how to register a custom built motorcycle

How to Register a Custom-Built Motorcycle

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It’s now exactly two years since I, a skilled vehicle builder, started the construction of my dream motorcycle. Along the line, I had wanted to throw away the idea into the trash, but for the encouragement I received from friends. I felt discouraged having repeatedly heard of the difficulty I had to face before I could register his custom-built motorcycle. But thanks to my listening ears, I dogged spirit, and my determination to have something to my name as a custom motorcycle constructor.

In this article, you’ll learn, relearn, and unlearn all the essential information you need to register your custom-built motorcycle and make it road-worthy and ride-ready. Having said that, you should bear in mind that (depending on your state of residence) the process to make your custom-built masterpiece become an official property can be tricky or demanding. 

But don’t worry, once you read this post, you will clear your doubt and have a straight and clear understanding of how things work in different states across the United States. The information here does not cover registration of antique motorcycles. The reason is that most of what we have as custom bikes today are not built from antique parts. Two, the process of registering antique bikes is rather complex. 

What Does a New Custom-Built Motorcycle Mean?

Now, we shall take my case as a typical example for review. When I, as an individual, assembles together different new aftermarket motorcycle parts made by authorized manufacturers, the end-product is called a new custom-built motorcycle. 

Other than a manufacturing plant or company, an individual who brings together new motorcycle components produced by registered manufacturers is a builder of a custom motorcycle. The motorcycle parts the builder purchased from the authorized manufacturer often come with a receipt and Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin (MSO). 

The second thing you must know is that a new custom motorcycle is built for private use and not for resale. That is why it is not built by licensed manufacturers but individuals who possess the requisite skills and expertise to build a custom motorcycle.  

Where Does The Process Start? 

To make the process less cumbersome, finding out how to register a custom motorcycle or chopper should begin long before you present your finished motorcycle at the local registration centre. Before you buy any part of the motorcycle or continue with the build process, the entire registration process should have begun. The direct piece of advice is that the moment you conceive the idea of piercing a motorcycle in your garage, you should also start thinking of finding out how to register the final product. 

How Do I Register?

The process of registering your new custom motorcycle begins with knowing the regulations that guide motorcycle registration in the State of the Union where you live. This is because each State’ DMV operates its own law and requests, for the purpose of custom bike registration, different legal documents. 

Essentials to Register New Custom Motorcycle

To avoid getting into the DMV’s palaver and having your registration delayed or difficult, you need to smoothen some things ahead of time. These details, however insignificant they may appear to be, if not adequately attended to can cause you your vehicle registration. Don’t take any of them for granted.

1. Title of Ownership

Your title is proof that the motorcycle belongs to you. It’s also the official document that confers ownership on you.  When purchasing the frame or engine parts, make sure the Vehicle Identification Number on them is the same as what you have on the Title of Ownership. It eases you off the stress of proving your ownership. Also, when you decide to transfer ownership, it makes the process seamless. 

Naturally, whether you purchase a frame or you build it yourself, there are procedures you must follow. When you get to the FAQs section of this article, all your questions concerning these two issues will be adequately attended to. Keep reading. 

But suffice to bear in mind that you have no worries if you buy a frame with VIN. Two, take seriously the role of your local registration office. They are an important partner in this whole process. Don’t sidestep them. 

Third, ensure you have every documentation to all the components and parts you purchase or build. If not, you may have difficulty in processing your new custom-built motorcycle’s registration. Even if all the parts you’re buying have been insured, try to find out where the documentation originates from and the sources of the parts as well.  

2. Custom Motorcycle Safety Inspection

This is another important detail you need to pay close attention to. I remember back then in 2000s when I took my first custom motorcycle for registration. The first question the registration officer asked me was, “Hey, Mr. How safe is this brand new custom-built motorcycle.” I never knew what he meant by the question and with my naïve answer, I literally lost a golden opportunity to launch what remained one of my best builds in the market. 

Since then, many waters have passed and I have learnt from the mistake. Safety inspection involves looking at the road-readiness and ride-worthiness of your custom-built vehicle. The local vehicle inspection officer and law enforcement agent wants to know if the VIN numbers on your parts are the same as what you have on the Manufacturer’s Certificates of Origin. It is advisable to acquire all the papers and do all necessary documentation during and after the building process. Your papers must include MSO, VIN, receipt, invoices and bills received from the purchase of the engine, transmission, body, and frame. 

