Vying for the Title

When you purchase a vintage Airstream, you ideally expect to have the title signed over to your name and to complete a bill of sale. However, in some places (like my home state of NY), you don’t technically need a title for a vehicle that was manufactured before 1970, and my trailer fits the bill. On the other hand, if I later decide to register or otherwise transfer ownership of my trailer over to someone else in another state where the rules are different, it could cause a problem.

So when I bought my Airstream without a title (nearly 2 years ago!) with a verbal agreement that the owner would help me get one, I’d hoped that we’d be able to work it out quickly. He had a couple of creative ideas that I won’t get into here. But despite our otherwise amicable back-and-forth, eventually there was “radio silence” and I realized that my pursuit with this person was going nowhere. Had I made a big mistake?!

Airstream Title

During the sale, I’d been handed a small packet of old papers that had belonged to former owners of the trailer. There were receipts, electrical diagrams, doodles and personal notes… some of it went back decades. Among these papers I found some old contact information and I figured it would be worth a shot to reach out. What I knew was that the person I’d bought the trailer from didn’t have a title for it in his name. The owner before him may have had one – I’ll call her Jenny Jones. And the owner before Jenny (whom I’ll call Ms. Chanel) might also be the last titled owner. Were these people alive or dead? Had they moved? Could I find them somehow on the Internet? And if I found them, would they be willing to help? I had to give it a shot.

Online, I came up with a name and a home number for Ms. Chanel in the general area I thought she’d be, but I never got through to find out if it was the right person. So I tried an e-mail address I found for the Jones family, and it worked! Jenny replied, and in an incredible stroke of luck, she happens to be close friends with Ms. Chanel, they live nearby one another, and they would be willing to help get a duplicate title that could be transferred over to my name! I waited several weeks for the duplicate title paperwork to be processed and delivered to Ms. Chanel. It turned out that the title was so old, that the service had to look it up on microfiche.

The holidays came & went, but last Saturday I got an e-mail that the title had finally arrived, so I took a detour on my way home to NY from NC and met up with them at a AAA office. The two of them couldn’t have been nicer. They were there early, conducted business quickly, and had great senses of humor! They had really gone out of their way to help out a fellow Airstreamer, and were glad that the trailer is going to have some new adventures. I was so happy to have my title that I was a few dozen miles down the road before I realized that AAA hadn’t even charged me for the service because I am a member. I still have to go through the motions of having the new title printed in my name, getting a new license plate, and paying for insurance, &c. But I’m so relieved… the trailer didn’t quite feel like it was mine until now.

Up next: Once I update the paperwork & get a new plate, I can finally take the trailer to a shop to get it inspected by an expert, and start doing all of the major automotive repairs (replacing the axles, for example) to get it road-ready for a cross-country trip! I plan to have a first draft of the renovation budget and schedule ready for next week’s post, but I’ll find out about any hidden or unknown costs when I get it to an expert for a professional opinion.

[UPDATE] I mentioned at the top of this post that a title is not necessary in NYS for vehicles manufactured before 1970. To clarify, it’s not only not necessary; NYC will not provide a title for these vehicles. What you most likely get is a transferable registration – that’s what I ended up with. In speaking with AAA agents in both Pennsylvania (where the title was from) and California (where I plan to move next), I can use the transferable registration and local proof of residency to apply for a title in either of these states. So, check with your local AAA and / or DMV to learn more if you’re concerned about any of the issues brought up in this post!

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  1. Congratulations! An incredible stroke of luck indeed! But, you know what they say, “Luck is the residue of design.” It’s nice to read a story with a happy ending, where perseverance pays off. Glad you also met some nice folks to continue that feeling of good faith in humanity. 🙂 Can’t wait to read more about your upcoming cross-country adventure!

    1. Thank you, Alvin!

      I’m hearing a lot of good things about the goodwill spirit among vintage Airstream owners, and it was definitely present here with the great people who helped me out 🙂

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