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Registering an old car - Tips and Tricks


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The current most popular thread has recently run aground in discussions about registering the car in question. Rather than add to that wonderful thread I figured it would be helpful to start a thread devoted just to "Tips and Tricks" to register an old car. If possible we can keep this thread positive and on point to educate and entertain.

 

As been mentioned before there has not been found a reference book for the average car collector to use. The book would be huge at this point as every state has their own rules. Throw in Federal regulations and changes over time and the book gets to be rather long.

 

The employees at you local DMV probably do not know as much about registering your car as you do. This may come as a surprise to many of us. This is Tip #1: Gather as much information about you car as you can. The employees at DMV are used to the daily grind of modern cars with and without paperwork. Many of them do not know what to do with the curve ball you are about to pitch them. Be patience and calm to get through this.

 

Now here's my story:

About a year and a half ago we bought a 1914 car in an online auction in another state. Interstingly we knew the history of the car and the previous owner who had recently passed away. We knew the car had a current title and figured it would be easy to transfer ownership. Boy were we naive.

 

When I picked up the car from one of the daughters of the previous owner she provided me with a title in her dad's name, copy of the death certificate, and a signed letter that she and her sister were the executors of the estate and had authority to sell the car. The auction house supported all of this and told us we should be all set. After meeting some really wonderful people and our new prize in the trailer we headed west 2,000 miles home.

 

Upon arriving home with the car still in the trailer we started with our local AAA Office. Maybe we would get lucky and not have to go to DMV.  It all started well. We explained that the car did not have a VIN as they were not a standard yet. We showed the enthusiastic AAA employee the four digit serial number on the engine and explained that was the only number that was used. Back into the Office we went optimistic that we had dodged a bullet after all we were trying to do this right and legal.

 

Once into the DMV computer we hit our first snag. Given that the "VIN" was so short our request was flagged for review by the main DMV office. We were told this was normal and after review we should be on our way. We were told the current backlog of cases was about a month long and to wait for a call. I can only imagine what the wait might be now with COVID-19!

 

After what seemed like an eternal wait we got word from DMV and they threw their curve ball. While the four digit VIN was not an issue the title was. In our state the seller must sign off on the title. Our title had the signatures of the daughters with a note that they were representing the estate. While they did not transfer the title in their name it was perfectly legal and normal in their state to transfer ownership in this way. Our state would have none of this. They could care less what the rules were in another state. For us this was very frustrating. Tip #2: The rules to register a car vary between states and the state you are registering in takes precedence.

 

Thankfully the daughters and the Auction house bent over backwards to help us. Our DMV office would not discuss any other options to move forward without a title in the "seller's name". The Auction house put us in touch with a lady in the Registers Office in their state, she listened to our story and empathetically offered to help. With her help we were able to transfer ownership and get a new title that our state would accept. While I hated mailing our original paperwork in the mail it was the only choice. To our amazement the paperwork got turned around in hours, not days or weeks.

 

Again we waited another month for our paperwork to be processed with fingers crossed. Now almost a year after buying our dream car we finally got a title in our name from our DMV office. A small miracle that could only happen thanks to persistence and patiences on our part and the ability to work with and find empathetic people on the other end of the phone.

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Exactly why today I buy only cars that have clean Florida titles and have the VIN. Would assign a $500 value to just that. Florida also has a web site where you can check am sure other states do also. Such a list would be useful.

 

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 I once sold a car with the serial # and the new owner went to his home city 90 miles away to get the registration.

 He came back the next day furious because that I made a mistake on the paperwork and only listed a 6 digit "VIN".

 I explained that they did not have VIN's when the car was made and it was the registry that did not know how to register it with a 6 digit serial #.

 

 In another event, I was told flatley out, that my car could not obtain a title because it did not have one.

 She said that it could never be registered ever again.

 

 She was wrong, as in Ma., one could request one from the main RMV office in Boston, or you could go to court and ask a judge to order the RMV to issue one.

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29 chandler, what state are you in? this may help. 

 

I too have somewhat of a titling problem. More vin related as I do have a current title in my name for the state I live in (MD).

Previous title had a couple digits transposed, I had I thought plenty of evidence as to why it was incorrect and what it would take to make it correct. The girl at the counter understood and was about to make the changes on the new title, then she had a second thought to check with her supervisor. Super said the issuing state had to make the change. I contacted Maine, the issuing state and they had no records, car was too old. Still a problem I need resolved.

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I think that you can benefit from a "tip", but there are no "tricks" that you can or should try. If I was buying a car from through a more complicated situation from one to state to register in another state, I would find out as much of the process as possible, beforehand. In your case the auction house was very helpful and supportive. I would contact the local state Highway Patrol that has the main responsibility in enforcing vehicle registrations and title transfers. I'm sure that you could find a very knowledgeable officer that could help you. Likewise I would contact the State Highway Patrol in the state that I wanted to register the car in, before I contacted the local DMV. As you stated the average employee of the DMV is proficient at handling transactions involving late model cars, not something out of the ordinary. I've found that AAA offices are good for routine things but I've had to take other matters directly to the DMV office. 

