In order to be able to license and operate your Military Vehicle on the streets and highways, you have to have a valid title. If possible, before you buy, make sure the previous owner has a title to sign over to you, or equivalent paperwork to prove the chain of ownership leading to you.
U.S. Army military policeman and patrol car, February 1973.
Today in WW II: 8 Mar 1941 US Senate passes the Lend-Lease Act [60-31]. More↓
Here are some tips on proper documentation of your vehicle so you can obtain a valid title:
If buying from US Government, make sure you get a Standard Form 97 (SF97) called "Certificate of Release of a Motor Vehicle" which is your Bill of Sale transferring ownership from the Government to you. If there was a private buyer before you, even a state or local government, see if you can get the original SF97. Vehicles sold as scrap do not get an SF97, so you are on your own in that case. See the section on Military Vehicle Government Surplus Auctions for more details.
For a private transaction, you need a Bill of Sale and Title from the prior owner following the procedures specified by your state laws (in US). Normally your state Motor Vehicles Department will have forms and instructions that tell you what to do.
What to do if there is no Title
What if you don't have a title? Maybe your vehicle was reconstructed from components. Maybe the prior owner had no title because the truck has been in his barn since 1947. Whatever the reason or for no reason, what do you do if there just isn't a title?
Most states have a procedure to get a title, but often that procedure requires you to produce documentation that you don't have. Again, these State regulations and procedures are drafted by people who have never throught about old military vehicles. As an example of what can happen, here is the story on how one MV owner got his M37 title using the North
Carolina process for vehicles without a title.
Title Service Companies Will Work With Military Vehicles
A small number of companies will work with you to title your vehicle, taking advantage of state laws where their office is located. Here are some details:
International Title Service can legally register your vehicle using only a bill of sale. The use a network of bonded and licensed affiliates who can handle vehicles manufactured in 1988 and older. The cost ranges from $150-300 depending on your vehicle. Procedure is a bit scary since you have to sell your
vehicle to ITS, they then go register it to themselves, and then they sell
it back to you with proper documentation. During the transaction, they own it!
So you have to trust them.
Broadway Title Company, based in Birmingham, AL, provides a similar service to ITS if you have no title. In Alabama,
vehicles older than 1975 models (up through 1974) are transferred by Bill of
Sale and Tag Receipt only. For other vehicles after 1975, but over 10 model
years old, they have an affiliate in another state, and the same procedures
apply. Broadway will legally buy a vehicle from you; all you need is to furnish
a bill of sale. They can then obtain a registration for the vehicle in Broadway's
name or that of an Affiliate Dealer. When they legally title the vehicle, they
will sell it back to you, transferring the title and other paperwork. As the
new owner, you may turn these papers in, with a Bill of Sale from Broadway,
and obtain a title in your state. Their prices start at $100 for a motorcycle and $150 for automobiles.
A third company, US Auto & Title Co., Inc. has been advertising a title service for vehicles through 1988. They can be reached at 716-342-5769 or via mail at PO Box 17325, Rochester, NY 14617.
Allow plenty of time for these services -- ten to twelve weeks is normal in most cases.
I do not have any experience with these companies, but I did use a similar company in Alabama (now out of business) who did the same thing. I registered an untitled M-151A2 in New York that way with no problems.
Lack of title may cost you some money to cure; in the worst case you may not be able to register your MV at all which seriously limits its fun and usefulness. Lack of title also kills the resale value. Title is an issue for you to clarify before you buy (if possible) and should affect the price you pay.