This Is How You Can Get a Title for a Relic, and Why You Have to Do That Before Restoring

Finding a car in a barn is a difficult job, but before you’ll celebrate the acquisition and get it back in its full glory, take care of the paperwork so you won’t lose it.
1969 Pontiac GTO rotting 10 photos
Abandoned Pontiac GTO waiting for a titleAbandoned Pontiac GTO VIN plateThat invoice might show the last known address of the previous ownerCar titleCar titleUnrestored 1969 Chevrolet ImpalaUnrestored 1969 Chevrolet ImpalaFord T-Bird towed awayWelcome to Vermont
We already told you in previous articles about how to get an abandoned vehicle, especially if it’s on your property. But most of the time, the title is missing, and getting it is another story. Just because you have a bill of sale won’t help you. Most states DMV’s don’t accept that. You have to go the extra mile and complete the documents. But let’s make things clear: we’re not talking about cars that are 15 years or less old. So, at time of writing, that means a 2006 or older vehicle. But how do you get the title if it’s missing?

First of all, you need to know that a title (or pink slip) does not expire. The registration, on the other hand, expires after a certain amount of time. If the car never surfaced in the last decade or more (depends from state to state), the DMV erases the vehicle from their records, and you won’t be able to drive it on public roads. It doesn’t mean that the government doesn’t know who owns the vehicle. Oh, it knows, but maybe the owner written on the title is six feet under, moved from any known address, or missing - and this is how the barn finder may obtain the vehicle and then sell it with a bill of sale.

Accept a bill of sale or a property transfer only if the seller didn’t get the rights for the vehicle. They should have already gone through the entire process of finding the owner through DMVs and announcements, and have a court decision that the car is theirs. Thus you’ll avoid the nasty situation when someone might show up at your doorsteps and claim the vehicle.

Welcome to Vermont
Suppose all you have is a bill of sale - then your best option in Vermont. Why Vermont? Out of 50 states, it is the only state that accepts a bill of sale as a legit possession document.

With that bill of sale, you can register the vehicle in Vermont, get the title on your name, and with that title, you’ll be able to register it where you live. You don’t have to live, or the car doesn’t have to be from there to get that title, but you’ll need a law firm. We strongly advise you that in any situation when the owner is missing, all the documents should be obtained with help from a law firm. As for other states, we will cover the legislation for them soon.

Another option is a bonded title. But first, you need to know what that is and how can it help you if all you have is the bill of sale. A bonded title is a document that says who the vehicle owner is. Usually, it is issued when the original title is lost, and there is no way of finding the person who had it. It is also known as Certificate of Title Surety Bond or Lost Title Bond. In order to get it, first, you have to evaluate the vehicle, and that’s why it is better not to restore the car before that process. Leave it as a relic, rusted, with no windows, tires, and so on. For vehicles that are worth less than $6,000, a title costs $100. If the value is higher, then the price will be different, and if it exceeds $20,000, things get more complicated, and you might be subject to an underwriter’s assessment before being granted.

Unrestored 1969 Chevrolet Impala
To get a bonded title, you have to fill a form with your name and address, the type of vehicle (year, manufacturer, and model), and the car’s worth. Then, with all in hand, you can apply for a bonded title, which the new owner can use at the DMV to get the actual vehicle’s title. Then, after they release the pink slip, the car is truly in your possession.

There were some situations when the owner showed up and claimed the vehicle, and since the car was obtained with a bonded title, you have a big chance of losing it. This is why it is imperative to complete all the steps for finding the original owner. But, of course, if the last title was issued for someone who parked the vehicle more than four decades ago, there are slim chances that the owner might still be among us, the living creatures of Earth.

With the slip pink in your hand, you may pop the champagne and start restoring the vehicle, but that is a different story. Sure, you might think that the best way to do this is with your own hands. But, unfortunately, many barn finds were projects started by some people who trusted themself to complete that task, and the project outlived them.

Editor's note: This is not legal advice given by a law firm, and we strongly advise our readers to ask one before buying a barn find or abandoned vehicle


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