Road-readiness also requires that the motorcycle is built in accordance with specification and standard required of a custom motorcycle. Make sure you use standard and top-quality materials that have undergone requisite quality control checks. 

In order to save yourself a headache for a law enforcement agency, you may first and foremost hire the services of a local custom motorcycle shop owner or licensed manufacturer to do a pre-inspection and tell you what is right or not right. They can also give advice on what to do ahead of the official inspection from the law enforcement agency.

3. Emissions Certification

Many custom motorcycle builders try to avoid or evade this all-important documentation. The consequences of this avoidance trust are not worth all the stress and difficulty you will subject to thereafter. Do not join that clique. It is a dangerous path to thread. 

Emission validation includes tailpipe exhaust emissions and sound level limitations. Generally it can mean the level of sound and air pollution that might result from your use of the custom-built motorcycle. Usually, tests are carried out to know the level of emissions. If your motorcycle meets the standard, you’re certified; otherwise, such certification is revoked. 

Even if your state’s law does not require emissions validation on your custom-built motorcycle, there is a way the law requires standard from you. It is advisable that you have it to avoid unnecessary headaches. The best thing to do as you plan to build a custom motorcycle is to make prior enquiries from your local DMV registration department to be cocksure of what the requirements and procedures are in terms of emissions certification.

4. Builder Title Limitations

That you’re given opportunity to build a custom motorcycle does not mean you can build as many as you want within a year. States have limits to the number of titles you can own within a year. If you build past the threshold, you will not have titles for as many as custom motorcycles you build.

Generally, some states limit the number to six; while for others, the threshold is 10 titles per year. Again, if you plan to build multiple custom motorcycles, seek advice; find out the number of titles you can apply for in your state. If you exceed the threshold, some states will register you as a dealer or business owner.

5. Finalizing the Details of Your Registration Process

We are gradually heading to the end of the entire process of registration of your custom-built motorcycle. I assume you’ve acquired all the items and documents mentioned earlier and that you are ready to move with me to the next phase. Interestingly, we can’t move to the final lap of our discussion unless you fulfill the initial criteria.

Given that we have closed in on the homework and we’re fully prepared to go for the registration itself, the next thing is to book an appointment with your local DMV office. You’ll need to hold some cash because registration is not free, regardless of whether you are a first timer builder of you’re there for renewal of title. 

There is always a registration fee to be paid to the DMV office, but the benchmarked amount varies from state to state, depending on the degree of leniency or flexibility granted or available in each state. Never overlook the exact policies your local registration office offers.

6. Insuring is as Important as Building Your Motorcycle

Insurance is the key that unlocks the peace of mind to riding on the motorcycle rides. Ask me why, and I would tell you that you can’t even have your vehicle registration completed without a policy. It is a given.

  It is not done by word of mouth; you must be ready to show your level of preparedness to have your motorcycle registered by showing all information and documents regarding your custom motorcycle insurance policy to the registrar at the DMV office.

How to Renew Motorcycle Registration

You can renew your registration documents every year. Typically, the DMV office will send you a reminder to bring to your awareness the fact that your papers have expired, or are edging towards expiry. 

You need to renew the registration yearly, and there are four different means through which you can renew your registration. They include personal information, by mail, phone, or online. Depending on your state, each of these methods is viable and effective. Contact your local DMV office to find out which method is applicable to your state.

Renewal in Person

This is the best advised way to get your custom-built motorcycle registration done with little hassle. All you need to do is to show up at your local DMV office with the renewal notice you receive. Added to that is your license and poof of renewal fee payment. At that point, you’ll get your new registration certificate and stickers.

Renewal via Mail

If you’re unavailable to go to your DVM office, a series of mail exchanges with the office can help you renew your motorcycle registration will lower tailbacks. All you need to do is to respond to your renewal notice. The get a copy of your proof of insurance and post via mail to the local office of your state’s DMV. In return you’ll receive your new registration certificate and stickers.

Renewal via Phone

You need to have your VIN identified with your registration renewal notice and your license plate number. Once these are ready, put a call through to your local DVM office. Bear in mind that you’ll be asked to provide payment method (credit/debit card). After the whole process, you’ll be given your new registration certificate and stickers, but it is going to be in the mail.

