When you buy an RV from a dealer, the dealership handles all the paperwork (thank God). You just sign and date, sign and date. In fact, dealerships are legally mandated to handle
But if you buy an RV from a private seller, the game is different. In particular, what if the seller is trying to sell a camper without a title?
Whether you’re buying or selling an RV, going without a title is dangerous business! The bureaucratic Gods-that-be demand proper paperwork. If there is no title, a police officer may pull you over and issue a fine or worse, seize the camper.
So what should you do if it doesn’t have a title? Will you be able to register the RV? Or report the sale?
RV Missing Title? Answer At a Glance!
Here’s the short answer: You need a title. Full-stop.
As a buyer, a title is a legal proof that you own a vehicle. It is required to operate a vehicle on public roads and pay property taxes. You cannot obtain insurance, financing, or a secured loan without proof of ownership.
As the seller, you need a title to report the transfer of ownership. Plus, educated buyers will shy away from the sale. Without a title, you’ll be forced to slash the sales price of the RV by 30-50 percent or more!
If you have a missing, void, or damaged title, you usually must obtain a new title.
Laws for towables and truck campers can be more lenient than for motorhomes. But 99% of RVs will require a title to operate.
We’ll help show you how to get a title for a camper without one.
And we’ll be honest upfront: In most states, it’s a lot of work. It’s everything you dislike about the DMV, all put together: paperwork, inconvenient office hours, intertangled bureaucracies, taxes, paperwork, waiting in lines/waiting on hold, rudimentary email service, and did we mention paperwork?
Let’s get started!
Why Wouldn’t an RV Have a Title?
Motorhomes and travel trailers might be missing titles for a number of reasons:
- Vintage/collectible camper with no original title
- Destroyed or defaced title
- Void or non-notarized title
- Fraudulent or forged title
- Lost or abandoned camper
- Stolen property
Why Is an RV Title Required?
Here are some of the benefits of having a title for your RV:
- Legally operate the RV on public roads.
- Pay property taxes.
- Obtain financing.
- Get insurance.
As the buyer, one of the challenges you may face is that it may be difficult to finance the purchase of an RV or camper without a title. This is because most lenders will require proof of ownership before they’ll provide financing.
Unless you plan to plant your RV in your backyard as a semi-permanent hunting cabin, you’ll need a title.
Is Selling an RV Without a Title a Bad Idea?
Yes, it is!
- You’ll likely have to slash the asking price to attract buyers.
- If the RV or camper was purchased secondhand, the seller may not have the original title paperwork.
- If there is no title, there is no way to transfer ownership of the vehicle legally.
- The seller may be required to get a bonded title before they can sell the vehicle.
- This process can be time-consuming and expensive.
Is Buying an RV Without a Title a Bad Idea?
Yes, it is!
- If you’re buying an RV or camper without a title, you run the risk of purchasing a vehicle that is not legal to drive on public roads.
- There is no way to register or insure such a vehicle.
- It may be difficult (or impossible) to resell it later if you decide you don’t want it.
- Or worst of all … law enforcement may think you stole it!
If you attempt to register an RV with a VIN marked as Stolen, you become someone attempting to claim stolen property! At worst, you could face severe fines or jail time. At a minimum, you will likely lose the RV without financial compensation.
Here's What To Do If You Want to Buy an RV With a Missing a Title
1. First, ask yourself if a title is even required?
If you are buying a small camper, like a teardrop trailer or pop-up, you might not even be required to register your trailer! In Wisconsin, for instance, homemade trailers under 3,000 lbs are not required to be registered.
And in some states, you don’t have to register towables or truck campers if they’re older than 30 years. These are considered vintage or collector’s items.
Just because you aren’t required to register a trailer, however, doesn’t mean you aren’t required to have a title and/or other proof of ownership!
Even if your camper trailer isn’t legally required to be registered in your state, you could face trouble towing without plates in another state. And without a title, if you are pulled over, you won’t be able to prove ownership.
