Importance of Choosing The Right Restoration Shop

May 7, 2014 · Posted in News · Comments Off on Importance of Choosing The Right Restoration Shop 

Recently we were reminded, by an Ohio Court of Appeals, of the importance of selecting the proper restoration shop when it comes time to have repairs made to your classic car. The case reminded us that restoration facilities are not always as they seem and not all are ethical, forthright and honest in their practices and actions.

The case of State of Ohio v. Keith Shellhouse, 2014-Ohio-1823 which was decided on April 23, 2014 is very illustrative of the need to vet the restoration shop you are considering before dropping off your car, parts and most importantly, money. In the aforementioned case, Keith Shellhouse owner of Independent Autobody and Pro Restorations in Richland County, Ohio, was found guilty by a jury and the Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s verdict. The case reports that in one instance a 1967 Ford Mustang was brought to Shellhouse’s restoration shop in Richland County, Ohio for repair. Mr. Shellhouse, it was alleged, then sold the vehicle without the owner’s authorization to do so. Mr. Shellhouse sent notice of the sale to an address in Michigan when he knew that the owner resided in Florida. The appellate court also noted that multiple witnesses testified as to Mr. Shellhouses’s pattern of conduct of accepting cars for repair with their owners’ money and then failed to do the working, sometimes failing to even return the cars. Mr. Shellhouse was also found guilty of tampering with motor vehicle records, a felony of the third degree. Keith Shellhouse was sentenced to four years in jail for his actions.

When you are in searching for a restoration shop, do not go by advertisements and discussions with the shop alone. If you are considering sending your vehicle to a restoration shop the following items (at a minimum) should be considered:

  •  Visit the shop, in person (then visit another shop (or several) for comparisons)
  • Speak with customers of the shop (current and past) (if the shop won’t give out customer’s names to speak with that is an immediate red flag)
  • Demand a written restoration contract including a detailed scope of work, payment terms, set price or hourly estimates not to be exceeded without prior written change order authorizations signed by both the shop and you the owner. The contract should have a start date and a completion date. The contract should also require that the shop document the restoration with photographs (time-stamped, preferably) and provide them to you with written updates on a specific interval basis.

In the end having your car restored should be an enjoyable experience, not one wrought with fear that you will never see your car or money again. Most restoration shops are on the up and up and you will have nothing to worry about. Your best insurance however is a firm written car restoration contract.

Bryan W. Shook, Esquire is an attorney in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania who is not only a devoted automotive enthusiast, but is also an experience litigator who devotes a large portion of his law practice to helping collectors and hobbyists protect their automotive investments. Bryan Shook represents some of the most notable automotive restorers in the world and has been responsible for litigating and resolving some of the leading antique automobile cases in the United States. Attorney Shook is available to consult with you or your restoration shop concerning any aspect of automotive or Pennsylvania business law. If you own an old car restoration shop, are you in compliance with all of the consumer protection statutes, including the Pennsylvania Auto Industry Trade Regulations, the Lanham Act and the FTC regulations? If you have any questions regarding compliance or wish to have a restoration contract drafted or reviewed, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Bryan W. Shook. Bryan Shook can be reached at his Office at 717-884-9010 or by email at

Vehicle Identification Numbers

October 2, 2013 · Posted in News · Comments Off on Vehicle Identification Numbers 

Vehicle Identification Numbers

(What are they; where are they found and why are they important?)

 What is a Vehicle Identification Number?

A Vehicle Identification Number also commonly known by its acronym “VIN” is the unique identifying serial number of a motor vehicle.  Manufacturers of vehicle have assigned unique identifying numbers to their vehicles since the dawn of the automobiles however early forms of vehicle identification numbers were usually very short (three of four numbers) and usually found stamped in the engine block or on a small brass plate on the frame of body of the vehicle.  The process of identifying vehicles by their engine numbers started early on but a problem quickly arose when an engine had to be replaced.  This problem however was not rectified until approximately 1954.  Starting in approximately 1955 US auto manufacturers began using unique Vehicle Identification Numbers to uniquely identify all US built automobiles.  The compelling force behind this change in practice was a desire to work with law enforcement and state’s DMVs to reduce the amount and opportunity for VIN fraud and stolen vehicle trafficking.   Prior to 1954, vehicles were identified by body number, chassis number, serial number or engine number.  One can imagine how confusing this would have been and how great the potential for fraud would have been.

A VIN is the DNA of a vehicle, that is to say it is the unique identifier of every vehicle.  The VIN is the number by which s vehicle is registered and titled.  Decoding a VIN can tell you many things including when the vehicle was built, the model of the vehicle, the assembly plant and possibly even the original engine displacement.  Since a VIN plays such an important role in the identity of a vehicle, much fraud has arisen over the years surrounding VINs.

