Don’t Buy An ATV Without A Title – Let Me Explain

I see it all the time… “I found this ATV with little hours, powerful, and at a great price!”… “but it’s missing the title.” 

The first thing that comes to my mind is that it’s stolen. 

Sure, you’ll get a few good ones who have somehow lost the title, but if that is the case, the seller can get a new one and then sell the ATV.

If they don’t have the title, then it’s more than likely stolen.

There is a huge market for stolen ATVs. This is because many states don’t require you to register them, it’s like buying an iPad. 

The states that do register them have fewer problems with stolen ATVs, but it still does happen. 

Since they’re viewed more as luxury items, rather than necessities like cars, ATVs usually don’t attract the full attention of authorities. This lack of scrutiny makes them particularly appealing to thieves, especially since people often modify these vehicles further.

Might Have A Lien

One reason an ATV doesn’t have a title is if it still has a lien on it. The owner has not paid the ATV off, and the bank is the one that owns the quad.

The owner could be waiting on someone to buy it so he can pay off the loan. If that is the case, you can go to the bank or call up the bank with the owner to work out the details. 

I have a post that goes over this more here.


The manufacturers have noticed the theft issue, and manufacturers like Can-AM use a digital key because of it. The machine is a dud unless the dealer programs a key and activates the machine.

This doesn’t stop many criminals as Can-AM are very wanted machines. They’ll steal it from one dealer and go to another to get it programmed. The problem is that the VIN is entered into the network of missing ATVs and if reported the cops are called. 

Other manufacturers don’t have a digital key system and still use the regular cut keys. This is where having a good chain + lock and keeping it “out of sight” is essential.

I suggest getting a good chain like this one here (ad) to lock your ATV to something. As for the padlock get the American Lock A700D (ad), it’s one of the best you can buy.

Look Up VIN

Before making the deal, I would ask for the VIN and then call up my local dealership. I would ask if this VIN has been reported stolen and also check the warranty/recalls too.

If the dealership can’t check if it’s been stolen, some manufacturers don’t have a system for it; you can call your local police department to make sure it’s not reported stolen.

I would also Google the VIN just in case someone on Craigslist or other websites are reporting it missing.

You can also check to see if your ATV VIN shows up. 

One clever trick is to act like you want to buy the ATV but meet at the local police station. If they act hesitant, then you know its stolen. If they’re going to meet you at the police station, you can also check the VIN at the same time.

Where The VIN Is located

VIN location can differ from each manufacturer, but it’s usually on the frame at the front or rear. Sometimes you get lucky and it’s under the seat on the frame. This video below does a good job of pointing out the locations.

Title vs. MSO

Keep in mind that manufacturers will issue an MSO or “Certificate of Origin” instead of a title.

The word “title” gets thrown around a lot but in the end, they all are pretty much the same thing.

Bill Of Sale

When you do the transaction make sure to get a bill of sale as it’s a contract between the seller and the buyer.

Write down as much information about the ATV (VIN, color, condition) along with as much info on the seller. Both of you need to sign and maintain a copy. 

Keep in mind that some states will require you to pay tax and registration. 

How To Avoid This Mess

The best way to avoid this mess is to buy directly from a dealership. 

The dealership would do all this and if there were recalls they would have been done too.

The reason why people don’t like to buy from a dealership is that they have to charge you sales tax. No matter how you buy it, just know the taxman always wins. I’ve had many people try to get out of paying taxes on an ATV, but it always ends up biting them down the road. 

With a dealership, you also have a place to go to if you have any issues. If the thing is not right, they also have a reputation to keep. While you should not expect them to fix a used ATV that is sold “as-is”, they’ll be more willing to work with you if you have an issue right away than some random guy.

Even if you don’t want to buy from the dealer they can be a great resource. Call up your local one to see if your state requires ATVs to be registered. Why not even check out their used inventory as they may have a unit they need to move. 

Side By Sides And UTVs

ATVs and side by sides will have titles or the MSO we mentioned earlier. The same rules apply and are treated the same in most states. 

I have seen some states treat SxS differently where the ATV only needs to be registered, but that is just old laws trying to catch up with modern wording.