SHERIFF'S CORNER: 'You mean I need an ORV title?'

Looking to purchase a new side-by-side, quad or dirtbike? Well, good luck, because they seemed to be sold out all over the place. And those that are for sale by private sellers want top dollar for their pre-owned ride. I think the old phrase was "It loses half the value when it rolls off the dealer's parking lot."

The question posed to me many times is, "I've purchased this ATV, but the guy I purchased it from never gave me a title and I was told that it needs to be in my name. What should I do?

I see this all the time on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, eBay or someone on the side of the road, selling an ORV or ATV without a title. The phrase "bill-of-sale only," may also be in the listing.

So, is it legal to own an ORV if you don't have a title for it, or you never had the title put in your name?

Then I have seen where someone purchased an ORV, received the title, but never put it in their name and then wants to sell it to someone else.

Your first question should be, why would someone sell me an ORV if they don't have the title for it?

There are many reasons: it could be stolen, or the person selling it never had permission from the property owner to sell it in the first place. I would always be cautious when purchasing an ORV this way.

In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I cover ORV titles and the legal way to sell or purchase an ORV.


Recently I remembered this topic when I was considering buying another Honda 700xx. While I was cruising through postings on Facebook Marketplace, I started to read the descriptions of the ORV's listed for sale. In most cases I had to ask the seller if they had the title, because it was not included in the listing. I would say It was about 50/50.

On one listing, I was messaging the seller asking if she had the title because her listing stated "bill-of-sale only." She replied stating she didn't need the title and that Michigan only needed a bill-of-sale. When I proceeded to correct her, the conversation turned to a "Nah-Nah, Boo-Boo'' conversation with a bunch of emojis and "whatevers." Oh, how we love social media.

Let's start with Michigan being a title/lien state. This means that common motor vehicles need to be titled with the Secretary of State to prove ownership. This also provides an avenue to establish the interest of a loan (lienholder) or co-owner. Without titles there would be no "standard " way to prove ownership or a financial interest from a fiduciary or other interested party. An ORV falls under this category similar to that of a motor vehicle on the road.

This started in 1991 as MCL 324.81103 states:

"... (2) After April 1, 1991, every ORV sold by a dealer to a retail purchaser shall be subject to the certificate of title provisions of this part.

(3) After April 1, 1991, a person who purchases or otherwise acquires an ORV shall apply for a certificate of title as provided in this part ..."

So, basically this states that the dealer must give you a title, or if you purchase as a private sale, the seller must provide you with a title.

To clarify the ORV private sale, 324.81105 states:

... (a) The owner, except as provided in section 81104, shall not sell or otherwise assign ownership in the ORV without delivering to the transferee a certificate of title showing assignment of the ORV in the transferee's name.

(b) A person shall not purchase or otherwise acquire an ORV without obtaining a certificate of title to it in the person's name pursuant to either this part or the code ....

In short, the title must be signed over to you personally when the sale is made.

It is further stated in MCL 324.81109 that:

"(1) The purchaser or other transferee of an ORV subject to the titling provisions of this part shall, except as provided in subsection (2), apply to the department of state for issuance of a certificate of title to the ORV. The application shall be filed within 15 days after the date of purchase or transfer.

(2) A dealer selling ORVs at retail, within 15 days after delivering an ORV to a retail purchaser, shall apply to the department of state for issuance of an ORV certificate of title in the purchaser's name ..."

So, there is a time frame that this must be done, which is 15 days. This is the same as a standard motor vehicle.


• For vehicles built before 1991 that never have been titled, a bill of sale (with the year, make, vehicle identification number and the names and addresses of the buyer and seller) may be used to transfer ownership.

• A Michigan title is not required on ORVs owned by non-residents and used in Michigan.


After reading the above, I'm sure many of you are thinking in your head that you did not know you needed a title. Your other thought is, how in the heck am I going to be able to get one to be legal?

Well there is an avenue that you can pursue to get a title under these conditions. If you cannot locate the previous owner, there are these two general options:

Option 1: Court Order

A court order awarding ownership of a vehicle can be used if the order includes the year, make, and vehicle identification number (VIN) of the vehicle.

Option 2: Surety Bond

Without a court order, you must obtain a surety bond. A surety bond is like an insurance policy, and is purchased by the applicant from an insurance company or bonding agency. It must be for twice the fair market value of the vehicle ("fair market value" can be established by a dealer appraisal or a recognized vehicle appraisal guide).

The bond is posted for three years and is returned if no claims are filed during the three-year period. The average cost for a vehicle surety bond is about $15 per $1,000 of coverage and they start at $100.

— This information is provided to you for clarification on specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law. Topics covered are for educational and informational purposes only. As needed, excerpts from other articles are used for reference and/or content. If you have any questions on any specific topic, you may always email me your questions to