Buying a scooter can be fun until you start experiencing issues, but you might have a feeling that there could be issues if a scooter you want to buy doesn’t have one.
We will talk about the different ways a scooter is impacted with titles, BUT please know your state DMV, BMV or whatever it is called where you are will be the best place for details. Each state has some differences, and they tend to change from time to time.
What Is A Scooter Title?
Just to catch you up in case you aren’t sure, what exactly is a scooter title?
First, know that the term scooter can be used in too many ways, but here we are talking about motor scooters. Think Vespa. They are essentially a type of motorcycle, but the kick scooters and mobility scooters are not what we’re talking about here.
You do NOT need a title for a mobility or kick scooter.
Now for the Vespa-style motor scooter or other vehicles that operate on a roadway…
A scooter title is a legal document proving that a person is the legal owner and generally applies to all vehicles in a state.
It is an essential document because, without it, you cannot show that you are truly the owner of the scooter. They tend to be issued by your state’s Secretary of State through the department of motor vehicles (DMV).
The department may be called something different in your state (like BMV), so you guessed it – the who, what, where, why & when may differ in your state, too.
Information on the title will include some or all of the following:
- Year, Make & Model of the scooter
- taxation information like jurisdiction or county information
- Vehicle Identification Number (VIN): the unique number assigned to the scooter
- name & address of the registered owner
- Lienholder information if money is owed on the scooter
- License Plate information (sometimes)
I’ve heard a title referred to as a ‘pink slip’ from time to time, as well.
Do Scooters Need Titles?
Small scooters under 50cc that are restricted at 30 miles per hour (mph) are sometimes thought of as too small to be bothered with things like titles.
In general, most states in the US require the owner of a scooter to have a scooter title and registration documents.
Think about it – did you know your scooter has a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)?
But there are some exceptions to the rule. Some states like Florida have laws that state that scooters with an engine displacement below 50cc do not need to be registered or have a title. However, this is because scooters with engine displacement below 50cc are not allowed to ride on the public streets.
In contrast, a state like California does not require you to have a scooter title. Seriously – double check with your state, but to be safe – yes, you need a title registered with the state.
Also, registering your scooter even if you aren’t required to gives a certain amount of protection as the unique identifier (the VIN) will be tied to your information. If it’s stolen & recovered when sold later, there is some hope that it is returned to you (even if it’s a sliver of hope).
Do Mopeds Need Titles?
The term moped is just as confusing as throwing out the term scooter it seems. Scooters are a type of motorcycle, but did you know that to be considered a moped, it needs to have pedals? Moped quite literally means motorized pedals. More on scooter types here
For the sake of our sanity, though let’s call a moped a 50cc scooter that tends to be speed restricted at 30 miles per hour.
In general, mopeds need to have a title. This varies state by state.
Like scooters, though, this is state-specific, so you’ll want to refer to your state’s transportation department to be on the safe side.
Remember, though, that having a proper title assigns the scooter to your name.
If you buy a used moped, and it is discovered to be stolen previously, you will at the minimum lose the scooter & money you purchased it with and at worst – jail time. If you have no proof you bought it, you’re certainly looking at a headache.
Why You Should NOT Buy a Scooter Without A Title
It is truly a pain to buy a scooter without a title if your state requires one, but even more importantly – you might be buying a stolen scooter!
Scooters can be thought of as an easy target, and some are literally small enough to be picked up by a couple of guys with a van or pick-up truck. More on securing your scooter here.
Let’s say you buy one with the person selling it to you telling you they lost the scooter title. You start to go through the effort to get it registered only to find out that it was stolen courtesy of that VIN. Then you will have no choice but to return the scooter to the rightful owner, and in the end, you have lost the money you paid to get the scooter.
This is if you aren’t accused of having stolen it yourself!
Plus it would truly bug me to think I bought a stolen scooter – if only because as someone who worked hard for the money that bought the scooter to begin with – THAT STINKS!
Another issue you might encounter from getting a scooter without a title is that the scooter may still have a lien on it. When I talk about a lien, I mean the original owner of the scooter may still owe money on the scooter, and they are making payments to clear that debt.
Two things can happen in this case; you may need to pay the debt on the scooter if you want to keep it.
OR – you lose both the scooter and the money you dished out to ‘buy’ it from the seller when they stop making their payments.
Reasons to NOT buy a scooter without a title:
- It could be stolen, & you could be accused of stealing it.
- You can be stopped and harassed by police officers when they realize you do not have a scooter title.
- You may be punished or fined according to the law of your state.
- The title may not be clear if the seller has not paid off the scooter with their bank.
Buying a scooter that does not have a title can leave you in situations that can be avoided. It is better to be safe and get a scooter with a title.
Buying a Scooter Without a Title
You found a great scooter, but it doesn’t have a title. Let’s walk through some options to protect your hard-earned dollars but feed that scooter love!
If your state requires titles, chances are that the scooter was registered from the start as it was supposed to. That’s the good news!
If you’re in this situation with a seller claiming they lost it but has a valid title that is clear, you can simply ask that the motor scooter owner requests a replacement title or lost title.
The paperwork should be fairly straightforward for them as long as they are the owner on the title. Some states allow this to be done online now, but at a minimum, you can print out a form to help them out if they aren’t eager for a trip to make it happen.
It might take some time, but then you’re just looking to have the title signed, and a bill of sale, and you’re on your way to get it registered in your name.
Note: there are a handful of states that require a notary for the signing of the title, but I was able to find out that 3 that I know of have this mentioned on the title. Just check to be sure!
I have heard of an instance where the seller & buyer went together to get the transfer done at one time, but your mileage may vary trying to get a stranger to head down for that fun!
If the seller isn’t willing to get the title, this is a scooter I’d pass on. I personally wouldn’t want to risk losing my money on a potentially stolen scooter.
If you decide to buy the scooter without a title, get evidence of the sale at a minimum to minimize looking like you could have stolen it down the line.
This is referred to as a bill of sale even when selling among people and not a dealership.
Make sure that the seller and buyer’s information is on it along with the detail of it (like make, model, year & VIN), plus any conditions of the sale, purchase price, and the date. In the past, I’ve just had handwritten information, both of us signed it, and then I made a copy when I was selling.
The last scooter I sold was never transferred, so at renewal, I got the notice. I simply used the information from the bill of sale, and I was able to submit the transfer online through my state’s online portal. It was simple, but I probably wouldn’t feel that way if I couldn’t remember his name & address!
What Do You Do With Your Scooter Title?
Once you have your official title in hand, your job is simply to keep it safe. Literally.
In general, it is a good idea to keep your motor scooter titles in a safe where it has a better chance of surviving a fire or flood if the worst case scenario happens.
Even if you do not have a safe, you will want to keep your title with all of your important documents such as your birth certificate. Remember that it is a legal document that proves you own the scooter.
Since scooter titles are legal documents that signify the rightful owner, you want a title! It helps you avoid unnecessary issues that can arise with getting a scooter without a title in the short & long term!
Scooter titles and the law guiding scooters vary with state. Ensure that you check with your state’s DMV to know the motor-driven cycle laws that govern your state.