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On 9/6/2020 at 10:33 AM, padgett said:

Exactly why today I buy only cars that have clean Florida titles and have the VIN. Would assign a $500 value to just that. Florida also has a web site where you can check am sure other states do also. Such a list would be useful.

 


 

Doesn’t always work.......I have a clear Florida issued title, and am locked out due to the 50 state title database run by the Feds. Read my post on my 1917 White. They want to chase a car in another state........while dealing with my car. I politely explained that that has nothing to do with me, or my car. They might have an issue with it, but it’s clearly NOT my problem, and it’s unconscionable that I have to deal with someone’s paperwork issue from 2000 miles away on a totally different car. We shall see the answer soon.......

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I can see two pre-vin cars having the same serial number, were just sequence numbers, but isn't the make/year of the other car different ?

Would not be surprised if Florida requires a state issued VIN at some point for outliers. Is on a sticker that goes in the doorjamb.

Went through something similar for an Innocenti Mini that had an Italian title and a 6 digit serial number but only took three trips to the DMV. Was able to get a paper temporary tag in the meantime.

 

Just a thought but doesn't a dealer have a number of tags they can move between cars ?

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Going through a similar issue in North Carolina. I had owned the car for 10 years in California and had a clean California Title. One year ago I surrendered my California title to North Carolina DMV. At this time the car was Non-Op. I received a letter that stated that a representative would come out to my house to inspect the vehicle and check the"VIN". Two months later after calling the DMV I was told that they did no longer come out to residences to inspect vehicle. So I worked on the car to get in operational, but this took longer than one year as no one wanted to work on a car of this age. Wrote a letter to DMV stating that the car is operational, but the tag is expired and requested a ten day tag to drive it to the DMV. Waiting for response. I should have not tried to register the car in NC and waited for it to be operational. Nightmare.

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A couple basic points we learned, mostly the hard way, tears ago, and probably useful no matter where you are.....

(1) ask around about local DMV offices; different offices may have reputations for being helpul or difficult...

(2) remember THEY have thew power here, not you...being right is immaterial if you allow yourself to upset your DNV clerk. Grind your teeth and remain pleasant

(3) as stressed above, do all your homework; the less problems to be solved the better chances you'll have...

 

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Hanging your cane on the bar and showing a DV card also helps.

 

In Florida there is supposed to be a way to transfer a title by mail but a misplaced comma can get it returned. Best to do in person (and keep clicking the appointment website, next day appointments have been know to appear).

 

OTOH renewing tags and a driver's license online is easy.

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I had a similar problem. The car came from a deceased collector's daughter in Texas. The car had a title, but not in her name. Our DMV lead me on a wild goose chase on some issue, but the real problem was the name on the Bill of Sale didn't match that on the title. I researched how the seller could the car titled in her name, and she agreed to help. A year later, she told me she didn't have the time. Finally. I got a PA title by taking it to court. 

Bottom line is: get a Bill of Sale and a title or registration in the name of the seller. In states without titles, get a notarized Bill of Sale. On the old cars the number stamped on the engine or chassis is the VIN.

 

Phil

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Feel sorry for you guys, it’s super straight forward for us you either get a roadworthy inspection or club member to certify it’s safe (for the really early stuff) and pop down to our DMV equivilant, pay your money and you’re done.
 

Pre 1930 cars only have to display one plate as well (I’m guessing the people who set up the scheme were old car guys given everyone else needs front and back plates)  

 

We don’t really have a concept of titles here and ownership disputes are a civil matter not our DMV equivilents 

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To register a 1967 Kaiser Jeep 5 ton military truck at the New Mexico DMV  I tried to get the new title to match the old one from Utah  . I'm told Kaiser Jeep is not in the system I will have to pick Kaiser or Jeep  I pick Kaiser then what engine is in it  I say its a Multifuel it can run on  gas or diesel  That not in the system  I can choose gas or diesel  I pick Diesel  . 

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Sounds like when I had the back garage built. If a garage over 1,000 feet it is a "professional garage" and requires all sorts of stuff. OTOH if a garage/workshop. It didn't. Right.

 

And on the gripping had had no problem fixing the weight on the latest Allante - title said 4300 lbs and Florida registration is by weight. While at the DMV getting a title (was able to score one for the next day, just keep clicking the website, hard part was making a second appointment before cancelling the first in late September- had to use a different phone number). Showed was 3400 lbs in the owners manual and they fixed it. Always have documentation.

