Here's just some friendly advice born from my experiences regarding the paperwork you're likely to need in order to successfully get a kit car into your name and onto the road. After all, it's not much good if you own (or are thinking of buying) a kit car if you get mired in red tape that keeps it off the road. Even something as simple as just getting the title transferred into your name (without even caring about whether it's registered or legal to drive) might be a lot harder than you're expecting. Don't assume that it "will work out fine" or that it will boil down to common sense. This is bureaucracy we're talking about.
That said, I think there are things you can do to stack the odds in your favor. My personal experiences are with getting cars titled and registered in Pennsylvania, but the basic tenets should apply to many states.
As a disclaimer:
I'm nowhere close to an authority on this topic. I'm not a Notary. I'm not an official. I'm just a dude who's done it a few times. And now I'm higher on the learning curve than I once was due to some of my adventures and mis-adventures over the past few year.
"The car has a clear title."
-- We're all conditioned to look to see whether the seller can offer a clear title or not. The idea of a 'clear title' is that there are no legal or financial leins that would prevent you from buying
the car. In other words, it is a comment on whether the seller fully owns the car or not. So, having a clean title is a good thing. But that is a far cry
away from saying you now have a guarantee that you'll be able to get your car successfully titled in your state. In fact, having a "clean title" is virtually meaningless with regard to the process of registering and titling a kit car. You need more information from the seller.
Background: Almost every state has a special category they put kit cars into when assigning a title to a car. Some states have a literal "Kit Car" category. In Pennsylvania, the category is called "Specially Constructed Vehicle," which can be applied to a vague and mismatched group of vehicles that include homebuilt trailers, highly modified vehicles, and kit cars. (Making matters even more confusing, they have a separate category (and set of rules) for "Street Rods," which are NOT considered kit cars even though they might have been form a kit. Confused yet? I certainly was!)
Regardless what name a given state calls this modified title, it is generically known as a "branded" title.
When inquiring about a title that's currently assigned to a given kit car, the thing you need to ask is whether the kit car you're buying was ALREADY titled as a kit car (or "specially constructed vehicle", etc.) in the state from which you're buying it or whether, instead, the title still says the name of the donor car.
Why? Because most states have slightly different rules for how to handle a car that another state has already given its blessing to. They are more likely to consider it more-or-less "grandfathered in." Even more importantly, if you don't ave a title that reflects the true nature of the car, the State might ask you to provide a full paper trail of the car's history and evolution to its current state, which NOONE can ever supply. I've heard one or two horror stories about persons who bought a complete, running kit car, but, when they took it to be titled, their state was reluctant to even acknowledge ownership of the car because the title said "VW Beetle" and the car didn't LOOK like a Beetle. They were asked to show individual sales receipts for all of the parts used to turn it from a Bug into its current form. Remember, common sense will NOT help you in any way.
Anyway, all other things being equal, it will probably be much easier for you to get a kit car titled and registered as a kit car in your state if
it was successfully given a branded title in another state. (Don't worry, though. There are work-arounds if you don't have a branded title.)
Ask the seller what, exactly, is written on the title. Does it say "VW Beetle," or does it have one of the brandings like "Specially Constructed Vehicle?" You still might want to buy the car either way
, but you need this information in order to plan for the OTHER paperwork you might need...like a highly detailed bill of sale.
Which brings me to my next point: Get the seller to give you a really good bill of sale
(and be willing to walk away form the car if they won't.) What constitutes a good bill of sale (in my opinion)? Just good old-fashioned honesty and attention to detail. Make the bill of sale state EXACTLY what the vehicle actually is...and in what condition.
I don't leave this to chance, and I don't leave it to the seller. *I* am the one who is going to have to suffer months from now if all the ducks aren't in a row, so you better bet that *I* am the one who's gonna write that bill of sale and make sure it's accurate.
In my opinion, the bill of sale should have at least:
- Basic, obvious stuff like the date, price, and names of the buyer and seller.
- What the car ACTUALLY is, regardless of what the title might say. (Example: "Red Sterling kit car based on a VW beetle chassis we believe to be from 1969 with a VIN of ######### as shown on the title and a Sterling body we believe to be from 1976. The car has a Mazda rotary engine from a '91 Mazda RX7."
- What the condition of the car is. And by this I don't mean whether it has any scratches or torn upholstery. I mean, was the car "finished" to the point that it was registered and drivable in the other state? And it doesn't matter whether it was a daily driver or whether it's just a raw, non-running project. What matters is that the bill of sale was accurate. You will save yourself a whole lot of trouble if the bill of sale actually describes what you bought so that you know what future paperwork YOU will be responsible for and what you won't be responsible for. (Pennsylvania requires you to have a receipt for ANYTHING you put into the car to get it running/drivable. So if you bought a car that's 90% done, but the title just said "VW Beetle" and the bill of sale just had a price and a date, you are quite righteously screwed because your state might ask you for proof of purchase of everything they can see that ISN'T stock Bug. Are you getting the picture?)
Anyway, my goal isn't to create a sense of doom and gloom but rather to help anyone out there to stack the odds in their favor of everything working out well. In terms of car projects, there is nothing more nerve-wracking than wondering whether you'll ever be allowed to drive the car you just put thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into due to red-tape bull-crap that you could've prevented.
At the very least, please do yourself a favor and have at least:
- A clean title -- hopefully a clean and BRANDED title, and
- A good, accurate, honest bill of sale.
With these as a starting point, there's hope.
In Pennsylvania, you still have to make it through the initial "Enhanced Inspection." :eek:
(...cue ominous sounding music, here.)
...but that is a discussion for another day.
Below I've included pdf files of Pennsylvania's current FAQ sheet and application for a title for a Specially Constructed Vehicle, just as a reference.
What I would recommend to ANYONE thinking of buying a kit car, especially from out of state, is to Google your state's requirements for titling/registration of Specially Constructed Vehicles, study that material, pretend you've already bought the car and imagine what you'll need to present to the notary/inspection station...and then make darn well sure before you buy the car that you can get those papers from the seller.