How to Run a Motorcycle Title Search

Searching a motorcycle’s title can yield interesting and valuable information for the owner. Owners cannot legally sell or insure their motorcycle without a proper title. The title gives the owner its VIN, ownership history, make, model, and vehicle year.

The title may also denote whether the motorcycle is branded or not. A branded title tells prospective buyers the cycle has been through an insurance event and is considered a total loss. It may be repaired back to a safe drivable condition, but the cycle’s title will always have Branded in big, bold letters near the top right.

A salvage title may sound like a great deal to some; however, insuring the vehicle may become a nightmare.

There are a variety of title types for a motorcycle, such as a clean title, salvage, rebuilt, and reconstructed title are just a few. Each state has its own rules and regulations for motorcycle titles. Some states require an inspection, while others require a notary to sell the cycle.

motorcycle title search

There are several reasons a person or prospective buyer would want to run a tile search. A primary reason for the search is to find hidden circumstances about the cycle or its branded status. Sellers rarely tell a buyer about hidden problems. Buyers must also know if there is a lien attached to the cycle. Buyer Beware!

It is now easy to run a tile search on any vehicle because of the new VIN search companies sprouting up everywhere. CARFAX started the trend; now, these companies are everywhere. There is both free and full service. Most of the free services give only a brief outline of the history with no factual legal information.

It All Starts with The VIN

VIN Number

A Vehicle Identification Number or VIN is unique to every motorcycle, and no two VINs are the same. They are like a fingerprint. The VIN is composed of seventeen digits stamped on the frame and engine block. The VIN gives you a comprehensive history from when it was built until the title is pulled from a title-search website.

The NHTSA standardized the VIN to eighteen numbers in 1981. The alphanumeric string reveals quite a lot of information on every bike.

The VIN is broken down into three parts:

  1. The first three numbers are the Manufacturer identifiers. This string contains where the bike was built and the type of manufacturing facility.
  2. The following five characters are the Vehicle Descriptor section. These numbers and letters describe the brand, engine size, characters, and placement determined by the manufacturer.
  3. The last eight characters are the vehicle identifier section. The first number in the sequence is a check digit, identifying the VIN as authorized. The following two characters give the cycle’s model year and assembly plant. The last six numbers are the bike’s production or serial number.

The 10th character of every VIN is always the most often referenced as it gives the vehicle’s exact model year.


Depending on the service, a multitude of information can be gleaned from a motorcycle title search. Most search services let your bike be graded for an overall quality score and use the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System or NMVTIS. The Federal Governments’ website offers the consumer a host of available information.

The NMVTIS is the only available system in the United States. Federal law requires insurance carriers, recyclers, and junk and salvage yards to report their findings.

Indicators Included in Vehicle Title Reports

  • The validity of the title is verified, and a complete history is provided. All significant events relating to the vehicle are included in the report.
  • The report will disclose any lien holders on the cycle.
  • Accident history is included for the vehicle. In any accident the vehicle has been involved with, state authorities consistently report structural damage.
  • Most VIN services provide a complete sales history and confirm the number of owners.
  • Salvage and Branded car titles provide the buyer with a complete picture of their purchase. Title Washing is a problem where an unscrupulous seller offers a salvage car in a different state that does not recognize a particular tile brand, such as salvage or recalled.
  • Recalls, if your vehicle has ever had a voluntary or involuntary recall, it will be listed in the title or a VIN search. These recalls can be government or manufacturer recall orders.

Items only showing on commercial VIN reports:

  • The vehicle’s market value is estimated using one of the online services. Some services will give above and below values for your bike and other bikes in its class.
  • Safety features are always pointed out as what they have to do with the value of the cycle. Safety complaints may be shown.
  • Cycle specs are outlined on the VIN report. Items such as make, model, engine size, and so on. This area is excellent for matching the retail sticker to the VIN report.

Cycle title reports are gathered from any salvage yard, recyclers, and insurance carriers who must report up-to-date motorcycle information to the state. These sources are required by federal law to report to the NMVTIS regularly.

Buyers should take every precaution when purchasing a used bike. Make sure the VIN on the frame and engine match the title and registration card exactly. Motor vehicle fraud has been around for decades, and organizations make a healthy living by scamming unsuspecting buyers.

Buyers should look the bike over carefully, ensuring it isn’t overly dirty and lacks maintenance. Check the engine oil to see if there is burning at the end of the oil stick. Oil should be clear even after riding the bike for a substantial period. Look at the paint on different bike areas, and make sure the colors are consistent. Check the exhaust system so there are no rotted areas on the pipes. Start the bike and listen to the roar. Is it an excellent throaty sound, or is there skipping and whining?

Final Word

Buying a cycle is an immense pleasure if the buyer does it right. A sub-quality motorcycle is easy to sell to unsuspecting buyers.