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I once bought an MGTD replica from a gentleman in neighboring Conn.  I had all the necessary paper work for the build and from the donor car.  At the time the car was registered in Conn. it was given a serial number from the state and a tag was fastened to the door jamb. In that state, the procedure is to leave the original vin on the registration, put a line through the number and then put the new number above the crossed out number.  When the title is processed, the line through the old number becomes imbedded in the document and not 'on' the surface of the document.

 

New York State DMV saw the crossed out number and I was referred to Albany for further  instructions.  To make a long story short, Albany flagged the the car as stolen and directed me to trailer the car to a field office where it would be impounded.  Luckily, the man at the field office knew more than the people in Albany and corrected the situation.  He explained to them that the car was perfectly legal, this was the way Connecticut handles replica builds.  It only took me 10 months to straighten out the mess.  Here is a picture of the car.

mg.jpg

Edited by 41 Su8 (see edit history)
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The sad part is that every state has different laws and because of "States Laws", I don't think we will ever see it done uniformly. I also know every state DMV is not on the same page. Case in point, in my area on Long Island, NY, there are three DMV offices in about a 15 mile radius. I went to one and got all the paperwork needed to register my car, or so I thought. Because I was closer while on a job I went to a different DMV. When I showed the agent the paperwork I had, she took a pen and started to make a big X on two of the forms. She then proceeded to give me what she said were the correct forms. Well you guessed it, when I went back to the first DMV, I was told that the new forms were incorrect. After four trips to the DMV, I finally was able to register the car.

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I applied for Title here, in Virginia, for a Model T I purchased in Pa.  I had clear Pa Title and Bill of Sale.  I applied at the end of Feb or early March just as the Virginia government began to shut down.  I finally got the Title last week.  I had checked the 'On Line' DMV offices and they had been showing the Model T with my other vehicles.  They must be just that backed up processing everything.

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9:30 DMV appointment this morning to title my 1919 Cole Car, 1920 Cole Car, and 1963 Harley Davidson Topper.  I dressed neat and clean, kept a positive attitude, and tried to be pleasant, but firm.  The in-checker tried to immediately turn me away as I only had title for one of the three vehicles, and there were problems with it.  I showed her a copy of the FL Statute which allows them to issue a title on a vehicle purchased with only a bill of sale (on the official FL Bill of Sale form,) and a statement from the seller attesting to no liens against the vehicle.  I had both forms signed by each of the sellers.  She gave me a number to wait.  After a 45-minute wait past my appointment time, my number was finally called. 

 

Initially the clerk did not appear pleasant, although at some point during our 2-hour 'visit' she seemed to soften some and even cracked several smiles.  I think it helped that I showed her pictures of each of the vehicles as we were discussing them.  First up was the 1919.  An almost immediate strike-out...as I expected.  It had a title from MI, but the person I bought it from had never titled it in his name.  The seller insisted the DMV would accept it with a current bill of sale.  I didn't agree, but told him I'd try.  The DMV clerk called is a 3d party sale.  She said that is legal for dealers to do, but not for private, individual sales.  So that went back into my folder. 

 

Next up was the 1920.  She told me it couldn't be registered without an existing title.  I showed her a copy of the same FL Statute which I had showed the in-checker.  Then the questions began.  What happened to the title?  Why was it never titled?  When was it last registered?  Why don't you have any additional paperwork on it?  I told her my best guess was that it hadn't been registered in well over 70 years, and vehicle titles didn't exist back then...and neither did VINs.  She looked confused. Then she plugged the 1920's 5-digit serial number into her computer and got an immediate hit from her FL database.  She said she couldn't title it because there is an existing FL title on record for it.  I told her that if she would look a little further she would see that the other car was not a 1920 Cole Car.  I explained to her that there was a very good possibility that with only 5-digits in the serial number, there are multiple cars from other manufacturers that had the same serial number.  She looked even more confused and set the paperwork aside.  

 

Last up was my 1963 Harley Topper.  She looked at the bill of sale and said that somewhere there must be a title for it.  She entered the serial number and nothing came up.  She grabbed the 2 stacks of paperwork and headed into her supervisor's office.  After searching her supervisor's computer, the 2 of them then headed into the manager's office.  After about 30 minutes she came out and asked what kind of license plates I wanted.  I told her I only wanted to title the 1920 as I would be processing a request for a YOM plate at a later date.  I told her that the way I understood the process, I need to bring my YOM plate to her so she can send it to Tallahassee for approval.  She surprised me by acknowledging that was the process for YOM plate approval.  So she issued me a title for the 1920, and then titled and licensed the Harley Topper.  She titled them both using the existing 5-digit serial number.  She didn't issue them VINs.  Neither vehicle had a title when I walked into the DVM office 2 hours earlier.  They both now do.

