The Salvage Experience

Some things in life you learn the hard way and then you wish you could tell everyone so that no one repeats your mistake. Actually, I wish someone had told me so I didn't make the mistake. 


I may be a bit premature to call it a mistake as I start to write this, but we'll see how it ends up.  Anyway, in the hopes of preventing someone else from going through the same trials that I'm currently going through, I thought I'd relay my experience with buying a Salvaged motorcycle.  First a summary:


The ten stages of buying a salvage bike...

1. At first - Wow what a deal! No idea why they totaled this one!

2. When you first see it - OK, not perfect, but still a great deal?

3. When reading the laws about getting it inspected and registered - Major depression!

4. When you find a way to register it - Relief.

5. When you find out how much it's going to go through the process - Major depression!

6. When you find out you're going to have to fix even the minor things - More depression!

7. When you spend the first warm weekend of the year doing Bondo work on the tank and painting it instead of riding. - Frustration.

8. Wondering what if, after all that work, it doesn't pass inspection and I have to pay for doing it again - More depression.

9. When you have to actually pay the guy who's going to handle it for you. - Depression.

10.  When it passes inspection and you get a registration. - Relief and the conviction never to do that again.



She looks good doesn't she?  That's what I thought.


See, this story starts a couple years ago when I use to own a BMW R850R.  I bought a CBR1000RR because I had started doing track days, and needed a better tool.  I rode the CBR more and more, and pretty soon the BMW was just sitting around.  I was paying insurance on it, not riding it, and after a while I just didn't see the point in keeping it.  It would be a waste.  A bike sitting around is… well… sacrilege… So, I sold it.


For the last three years life with the CBR has been fun.  I've done a lot of track days and the CBR is just a demon on the track.  But, the bike is not exactly comfortable.  Sit in one position for more than 40 minutes, and things start getting painful.  Taller bars helped a lot, and an aftermarket seat pad (Airhawk) did wonders for the seat.  But it's just not a touring bike.


I started seeing some of the new BMW’s being advertised and started thinking about my old BMW.  Maybe the romance is better than the reality, but I know for sure it was more comfortable than the CBR.  I also like the low strung engine… lots of torque right off idle at relatively low revs.  Actually the CBR has more torque and horsepower, but it's delivered differently… it's nervous power… and the BMW is easy, relaxed power.


I thought about a BMW more and more, and apparently we make our own reality, and so my reality came to pass.  You've heard the old saying, be careful what you wish for.   


I made my reality come true by purchasing a salvage (strike 1) BMW R1150R Rockster, and I bought it on Ebay (strike 2) about six weeks ago.  Owner said he'd hang on to it, in a heated showroom...  Worked for me.


I started getting antsy about the bike sitting two states away for so long.  If something happened, I'm out of money and a bike.  So, two weeks ago I took a last minute vacation day from work to drive out to Ohio to pick it up.  Last minute because the weather just hadn't been cooperating with me, and if I didn't go when I did, it would be at least another couple weeks before I could go get it.  I bit the bullet, hooked up the bike trailer to the car, and took off 7:45 am.


I made it to the bike shop at about 2:15 pm.  I met the seller and looked over the bike.  Well, no sparkplug covers, a cracked left side switch assembly, supposedly the bars were replace but they looked repainted, and that dent in the tank actually had some rust on it.  Yes, I saw the dent in the pictures, and asked if a few of the scratches had rust, but the guy I talked to on the phone said no, it was just the primer showing through.  Well, it wasn't that bad... a little sanding and some touch-up paint and it would be fine.   I felt the cylinders and they were cold.. good (you always want to start the bike from cold) We took the bike outside and started it.  Fired right up... good.  Settled down into a good idle... Reved cleanly...  Ok, we have a deal...  (STRIKE 3).


The seller gave me a box with some stuff in it.  About the only useful thing in there was the touring shield.  It had some scratches on the edges, but I can easily cut some of it off (it's too tall anyway). 


The seller signed the title over to me, gave me a receipt, and a list of items they fixed -- which was really not much.  They basically just took off the destroyed saddle bags, replaced the spark plugs, did an oil change, painted the head covers, and that's that.  With the formalities out of the way I loaded up the bike on the trailer and that was that.