Where are VINs located and how can I tell if the VIN on my car is the correct VIN?

Since the beginnings of automotive production the engines, bodies and usually the frames of vehicles have been assigned identification numbers usually in a serialized fashion.  Beginning with the 1970 model year, nearly all vehicles produced for sale in the United States have had the VIN placed in at least three distinct locations.

  • Public VIN (since January 1, 1968 visible through the windshield)

In the United States, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (effective January 1, 1968) mandated certain safety requirements on vehicles to be sold in the USA such as side marker lights, safety belts and Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) visible on the dash through the windshield.  This is VIN location has come to be known as the “public VIN” and is probably the VIN that you are most familiar with.

  • Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards Certification Sticker (since August 31, 1969 found in the door jamb or on the door)

Starting with all vehicles manufactured after August 31, 1969, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (“FMVSS”) certification sticker was required to be affixed to the vehicle which also included the VIN of the vehicle.  Effective January 1, 1972, the sticker also had to include gross vehicle weight (“GVWR”) information on the certification label.  On Chevrolet models from the 1970s, this sticker is blue and is found on the driver’s door.

  • Hidden or Confidential VIN

VINs have been stamped into frames of vehicles for many years, however the process became more uniform starting approximately during the 1968 model year. The VIN was stamped into various metal objects on the vehicle, including the frame, the body, the engine, transmission and other places.  The VIN on the frame or the body became known as the Hidden VIN, the Confidential VIN or the Federal VIN.  This number is usually not a full, complete VIN but a derivative thereof.  The sequential production number of the hidden VIN should match the sequential production number (the last five or six digits) of the Public VIN and if the vehicle was produced after August 31, 1969, the FMVSS certification sticker.  The VIN on the engine and transmission would have also been a derivative of the VIN and it too should match the Public VIN provided that the engine and/or transmission is original.

Why are VINs so important?

A vehicle’s identification number is very important as it is the only unique identifier a vehicle possesses and accordingly its integrity and validity must be established and preserved.  This is especially true with collectible vehicles given their inherent and actual values.  When you look a vehicle for potential purchase, you must view the VIN in as many of the locations as you reasonable are able to view it.  Start with the public VIN and see if it is consistent with other examples of the year, make and model; ensure that it has not been tampered with or affixed in such a way as to make it not appear as original.  If the public VIN is missing, loose or appears tampered with in any way, contact a marque specialist and attempt to locate the hidden or confidential VIN for the vehicle to ensure the public VIN is the proper VIN.

What if the Confidential VIN and the Public VIN do not match?

If the confidential VIN and the public VIN do not match, you have a major problem which needs to be addressed professionally and legally.  In short, if the public and confidential VINs contradict one another, you have an unsalable vehicle with a title defect; specifically you have a vehicle which purports to have two identities.  Common reasons for the two not to match are that the vehicle itself is stolen or was stolen or salvaged in the past and another VIN (a good clean VIN) was affixed in the public location to make the vehicle appear as though it was “clean” when in reality it was not.  Another reason for the two VINs not to match is that the vehicle was rebuilt from several other vehicles.  If a vehicle has been rebuilt and bears two VINs that can be a problem as this is the usual excuse that is given when a vehicle has been “re-tagged” to disguise a title problem or a former theft; much scrutiny must be employed in this instance.   When the Confidential VIN and the Public VIN do not match it may also be an instance of a “rebody”.  A “rebody” is a vehicle which has had the body replaced and the VIN of the original vehicle affixed to the “donor” body.  The legal issues surrounding rebodied vehicles are explored in another article.

Many laws have been enacted to protect the integrity of the VIN.  Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 511, the alteration of a VIN, could be a federal criminal offense.  Further, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2321 whoever buys, receives, possesses, or obtains control of, with intent to sell or otherwise dispose of, a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part, knowing that an identification number for such motor vehicle or part has been removed, obliterated, tampered with, or altered, could be fined or imprisoned for up to ten years.  Similarly, Pennsylvania’s statutes also address this matter.  Specifically, 18 P.S. § 1.4(a) states that a person who alters, counterfeits, defaces, destroys, disguises, falsifies, forges, obliterates or removes a vehicle identification number with the intent to conceal or misrepresent the identity or prevent the identification of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part commits a felony of the third degree and, upon conviction, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than seven years or a fine of not more than $50,000.  Further, and most concerning is that pursuant to 18 P.S. § 1.4(b) any person who purchases, receives, disposes, sells, transfers or possesses a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part with knowledge that the vehicle identification number of the motor vehicle or motor vehicle part has been altered, counterfeited, defaced, destroyed, disguised, falsified, forged, obliterated or removed with the intent to conceal or misrepresent the identity or prevent the identification of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part commits a felony of the third degree and, upon conviction, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than seven years or a fine of not more than $50,000, or both.

