Thursday, January 14, 2021

Highway robbery at the CA DMV…

 Having owned/sold something like 400 cars and motorcycles in the past 55 years, I guess I have been lucky not to get entangled with the DMV “non-op” regulations that can incur big penalties for not paying regular yearly registration fees. A couple of years ago, I let my Jaguar XJ8 get away from me as DMV didn’t send the renewal forms and I didn’t pay attention to the month tag on the car. That was a $100 hit that didn’t sit well with me. But usually, when dealing with 50-year-old derelict Honda bikes, they are generally “out of the system” so that no penalties are incurred because of the lack of registration activity caused DMV to purge the vehicle from their database.

I think a general feeling has been that if the vehicle hasn’t been registered in the last 10 years, that it must be out of the DMV system. Unfortunately, I got a big financial shock last week when I went to register a couple of rather sad, but mostly complete CB77 Super Hawks.

The bikes came from a vintage Honda wrangler up in the LA area, who had amassed about 30 bikes in his garage and back yard, having picked them up in the LA region over the years. The seller had posted the bikes on Facebook forums for what seemed like a good deal, given the 20-foot photos included in the announcement. He actually had posted to the Honda Dream forum instead of the 250-305 or CB72-77 forum, so there was a little less of a response than normal. His location was about a 2-hour drive, each way, from me in Spring Valley, Ca. Having been caught, like everyone else, in the midst of the pandemic catastrophe without a lot to do, I figured a couple of CB77s would keep me busy for awhile getting them back on their feet/wheels and into some semblance of full function and safety again.

The bikes were generally complete; a 1964 still had stock type mufflers, although the left one had a large and long dent underneath and the right side was pretty rusted on the surface and proved to be one of the low-cost Dixie replicas from days gone by. They did both run after a fashion and I was able to drive them up and down the street for a minute or two, just to check out their mechanical function. The bikes were weathered with rusty spokes and rims, cracked cables, faded and chipped black paint and general corrosion on formerly chromed or polished surfaces.

The 1964 bike had a CA plate with 2010 tags affixed. The 1965 bike had an old CA black plate hanging off the license plate ears, but the numbers indicated that it was probably from a much earlier machine. After a bit of wrangling, I bought the pair of bikes, plus a CL77 spare engine that was seized and had an electric starter hanging off of the front and a Dream top cylinder head cover affixed. See previous stories about the mechanical woes encountered after they were brought back home.

Once the bikes had been gotten back to some level of function and safety (after about $600 spent on the basics), I offered them up for sale with “BOS” bill of sale only as I assumed that the guy I got them from had cleared the titles or at least felt confident that they were no longer in the DMV system. Lacking titles is always a crapshoot for anyone who wants to take over a restoration project, so I finally hauled them down to DMV for verification of the serial numbers to start the paperwork trail.

The woman who I have dealt with over the past few years did the initial inspection of the numbers, but then asked me how I knew what the model year was. I told her that I had a lot of experience with these bikes and that often I wound up having to take them to the CHP office for their verification process and that the officer there knew me and knew that I had first-hand knowledge of these bikes and could verify that actual year dates based upon the serial numbers. I have hauled a number of odd or dead bikes to him in the past and with my knowledge of the bikes and showing how I came to those conclusions, he’s always passed the bikes as-is without concerns.

The line at DMV was LONG so I just got the correct forms from the DMV inspector and called CHP to make an appointment for them to check the bikes out. Initially, the first available appointment was 2 weeks out, but I was told to check in early on Tues/Thursday mornings to see if there were cancellations. I called the following Tuesday morning and after overcoming getting no live person on the phone, tried a random phone extension number and got someone to pick up the phone. They checked with the in-house inspector and asked if I could come in at 10AM today! I told them that I would be there promptly and gathered up the bikes to load up in my Tacoma for the 14 mile trip to the El Cajon CHP office. To my surprise, the usual officer that I normally work with was on vacation, so I had to explain what I was trying to accomplish with the bikes and offered a printout of Honda’s CB72-77 serial number chart taken from the factory parts manuals for consideration. After a half-hour, the officer came back and had cleared the paperwork concerns, signing off both bikes as okay to go.