For these reasons, you will almost always be better off obtaining a title.
2. Secondly, try to contact the holder of the last valid title.
The motor vehicle’s title is held by the state tax office. To discover who owns the RV, go to your state’s tax office and look up the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). You can find out who was the last registered owner of the camper. If you’re lucky, you can contact them to retrieve the title.
But many a new RV owner has discovered to their dismay that the last holder of the title sold the camper, submitted the Recorded Owner(s) Record of Sale stub to their DMV, and can no longer help.
If you bought a camper without a title, chances are the seller you bought the RV from isn’t a registered owner either. In some cases, an RV may have been passed hands two, three, or four times before someone responsible (aka, yourself) decided to register the vehicle.
In rare cases, the camper may not have been titled at all. The RV may have been sold via a private-party sale to the original owner who neglected to ever register the camper at all! In this case, the last valid documents would be the original Bill of Sale or the Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin (MSO).
Most RV manufacturers can’t issue duplicate MSOs after the unit is shipped and sold, so don’t expect much help! You’ll probably have to contact the dealer that sold the unit to the first owner.
3. Thirdly, investigate your homemade trailer registration options.
Some states provide registration for home-built trailers. If you suspect the trailer has an unknown past, was custom-built, or it never had an original title, you could try to register it under DIY trailer laws.
In some states, like Maine, registering a homemade trailer is fairly simple. In others, like Utah, it’s quite complicated! You might be expected to provide receipts for all parts and services, pictures of the build process, photographs of the finished trailer, a market evaluation, VIN inspection, etc.
Titles for homemade or custom trailers are often called “scrap” titles. These are issued to owners of vehicles that did not previously exist. A VIN is created from scratch for your title.
Do not try to game the system by registering a factory-built unit as a homemade trailer! In most states, you’re required to have a VIN inspection performed at your local police station or highway patrol office. If the VIN matches a factory-built unit, you’re in hot water.
4. Fourth, apply for a replacement duplicate title with your state DMV.
This step is where most RV owners find themselves. If you’re without a title, you generally can’t register, insure, or finance your rig. No good!
The process for getting a replacement title will vary from state to state, but there are a few things that are generally required in order to obtain one.
You’ll need to submit an application to the DMV. This application will likely require some basic information about the RV or camper, such as the make, model, and year. In this next section, we’ll go into deeper depth about the process and paperwork.
You may also be required to provide proof of purchase, as well as any other documentation that may be required by your state’s DMV.
Once you’ve submitted your application and supporting documents, it will likely take the DMV 6-10 weeks to process your request and mail you the replacement title. (Yes, it’ll be snail-mailed. DMVs haven’t joined the 21st century yet.)
In some cases, you may also be required to have a VIN and/or safety inspection performed on the RV or camper before a replacement title can be issued.
Once you’ve received the replacement title, you’ll then be able to register the vehicle in your state if required.
Keep in mind that the process for getting a replacement title can vary from state to state, so it’s important to check with your state’s DMV for specific requirements.
Now, for more instructions about the process and its paperwork, read below!
Instructions How to Apply for a Missing Title for an RV
If you’ve exhausted all other options and you need a title, here’s what to do.
- Download a title application form from your state’s DMV website.
- On the application form, complete all necessary information.
- Gather any other vital papers and proofs.
- Add title application fees to the list.
- Mail or hand-deliver all documents to your local DMV office.
Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, amassing all the required paperwork can be a lot of work! The specific paperwork needed varies by state, so it’s important to check with the DMV in your state to find out what is required.
Generally speaking, most states will require some combination of the following documents:
- Your Driver’s License
- Application for Title
- Bill of Sale
- Registration Information (if available)
- Proof of No-Lien Status
- DOT VIN Certification of Inspection
Generally, you have up to 30 days from the sale date on the Bill of Sale in which to register a camper. If you are pulled over within 30 days, you can usually show your Bill of Sale as plausible proof of ownership.