I brought the bike home and within a couple days I had the tank off to get to the battery; so that I could hook it up to a trickle charger.  With the bike happily sucking up the juice I started thinking about the dent in the tank, and when I would get around to fixing that.  I also disassembled the left switch, went online and ordered a replacement.  I also started calling the DMV to see what I need to do to get the bike registered.  That's where the fun started.


Prior to buying the bike I looked online to understand the process of getting a Salvage retittled as Salvage-Rebuilt.  Basically you have to have a title in a licensed rebuilder's name (check – the seller was licensed and the title was in his name, now signed over to me).  Also, you needed documentation to show what had been fixed on the bike (check – he gave me a list with pricing for each item).  I also had the sales receipt.  You then have to have the bike inspected by the state police to make sure everything is legit.  Then you make an appointment to go through a safety inspection.  It said that a licensed rebuilder can drive the vehicle in on dealer plates or a temporary registration.  But I didn't see that as a problem, I could just trailer it there.


So, I got around to calling the inspection station to inquire about the procedure for bringing the bike in and get an appointment.  That's where it gets ugly.  The lady asks me, am I a licensed rebuilder? I say not, but I have the title in his name, all the paperwork, etc..  She says it's going to be a problem.  Apparently, ONLY a licensed rebuilder can bring a salvage bike in for inspection.  And the title can't just be in any rebuilder's name, it has to be in the name of the rebuilder that's bringing the vehicle in.  I say that's a little ridiculous, what if I had bought the bike in California?  I'm suppose to go back there to go trough the process?  She says either that or find a rebuilder who will take the bike through the process for me.  Needless to say, I was pissed.


The first question that ran through my mind was, why didn't the seller just get the bike retitled and then just sell me the titled bike?  He did say he wasn't familiar with Illinois law.  Course he also said a good friend of his owns a bike shop in Markham, and he visits there a lot… probably to get salvaged bikes from him…


I thought about it some more and rather than going back to Ohio or finding a rebuilder, why don't I just license myself?  A few minutes on the web, and I found the required forms.  Fill them out, show proof of business ownership, insurance, hazardous waste registration, send in your check, and you're a licensed rebuilder.  Actually you can be a salvage dealer and/or a rebuilder… two different licenses.


Step one, call the city and figure out what I have to do to get a business license… I had a conversation that went something like this:


Ring.. Ring… hello, how may I direct your call.

Hello, I'd like to talk to someone regarding running a small home business.

Sure, hang on, let me get you to the X department.


Hello, how may I help you?

Yeah, I'm interested in running a small business out of my home.  Are there any restrictions and how do I get a business license?

You can only use your home for an office.  Is that what you want to do?

Well, no, I'd like to rebuild vehicles.  It will basically be a web based business, so other than working in my garage, there will be no other business related activity on a day to day basis.

I'm sorry you can't do that?

I can't?

No sir.  You can only have an office.

I don't understand.  I work on my vehicles in my garage now.  The would be my vehicles. There's no difference.

Sorry you can't do that?


Work on your car in the garage.


You are zoned residential R-1.  Doing any kind of automotive rebuilding and selling those vehicles is not allowed.

Well can I petition to have my garage rezone?

No, they're not going to do that.

But I work on my car now, and I may sell it one day.  You're telling me I can't do that?

Yes.  We understand some people work on fixing cars in their garages but you are not suppose to do that.

Aaaaaaaaahhhhhh… OK… Thanks..  Good bye.


At this point major depression starts to set in.  Ok, so I have a very expensive paper weight.  Crud… I'm going to take the plates off my other motorcycle and stick them on the BMW when ever I want to ride it…. Arrrrrrrgh… can't do that.  I can't insure it and if I get pulled over I'll be in jail and the bike will be impounded… #%^$#%!


Ok, get it together!  Time to call my friendly seller and get him to help me…


I call the seller, explain to him that I'm basically out of luck and maybe I can bring the bike back and he can take care of all that for me. He starts going on about how he's not a licensed rebuilder, just a seller, and that he wasn't aware of the Illinois laws.  Still not sure I believe him.  But he says his friend, with two bike shops, one selling new bikes and one for salvage bikes, in Markham, might be able to help me out.  He gives me his name, and his web sites and says I should call him… he's a good friend and he can at least point me in the right direction.  Hmmm… ok… thanks…  I'm thinking to myself, you have a friend who deals in salvaged bikes, and rebuilds them, and you make occasional visits to his shop in Illinois, but you don't know about the Illinois laws related to rebuilt bikes… why am I having a hard time believing this?  Anyway, I feel some relief that there's a light at the end of this tunnel.  I just hope it's not a train...


