Skip to main content

Wisconsin title process eased for 'barn finds' and jalopies

Update:Click here to begin titling your untitled vehicle.

Just in time for the swap meet and “draggin cars out of barns” season in Wisconsin, and the Iola Old Car Show in particular, the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles has made it easier and cheaper to title an untitled vehicle.

The news comes from Tom Zat, an old-car legislation advocate and the curator of the Motorama Museum in Aniwa, Wis.

“Now, if you buy a barn car, preferably you should get a bill of sale, but regardless, the application to get a title will have nothing to do with roadworthyness,” Zat said. “The vehicle does not need to be complete — you just need to have a recognizable portion of the unibody or chassis that contains the VIN. If you have the first three feet of a Whippet — that’s a car and you can title it.”

As long as the vehicle identification number (VIN) is present on the chassis, that Model A hulk or those ’57 Chevy remains can be submitted to the Wisconsin DMV for titling. Owners simply need to fill out an application that asks how the vehicle or components were obtained and include pictures of each side of the hulk and the VIN. If the VIN is illegible, a state patrol office can inspect it.

Once an application is completed and submitted, the DMV will check the VIN to ensure the car was not reported stolen and does not have a lien. If no liens are reported and the vehicle is not stolen property, the state will use the Old Cars Report Price Guide No. 5 or 6 condition rating to determine the vehicle’s value based upon its condition. If the owner disagrees with the value issued by the state, the owner can obtain an appraisal at their own expense.

The new process is a significant change, as during the titling process the Wisconsin DMV previously used the car’s restored value, regardless of condition, to determine its value for tax purposes and the value of the surety bond required to title it. Further increasing the expense of titling an untitled vehicle, the state required a car to be essentially restored before it would issue a title. Thus, owners of barn finds would also have to undertake a significant amount of work without the vehicle being legally their own — a financially risky proposition.

Once the value of the untitled vehicle is agreed upon by its owner, the DMV will require that owner to obtain a surety bond for 1-1/2 times the vehicle’s value (information on bond suppliers will be provided by the state). Zat said the cost of an surety bond for a vehicle valued at less than $5,000-6,000 is approximately $100. After paying the sales tax on the vehicle and the state’s standard $69.50 title fee, the owner will receive a title.

“The rough cost to title a typical jalopy will be about $300,” Zat said. “After you get a title, you can sell it, fix it, you can do whatever you want with it — it’s your car.”

Under the old titling process, Zat said he spent $1,500-1,800 to title a $300 car — and that figure does not include his cost of restoration, which was required to obtain a title and the registration.

The new process only provides a title. To register it for the road with license plates, the owner must complete the car to the point it meets the state's equipment standards. Owner then must go through the state's standard licensing process. However, the new title process allows owners to self-certify their cars. That means to register a car, owners must follow the requirements of Chapter 347 of the Wisconsin statutes, which essentially state that a car must maintain the safety features it was originally built with (two tail lamps, seatbelts, etc.).

The title application should be on the Wisconsin DMV website in July, and the titling process is estimated to now take just three to four weeks — a dramatically shorter period than before.

Click here to go to the Wisconsin DMV website to begin titling your untitled vehicle.

Where to Bid

Car Auciton

Check out the Old Cars Auction Calendar

The Old Cars Auction Calendar has the when and where you are looking for when it comes to classic car auctions.