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Ask Our Lawyer - March 2005

Q: I’m working on a bike I bought as a basket case and I want to make sure I can get
it titled when I get done. What should I be doing?

A: This question comes up fairly often, so I wanted to get some “expert” advice. I turned to Pete Walters, who has been riding motorcycles for 26 years, during which he has ridden everything from a 425 Suzuki to Sportsters and an Electra Glide. His current rides are a 1996 Honda V-45 Magna, and a 2002 Ducati Monster 620ie. He makes his living as an attorney concentrating in federal civil and criminal defense. He holds a doctorate of law from the John Marshall Law School, Chicago, where he is adjunct professor of law, and a master’s of science from the University of Texas El Paso, where he taught general biology and advanced statistical analysis. In his spare time he serves as Director of Safety and Education for ABATE of Illinois, Chicago Chapter.

Pete tells me that, like any dealing with the government, proper record-keeping is the secret to success. He also gave me some tips you can use to save you from being duped by an unscrupulous vendor. This is not intended to give you a step-by-step process required to obtain title for a restored or custom built bike. Proper guidance on that is available from the state.

Tip 1. Before you do anything on your project, know what kind of documentation that the state is going to require for issuing title.

Get fact sheets from your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (in Illinois, the Illinois Secretary of State). Many times, these are available from the state website. Or if you don’t like downloading stuff, you can probably get them or find out how to order at your local BMV office. Once you get the fact sheets, read them carefully, and keep all of that information in mind as you buy your parts and build your bike.

Tip 2. Decide on what kind of bike you are going to restore/build, and do your research before you buy your first part.

Especially to avoid being duped, by buying stolen (identifying marks erased or altered) or counterfeit parts, it is vital that you know what the VIN or serial numbers for major components are supposed to look like. There are many fine publications that provide this kind of information. For example, Illustrated Triumph Motorcycle Buyer’s Guide, Third Edition, Roy Bacon, Niton Publishing, 1997, has an appendix on engine and frame numbers. Also, brand-specific and antique or vintage clubs are a good source, and membership in such a club is vital not just for this kind of information but for other essentials as well.

Tip 3. Always get proper documentation when you purchase a part.

Whenever you buy any part, and especially for major parts like engines, frames and probably transmissions, make sure you get adequate proof of purchase documentation. You can never have too much, so keep all bills of sale, invoices (especially mail order parts), and even canceled checks, and credit card receipts or statements. As applicable, make sure each document accurately records the relevant information. For example a bill of sale should have the vendor’s name and address, your name, a description of the part, and the amount and date of purchase. For major components make sure the bill has the VIN or serial number on it.

These days you can buy major components as brand new after market parts, including engines, frames, and transmissions. This is especially true for Harley clones, but is becoming more true for things like brand new reproductions of Indian motorcycle components. If you buy such a part, make sure you get a Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin (MSO). Be aware that most MSO’s now provide for assignment (just like a title), so you don’t necessarily have to buy directly from the manufacturer as long as the assignment part of the form is properly executed.

Tip 4. Keep a build diary.

From the very first part you buy keep a build diary. Each entry in the diary should be dated. When recording a purchase of a part, all relevant information should be written into the diary, including vendor’s name and address, date of purchase, description of part (including condition), price paid, and any identifying marks.

Each major step in the build process should be recorded in the diary. Things like major component disassembly/assembly, sanding/blasting, painting, etc. should be recorded. If you send a part out to a contractor, record a description of the part, purpose for sending out (e.g., painting), date out and back, and costs (in order to get a title, you probably will have to get an appraisal of the finished bike, and this kind of information can prove to be indispensable).

All major steps in the build process should be documented with photographs before and after. VIN and serial numbers should be documented by photographs or rubbings, or both.

Finally, keep the build diary current and up to date. Keep in mind that the diary is your document made to augment things like bills of sale, invoices and etc. Because it is your document the argument could be that you can make it say anything you want it to say. However, there is a long and strong tradition in American law to treat such records as reliable evidence as long as certain criteria are met.

Simple adherence to the above principals should go a long way to avoiding problems in getting the finished bike titled. What a shame it would be to put in all that hard work, time and money, and not be able to obtain title to the finished product.

I have heard in the national media that 2 out of 3 Americans do not know the words to the National Anthem. What an unbelievable shame! How do the members of ABATE compare?

A. Remember we are the organization that has a higher voting percentage than the LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS. But to answer your question, so far, in an informal and limited poll that ABATE LEGAL is conducting, ABATE members are 100% in their recall of the words – first verse only. Some struggled and stammered but they got it right. Others sounded horrible but they got it right. FYI – I did not ask them to sing it – just say the words. Many could only recall the words if they could sing it. Usually a painful experience to listen to. To keep our record perfect, I have set forth the words of our NATIONAL ANTHEM for you that have HALFZIEMERS. If you do not know the words cut it out and put it in your billfold – I may be calling.

The National Anthem

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight'

O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming.

And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Next month we’ll quiz you on the other three verses.

Mule Talk and why the Mule should be the ABATE mascot

One of the best animals in the world is the mule. When I was much younger, back in Wayne County, Illinois, Pure Oil Company leased a pair of matched mules to help retrieve oil field equipment. My father was hired to board the mules at our farm for about two months, and of course I was charged with the day to day supervision. During this time I learned all about the great qualities of the mule. Sorry, horse lovers; there is no comparison to the qualities of the mule. Some say he is stubborn; I say he is principled.

A mule does what he believes is right, correct and proper; regardless of what anyone else thinks. He takes the proper path, he chooses the best footing and he is always reliable. Mules don't like people that want to take the wrong path; and mules will stick up for what they believe. If some say that is being stubborn, the mule says “so be it” – he knows better. RIGHT IS RIGHT, AND WRONG IS WRONG.

And mules talk. They have an expression for RIGHT. It is GEE. When you hear a mule go hee-haw, the first word is GEE, not HEE. Many people, and horse loving people in particular, have been mishearing mules for years. The Teamsters when handling mule teams adopted mule language GEE FOR RIGHT AND HAW FOR LEFT. Both terms are defined in Websters. That dictionary claims that the origin is unknown. Mules know. As far as I can find, these mule words are the only animal words in the ENGLISH language. Now you know why the mule should be ABATE'S mascot.

If you want to test my mule belief, next time you see a mule, just whisper GEE in his right hear. You will have an immediate animal friend. His ears will perk up; he will look at you like you just bonded, and some mules will even smile at you.

Ride Safe and Free,

Rod Taylor

A.B.A.T.E. LEGAL Services

If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to: ASK OUR LAWYER, P.O. Box 2850, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206_2850, or email rodtaylor@abatelegal.com.