 

At least in FL, it is possible to title and register vehicles purchased on only a bill of sale.  It didn't even have to be notarized.  As I had concerns about titling and licensing all 3 vehicles, I'll consider 2-out-of-3 being a successful DMV trip.  The 3d should only be a matter of getting the seller to title it in his name and then signing it the new title over to me.  I've already posted the MI title in registered mail back to him USPS.  

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Our 1906 Cadillac was all registered and correct, 6 digit VIN no accepted. Yearly renewals went ok until suddenly we were told there was a problem. Apparently it was stolen. It was sitting in the garage where it had been all winter but we were stuck. It took a fair amount of digging and some very helpful MOT clerks and provincial police to discover that a riding lawn mower in another province had been stolen with the same VIN that we had created for the Caddy. They knew me by name in the MOT office by the time this was sorted out. Just saying that this was a problem with a VIN that we would never have foreseen 

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Florida is ussually pretty good about titles but good to have a stack of paperwork. Two years ago I helped a returning serviceman title a 1973 Innocenti with an Italian title and six digit "identification number". Did have to have inspected by the FHP but only too two trips to the DMV (different office from first trip necessary). Florida title has the six digit number.

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On 9/18/2020 at 2:50 PM, George Cole said:

9:30 DMV appointment this morning to title my 1919 Cole Car, 1920 Cole Car, and 1963 Harley Davidson Topper.  I dressed neat and clean, kept a positive attitude, and tried to be pleasant, but firm.  The in-checker tried to immediately turn me away as I only had title for one of the three vehicles, and there were problems with it.  I showed her a copy of the FL Statute which allows them to issue a title on a vehicle purchased with only a bill of sale (on the official FL Bill of Sale form,) and a statement from the seller attesting to no liens against the vehicle.  I had both forms signed by each of the sellers.  She gave me a number to wait.  After a 45-minute wait past my appointment time, my number was finally called. 

 

Initially the clerk did not appear pleasant, although at some point during our 2-hour 'visit' she seemed to soften some and even cracked several smiles.  I think it helped that I showed her pictures of each of the vehicles as we were discussing them.  First up was the 1919.  An almost immediate strike-out...as I expected.  It had a title from MI, but the person I bought it from had never titled it in his name.  The seller insisted the DMV would accept it with a current bill of sale.  I didn't agree, but told him I'd try.  The DMV clerk called is a 3d party sale.  She said that is legal for dealers to do, but not for private, individual sales.  So that went back into my folder. 

 

Next up was the 1920.  She told me it couldn't be registered without an existing title.  I showed her a copy of the same FL Statute which I had showed the in-checker.  Then the questions began.  What happened to the title?  Why was it never titled?  When was it last registered?  Why don't you have any additional paperwork on it?  I told her my best guess was that it hadn't been registered in well over 70 years, and vehicle titles didn't exist back then...and neither did VINs.  She looked confused. Then she plugged the 1920's 5-digit serial number into her computer and got an immediate hit from her FL database.  She said she couldn't title it because there is an existing FL title on record for it.  I told her that if she would look a little further she would see that the other car was not a 1920 Cole Car.  I explained to her that there was a very good possibility that with only 5-digits in the serial number, there are multiple cars from other manufacturers that had the same serial number.  She looked even more confused and set the paperwork aside.  

 

Last up was my 1963 Harley Topper.  She looked at the bill of sale and said that somewhere there must be a title for it.  She entered the serial number and nothing came up.  She grabbed the 2 stacks of paperwork and headed into her supervisor's office.  After searching her supervisor's computer, the 2 of them then headed into the manager's office.  After about 30 minutes she came out and asked what kind of license plates I wanted.  I told her I only wanted to title the 1920 as I would be processing a request for a YOM plate at a later date.  I told her that the way I understood the process, I need to bring my YOM plate to her so she can send it to Tallahassee for approval.  She surprised me by acknowledging that was the process for YOM plate approval.  So she issued me a title for the 1920, and then titled and licensed the Harley Topper.  She titled them both using the existing 5-digit serial number.  She didn't issue them VINs.  Neither vehicle had a title when I walked into the DVM office 2 hours earlier.  They both now do.

 

At least in FL, it is possible to title and register vehicles purchased on only a bill of sale.  It didn't even have to be notarized.  As I had concerns about titling and licensing all 3 vehicles, I'll consider 2-out-of-3 being a successful DMV trip.  The 3d should only be a matter of getting the seller to title it in his name and then signing it the new title over to me.  I've already posted the MI title in registered mail back to him USPS.  


 

I needed two drinks of whiskey straight up just to read this post.........your a better person than I am. I think to push things along I would have mentioned I was feeling kind of warm.....and just  had my nasal swab done.....and ask them to hurry so I can get back to the testing center for my results. Bet you would have had three titles in two minutes flat.....with NO questions!  I will post my experience with Florida DOT yesterday on my White thread tonight.

Edited by edinmass (see edit history)
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