origin) for your motor, transmission, and frame. You will also need receipts for the other parts you used. If you haven't paid sales tax on your parts up to this point, this is where they nail you for that.
Also, you may have heard about the EPA regulations regarding custom-built bikes. Without going into a lot of detail on this, these laws are directed primarily at professional builders. A home-based builder is allowed one personal exemption in their life, and they must keep the bike 5 years. However, there are ways around this. You can register the bike in a family member's name, or even easier, just use an EPA approved motor (which almost all manufacturers offer for nearly the same price as their regular motors). One final note, most states not named California are not currently enforcing these regulations due to lack of funding. I'm sure this will change in the future, however.
In most states, inspection is done by a DMV employee or a member of the state patrol/police. The knowledge of inspectors varies wildly from state to state, even county to county. Some will have staff dedicated for this purpose, other inspectors will have little or no knowledge. Be prepared to answer their questions, make sure everything works, and most important, have your paperwork in order.
After inspection, you will either receive a title, or paperwork that will allow you to get a title.
Insuring a custom-built bike can be tricky, so do a little research before you begin. Some frames and rolling chassis are easy to title. A frame from Santee, for instance, will go through with little or no trouble with big companies like progressive. A home built frame, however, may be impossible to title in your state. So do a litte research before you begin building.
Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of accurate information available right now on this subject. One e-book I did find on the subject was Chopper Registration Secrets. It has a ton of information and free tools to help you along the way, as well as extra benefits such as a bike appraisal service. Definitely worth while to avoid a lot of the common mistakes first time builders make.
That's about all there is to it. If we've missed something or you have state-specific regulations, please share them with us and we will add them to the bottom of this article for everyone's benefit.
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