Feeling lucky in the moment, I turned the truck back to the Chula Vista DMV office to see if I could push through the paperwork and get titles for both bikes. Apparently, I caught them on a good day, as the wait time was minimal to get to the customer service counter. A woman there sifted through my various bits of paper, forms, and bills of sale and then checked the VIN numbers in the computer. Much to my surprise and shock, she said that both bikes were still in the system registered to someone other than the guy I got the bikes from in the first place. One had records going back to 1997 for the last registration transaction. That was for the 1965 bike and apparently had been put on non-operation status decades ago, so the “title-only” fee was $61. The 1964 bike, which I had been grooming as a possible “keeper” was a whole different story…

I asked about how long the vehicles stayed in DMV computer records and was told that they can stay in for 20 years! If anyone contacts DMV with VIN number requests for any car or bike, the system captures the request and starts the clock over again if the serial numbers are still valid and stored in the database. Shockingly, the 10-year-old tags on the 1964 bike were never put on non-op status, so there were fees and penalties that came up to a total of $805! When I tried to invoke the DMV rules to override the back fees and penalties according to a website posting that went:

(Always fill out a statement of fact (REG256) with this statement: "I am a collector and this is a collector vehicle exempt from back fees as defined in VC 4604 paragraph B")

5051 collector is defined:

(a) "Collector" is the owner of one or more vehicles described in

Section 5004 or of one or more special interest vehicles, as defined

in this article, who collects, purchases, acquires, trades, or

disposes of the vehicle, or parts thereof, for his or her own use, in

order to preserve, restore, and maintain the vehicle for hobby or

historical purposes.

VC4604 Is the code that describes the non-op penalties, Section D lists the exceptions:

(d) A certification is not required to be filed pursuant to

subdivision (a) for one or more of the following:

Paragraph 3 is the collectable car exception that you NEED to keep in mind and ask for a supervisor if any problem:

(3) A vehicle described in Section 5004, 5004.5, or 5051, as

provided in Section 4604.2. However, the registered owner may file a

certificate of non-operation in lieu of the certification specified in

subdivision (a).

VC5004(a) defines collectible vehicles. Paragraph 3 is the broadest category:

5004. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of this code, any owner of a vehicle described in paragraph (1), (2), or (3) which is operated or moved over the highway primarily for the purpose of historical exhibition or other similar purpose shall, upon application in the manner and at the time prescribed by the department, be issued special identification plates for the vehicle:

(3) A vehicle which was manufactured after 1922, is at least 25 years old, and is of historic interest.

5004. (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of this code, any owner of a vehicle described in paragraph (1), (2), or (3) which is operated or moved over the highway primarily for the purpose of historical exhibition or other similar purpose shall, upon application in the manner and at the time prescribed by the department, be issued special identification plates for the vehicle:

(1) A motor vehicle with an engine of 16 or more cylinders manufactured prior to 1965.

(2) A motor vehicle manufactured in the year 1922 or prior thereto.

(3) A vehicle which was manufactured after 1922, is at least 25 years old, and is of historic interest.

I was told that while that clause might be valid, my choices were either to pay that amount or pay 10 years of old registration fees at $118 per year. While the clerk was shuffling the paperwork and waiting for my reply, I called the seller of the bikes to explain my plight. The call went to voicemail, but I left a message about my shock and dismay at being faced with a huge registration bill.

With hopes of the chance that I might get some of the money back from the seller, I gulped and offered my debit card to the DMV clerk and she happily hit the account for $805. I offered a few nicely put comments about the unfairness of the penalties, which she agreed with but could do nothing more about the situation. On the drive home, my phone rang and the seller offered to refund half of the amount which was still way more than it should have cost me under normal circumstances, but still was something of an offset.

In hindsight, I should have run the plate and serial numbers in the online DMV system, which allows you to find out what registration fees might be, if the vehicle is in the system. Both my seller and I failed to take the step and the cost was substantial, obviously. So, as has been stated over the years: Buyer BEWARE in these kinds of vehicle transactions… the DMV computers never sleep.

Bill “MrHonda” Silver