Online Renewal

Every one of your DMV offices has a website through which you can carry out one of two things. Registration renewal is one of those things some states provide for. The first thing is that you’ll receive a renewal notice. It doesn’t matter if you’re eligible for online registration renewal. All you’ll be required to provide is proof of insurance and smog certification on file with the DMV. In addition, you will need to include your Vehicle Identification Number, as well as your payment method (credit/debit card). After completing the renewal process, the office will send your new registration and stickers via mail.

Documents and Items Required at Motorcycle Registration Offices

You have made all necessary arrangements and it is time to visit your local DMV office for the final appointment. What documents and items will the office require of you as you step in? Here are the items you shouldn’t forget to come along with to the motorcycle registration centre. Remember, some states may require more or less, you’ll needs to find out what the local registration office needs. 

  • A completed Title or Registration Application 
  • A Vehicle safety inspection certificate
  • A filled-out Statement of Construction.
  • Proof of insurance
  • Emission Inspection certificates
  • Proof of payment of registration fee
  • Your Out-of-State Registration (applicable to a new builder or someone who buys his components and parts outside the state of his residence)
  • Documents showing Proof of ownership such as receipts and bills for sale. Depending on the state, a notary may be asked to do a review and verification of the documents you present.
  • Sales tax and registration fees due.

What’s more, the motorcycle registration application form is right here. The sample we have below is for the state of Oregon; that means there may be variations when you compare to other states’ application forms. You can check with your local DMV office to have an accurate application for. The internet is also there for you to use if you need to download the application as it applies to your state of residence.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can I register a bike with no frame number? It is asking if a candidate can become US president without the Electoral College. Your guess is as good as mine. Regardless of the legal jurisdiction or the laws of the State of the Union, you cannot register an unfinished frame. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) considers the frame as being the bike. At every point in time, a new frame requires a new number. It becomes difficult to prove how old your frame is if the serial number its doesn’t have the serial number.

What does a Q-registration mean? You’ll need to visit DVLA website to get the full details of the process of a Q-registration.Basically, a Q registration stands for a kit motorcycle or rebuild, and it is different from an original registration.

How do I recover a lost motorcycle title? In the first place, your motorcycle title is the document that confers ownership of the vehicle on you. By the time you sell the bike, your signature is also needed on the title to sign it over to the bike’s new owner. And even though the process of replacing and recovering your lost motorcycle title may seem seamless and simple, it is better to avoid getting the proof lost. Try to keep it safe and secure in a fireproof or water-resistant safe, or in a safety deposit box at a bank. 

Now, let’s get back to your question. There are three steps to replace your lost motorcycle title. Make sure you have copies of the following documents: Vehicle Identification Number Photo ID, Year and make of motorcycle, and License plate number

  • Go to your state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website
  • Search for “Title Replacement” or “Request a Title.” Page and open the application form.
  • Complete the application form by entering your name, address, city and state. Fill the field for the vehicle identification number of the motorcycle, as well as, the year and make of the bike and the license plate number.

What do I do if I purchase a frame without a VIN? It is simple. If you buy a frame or engine that has no VIN, what you need to do is to acquire the MSO from the seller. This will show that you legally acquired those components. Temporarily, you can use the MSO pending the time the VIN will be issued to you. But do not forget to have a discussion with your local registration centre on how you can obtain your VIN.

Do I need a VIN if I built not bought my own frame? That’s no brainer. You won’t need a VIN if you’re the builder of your frame or engine. In fact, no local registration office will demand a VIN or MSO from you if the frame it’s built. But you must follow the procedure. Typically, the registration office will issue you a home-built VIN which will permanently be attached to the frame of the vehicle. Do not take that for granted. You can be the first to approach the registration for this home-built VIN. Make sure you ask for a conspicuous location where the VIN will be pasted on your frame for easy identification.

What if my components have different titles? There is nothing to worry about if you have multiple parts that carry different titles. It doesn’t mean you have been scammed or that you won’t be able to get your new construction registered. What you’ll do is to approach your local registration office for advice on what to do. Usually, it is advisable you complete all enquiries regarding this before you go ahead and buy the salvaged part


You now have all the information right at your fingertips with respect to how you can register your custom-constructed motorcycle across States of the Union. You’re aware that it is not so much about the passion you have to build a custom motorcycle. The legal framework and operational guidelines of your state of residence and local DMV offices are important considerations to consider when planning to build a custom motorcycle.   

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