I look up the bike shops on the internet and find the phone number.  I call the guy up and explain my situation.  He says, sure he can help me out, they do that kind of stuff all the time.  And he basically explains the process to me just as it's outlined on the Secretary of State site.  Then he rattles off what it's going to cost, and says he'll show me all the receipts.  He was talking to fast for me to write down all the categories, but I got all the amounts:




$65 (that's to transfer the title into their name)

$200 (towing charge back and fourth to safety test and then inspection)

$200 (their fee)

7.75% sales tax  (based on my “statement” of what I bought it for)  hmmmmm….

$130 (that's for the final title and plates)

$55.39 (state doc fee?)

Oh yeah, and it takes about a month for all this to happen.

Oh yeah, and make sure you don't ride it for more than 50 miles.  The mileage has to match.


sigh… depression


I ask what kind of shape the motorcycle has to be in.  I tell him that I'm replacing one of the switches and the tank has a couple dents in it.  A discussion about the dents takes place and we conclude they have to be fixed.  I tell him I'll get back to him when I have it ready.  He suggest I do it soon because it's going to get busy.


I have to fix the tank…?  Geeeesssss… there are people driving around every day with dents in their cars and bikes bigger than that, and I have to be held to a higher standard?


Ahhhh… the weekend comes and it's 57 degrees and sunny.  First really warm day of the year… bikes out everywhere…  I should be out riding, but No… instead I spend all day Bondoing and painting the tank and running back and fourth to the auto parts store for supplies.  The main thing I have going for me is that the tank is flat black, so it's easy to paint.  On the other hand the black shows any imperfections.  So, after bondoing, sanding, painting, resanding, repainting, I'm done.  Is it perfect?  No.  Close enough?  It better be.  The tank is now completely black, since I had to remove the green vinyl stickers to paint it right.  The stickers are $100, so I don't think I'll be putting them back on.


I also decided to take a look at the left side of the handlebars because for some reason there is this 3/8” gap between the grip and the weight/slider at the end of the bar.  So, I disassemble the grip, and what do I find?  Part of the holder mechanism for the brake master cylinder (holds the brake master cylinder to the bar) is partially cracked.  Great, if that lets go there will be nothing preventing the front brake and switch assembly from rotating on the handlebar.  And it's not like you can just replace the cracked part, it's part of the master cylinder… Discount price… $294.40.  Ya.  Well, I did manage to get the grip properly adjusted and we'll just have to hope that the other piece holds together.  I have some ideas on how to repair it, but I don't want to do that before the inspection.


Week later…


Got the bike together, slapped my other bikes plates on it, and actually took it for a ride… a whole 8 miles… Ah well, better than nothing.  It's a runner.  Whew!  Called my friendly rebuilder and set up an appointment to bring it in Saturday. 


Saturday rolls around… roads are wet… it rained overnight.  I load the bike up on the trailer and find the place.  Turns out the owner is a Nesbian!  A NESBA member… same trackday club I belong to.  Cool, gives me a little more confidence I'm not dealing with some schlock operation.


About four weeks later...

Marty!  How's it going?  You guys getting anywhere with that bike of mine?
Well, there's a problem with the title.  The title has to be in our name, and since it was put in your name I had to go back and have Mark Manuel do a title search and put the title in our name. 

These are not words you want to hear. 

About four weeks later...

Marty!  That bike done yet?

Well, we got the title, but now the state is telling me that they can't give me an appointment  for six weeks.  My only other option is to haul it down state.
Marty.  Do what you can, if I have to pay an extra $100 to cover your costs I'll do it.

One week later...

I get an email from Marty on 3/24/07
"ves good news they had a opening in Peoria so we took it so pick it up on Saturday if that's ok with you"

Is it OK with me?  Wahooooooo!!!!!

The beauty of it all is that the weekend was suppose to be really nice, so couldn't have picked a better time.  Actually the weather up to then had been pretty rainy and cold.  At least that's what I kept telling myself.

And so, that's how I got the Rockster.