You’ve just finished creating a custom-built car and you couldn’t be more proud of yourself – but now what? After you’ve put all that time, energy and money into making a custom ride, you want to protect it by titling and registering it. After all, how will anyone know who owns it? Just like with any car, it is possible to title a homemade vehicle or “kit car” with a little effort. You can even get a new VIN number for a kit car or homemade vehicle with just a little effort.
How Do You Register and Title a Home-Built Car?
Standard registration items
Your local DMV or state office is in charge of registering your homemade vehicle. They are going to require a list of standard registration items, including:
Appropriate application forms for title and registration
Vehicle safety inspection
Emissions testing certificate
Oftentimes, custom-built cars require a different smog check than a standard vehicle would. Consult the rules and regulations in your city and state to be sure.
Special registration items
The DMV often requires extra details when registering a kit car or homemade vehicle, including:
Detailed photographs and receipts of the car’s components
Statement of Construction or equivalent parts list
Confirmed VIN number or Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin (MCO)
Some states may require a brake and light adjustment certificate, extended emissions testing, and other paperwork in addition to these items.
Specific Items Needed to Register a Kit Car or Homemade Vehicle
Let’s look at a few of the requirements for titling a homemade car in greater detail.
Certificate of Origin or Confirmed VIN Number
If you’re titling a manufactured kit car from a company like Superformance or Factory Five Racing, the vendor will provide a Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin (MCO) that the DMV will need during registration.
If you’re titling a homebuilt vehicle or one where the frame and body do not have a VIN number, the state will issue a state-assigned VIN after the car passes inspection.
Statement of Construction
A Statement of Construction provides detailed information on the parts and methods used in the car’s construction. Though your state may not call it by that name, when registering a homebuilt car you will be asked to prove that you used roadworthy and safe parts to ensure the safety of yourself and others.
Photographs and receipts for components
In addition to a state-sanctioned safety inspection, the DMV will require receipts and photographs from all major components used in the kit car’s construction. You want to have bills of sales, junkyard receipts, invoices and manufacturers’ certificates on any major parts you used.
Do Homemade Trailers Need to be Registered?
What if you created your own trailer? Do those need to be titled and registered as well? It all depends on what state you live in. Many states will require you to title your trailer if it weighs over a certain amount. For example, all trailers over 4,000 pounds in Texas must have a title and registration while New York requires that any homemade trailer must have a title.
Typically, this is the process to register a homemade trailer:
Weigh the trailer.
Have a safety inspection performed.
Write up a detailed description of how the trailer was made.
Take photos of the construction and save all parts receipts.
Insure the trailer if needed.
Submit this paperwork to the DMV.
Pay all associated titling fees.
Some states may require the parts description to be notarized. Some states may also allow you to estimate the weight of your homemade trailer based on its components.
What Street Legal Parts Does a Kit Car Need?
It’s wise to consider this before you build a homemade vehicle. It will save you a lot of headaches later. Having a street legal vehicle means ensuring that all the necessary safety equipment is added to your car. While each state requires different things, some items are required regardless of where you are.
Usually, required street legal parts for a homemade car include:
Every vehicle must have an audible horn that can be heard up to 200 feet away. It can play any sound your desire as long as the minimum volume threshold is met.
This keeps debris from getting into your eyes. It’s worth noting that most states do not allow you to tint the front windshield.
In some circumstances, your state may require the vehicle to have a hood. There might even be some regulations on the air intakes or hood scoops as well. Sometimes, these intakes can’t be more than four inches higher than the hood itself to ensure visibility from the driver’s seat.
The bare minimum requirement in most states is that kit cars and homemade vehicles have at least two mirrors. This includes the driver’s door and the interior rear-view mirror.
You don’t want to be in the snow, rain or hail without wipers. Install them!
Of course, if you want to drive the car, having a steering wheel makes complete sense. Some laws limit the type of steering wheel you use. For example, you might not be able to use a fighter jet joystick or butterfly-shaped wheel. Instead, it’s likely you are required to have a circular wheel that measures at least 13 inches in diameter.
You aren’t getting around this requirement as it is mandatory in every state.
Obviously, you will need to stop, but interestingly many states do not require the use of a parking brake.
It would be difficult to have a homemade vehicle without tires, but there are some regulations as to how they are installed. Check with your state to find out if the rear tires need to be covered on the top half by a fender or mud flap.
We understand that putting emission control systems and exhaust on your vehicle hurts engine performance, but most times you don’t have a choice if you want to title your kit car legally. Mufflers and catalytic converters provide pollution and noise control and help stifle emissions. It’s imperative that you mount these components correctly because of how hot they get during operation. Don’t worry, the state will double-check your work at the inspection.
License plate mount
The area to hold a rear license plate needs to be illuminated, preferably by two different bulbs in case one bulb goes out. Some states also require that you have spots for two license plates; one in the front and another in the back.
If you’ve seen a car sitting on the side of the road at night with its lights off, you can thank reflectors for that. All street-legal homebuilt vehicles will need to have rear and side reflectors. The side reflectors must be amber in color and the rear reflectors must be red.
Most vehicles must employ turn signals, stop lights, tail lights and headlights. They must also be housed with DOT-approved coverings and must contain road legal bulbs.
Many states require a minimum street clearance for a kit car to be street legal. Sometimes this is measured as body clearance, while other times it is measured by wheel size (a car with 5” wheels and tires couldn’t navigate city streets). You’ll also want to check your local laws regarding hydraulic lift suspensions.
Some states will not allow vehicles that exceed certain height limitations. Even if your state doesn’t mind a 20-foot-tall kit car driving around, you should consider your ability to clear bridges, signs, and other obstacles you will encounter around town.
Is It Cheaper to Build Your Own Car?
The short answer – if you are asking this question, you’re not in the right mindset.
Building a homemade vehicle isn’t really about saving money, but more about the thrill of the project itself. Total cost is going to solely depend on what you are building. If you want a hot rod with high-performance power, plan on spending lots of time and money. If you wish to create a street legal dune buggy with a Volkswagen engine, you will pay far less, but it’ll still take a lot of work to make the dream come alive.
You have to think about lots of technical components such as the engine, transmission, suspension and electronics of the vehicle, not to mention these boring details of how to title and register a homebuilt car, but it’ll all be worth when you can get out and enjoy the open road in a car you made yourself.
Title a homemade vehicle
Once you are ready to title a homemade vehicle, we can help. As enthusiasts ourselves, at Title Gods we work with people every day who want to make their dreams a street-legal reality. Contact us today and we will help steer you in the right direction.
Title Gods specializes in recovering lost car titles and solving all kinds of title-related issues. We are not attorneys. This article is not legal advice.