Title Application – Details
While details vary from state to state, most require the following information on a Trailer or RV Title Application:
- Buyer’s personal information (Name, Address, Phone, Etc.)
- Transaction date
- Year, make and model of the vehicle
- GVWR, length, specs of the vehicle
- License plate information (if available)
- Odometer reading (mileage)
- Lien information (holder,
- Current tax status
- Notarization (commonly required for lienholder changes)
If you bought an RV from a private party, the DMV may require a physical inspection and a certified weight slip to verify the GVW. The DMV may want to double-check that the old owner didn’t make any major changes to the car that significantly changed its allowable weight. You can get your camper weighed at a certified scale like a CAT highway weigh scale or a scrapyard scale.
Bill of Sale – Details
All states have a default Bill of Sale form that you can use when selling an RV. You can download and print these forms for your use. You should download two copies – one for you, one for the other buyer or seller! This will help avoid any future legal disputes.
Some states allow you to write up your own Bill of Sale as long as it has the required information: Names, signatures, dates, VIN numbers, sales price, tax charged, etc. We advise sticking with the DMV form, however!
Required information on the Bill of Sale often includes:
- Buyer’s personal information (Name, Address, Phone, Etc.)
- Seller’s personal information (Name, Address, Phone, Etc.)
- Transaction date
- Year, make and model of the vehicle
- VIN or other accepted identification number
- Amount paid
- Sales tax charged
- Signatures (possibly witness signatures as well)
- Valid notary stamp*
*Not required in all states. If a notary is required, some states partner with contractors, like AAA, to facilitate the transaction.
Certificate of Inspection – Details
You’ll also need to have your car inspected by the Department of Transportation (DOT) in order to apply for a new title. This check is done to make sure that your camper adheres to all state vehicle safety regulations.
The following are some of the components of your RV that will be evaluated during this process:
- General physical safety: Condition of tires, rims, brakes, lights, and reflectors. Lights and reflectors are governed by strict FMVSS regulations, so ensure all lights are in working order! A common miss is a broken license plate light, which is critical for license plate visibility.
- VIN inspection. Legible photograph of the VIN sticker or VIN plate. The VIN will be cross-referenced with NHTSA records to verify manufacturer, date produced, etc.
- Frame inspection. Inspectors are often trained to look at the welds between the tongue and the main frame, just in case someone tried to weld a new tongue onto an old frame body to fake a VIN number.
Lien Status Document – Details
A lien status document is a document that shows the status of any liens on a vehicle. This document is required when transferring the title of a vehicle.
If you paid for a camper upfront, no lien status document is usually required. You own the rig free and clear!
Also, if you bought an RV with funds from an unsecured personal loan, that doesn’t count as a lien. The RV isn’t collateral; you’re the sole owner.
Without a title, you generally can’t obtain financing from a dealership or lender. So the lien status document is usually a document from the lien holder on record – if there is any – stating that the loan for the vehicle was paid in full. Sometimes, tracking down the original bank or credit union that issued the loan can be a real chore, or even close to impossible.
In some cases, you might find out that the RV you bought still has a lien on it from a previous owner! In that case, you’re essentially on the hook for the loan. The lender won’t relinquish their claim on the property just because it was illegally sold.
It’s important to remember that without a title it can be difficult – if not impossible – to sell an RV or camper. So if you’re missing your title, be sure to take action as soon as possible to get a replacement issued. The process can take several weeks or even months!
Once you have the replacement title, you’ll be able to register your RV or camper and hit the open road!
… Or save yourself a massive headache, and just don’t buy an RV without a title!
Andy Herrick is a blogging nerd, #8 Enneagram, wannabe bread baker, INTJ, RV industry professional, and small business entrepreneur. He can be found hanging out with his lovely wife and family, skiing, cycling, climbing, hiking, and convincing anyone who will listen why dogs aren’t really that great of pets. Also, he runs this website.