In laymen’s terms the VIN of a vehicle must be preserved and protected and if you are in possession of a vehicle with a VIN or VIN tag or VIN plate which has been altered, removed and replaced or otherwise tampered with you could face serious civil and criminal offenses.  The best advice is to contact an attorney at once who can analyze your situation and assist you with identifying your legal options.

Attorney Bryan W. Shook is not only a devoted automotive enthusiast, but is also an experience litigator who devotes a large portion of his law practice to helping other collectors and hobbyists understand today’s market and protect their automotive investments. Attorney Bryan W. Shook is a seasoned automotive collector and restorer and as such brings real world experience and firsthand knowledge to the table for his clients throughout the world. Although Bryan Shook is headquartered in  central Pennsylvania (close proximity to Carlisle and Hershey), Attorney Bryan Shook is available anywhere for consultation, advice, and information, most times, on as short as a day’s notice. If you’d like more information about this topic or would like to speak with Attorney Bryan W. Shook please email him at BShook@shooklegal or by phone at 717-884-9010.  More information can be found at Http://

The Status of Vehicle Titles in Pennsylvania

January 17, 2011 · Posted in News · Comments Off on The Status of Vehicle Titles in Pennsylvania 

The Status of Vehicle Titles in Pennsylvania

By:   Bryan W. Shook, Esquire


 In the realm of car collecting, one thing can cloud a bargain more than anything else, a vehicle with no title.  The statement “no title” or “sold on bill of sale only” is usually enough to make most potential purchasers turn and run, FAST.  But should it really scare us away? Perhaps, but not without good reason.

 A vehicle sold without a certificate of title is a vehicle sold with questions.

Before you purchase any vehicle without a title, you must ask yourself the following. 

  1. Why doesn’t the seller have a title to transfer to me?
  2. Is the vehicle listed in either the NMVTIS or the NICB VinCheckSM?
  3. How am I going to get a certificate of title in my name?

Why doesn’t the seller have a title to transfer to me?

The most obvious question is why does the seller not have a title to the vehicle?  There are many potential answers to this question that should be asked prior to negotiating for the purchase of this vehicle.

For instance, the vehicle could be missing its title because it was previously salvaged and somehow escaped destruction (i.e. crushing); or worse yet, the vehicle could be stolen.  These are reasons to RUN, FAST!!!

Often the case, however, is that the vehicle was abandoned, so to speak, by the last owner who held a certificate of title. This usually happened when the vehicle had fallen into such a state of disrepair that the condition and its value at the time made the title and registration of the vehicle a moot point.  Accordingly, whoever acquired the vehicle from the last person may not have requested a transfer of the title for these, or similar reasons.

The answer to this first question often tells you 90% of what you need to know.  Trust your instinct.  If the story sounds fishy or otherwise unbelievable; it probably is.

Is the vehicle listed in either the NMVTIS or the NICB VinCheckSM?

Before you purchase a vehicle without a title you should run the VIN through two sources.  The first is an initiative of the United States Department of Justice located at and known as the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS).  The NMVTIS is designed to thwart the registration of stolen vehicles and prevent title fraud.  An important note, however, when researching the NMVTIS for collector cars, is that the system is still in its infancy and relies upon information uploaded from individual states.  Results of the NMVTIS include where the vehicle was previously registered and if it has ever been reported stolen or had any other title issues in the past.  With respect to antique and other older collectible vehicles, it is possible that some “older” thefts may have slipped through the cracks. So, don’t rely too heavily on the results of the NMVTIS search if it comes back with no record found.  This is why it is important to also check the second source.

 The second source that should be checked is the National Crime Insurance Bureau’s (NCIB) VinCheckSM.   This database includes information regarding whether a vehicle has been reported stolen. The link to search the NCIB database is .

 Importance of an Adequate Bill of Sale

 If you choose to go ahead with the purchase and buy the vehicle, it is highly recommended that you have the seller give you a bill of sale for the vehicle.  It is important that the bill of sale identify the vehicle by year, make, model and VIN.  The seller should state something to the effect that they are delivering you the absolute rights of possession and ownership of the vehicle.  The seller should also state that to the best of his/her knowledge the vehicle is not stolen and how they acquired the vehicle and from whom.  Of course the bill of sale should also indicate the date of the transaction and full contact information for both you and the seller.  This will ensure compliance with 13 Pa. C.S.A. § 2401 and will assist you in the acquisition of a certificate of title down the road.

 How am I going to get a certificate of title in my name?

The current laws in Pennsylvania contemplate only scenarios in which certificates of title are transferred with every vehicle transaction.  Therefore, by extension, the law fails to contemplate a scenario in which a person or entity would acquire a vehicle or vehicles for which no owner can produce and accordingly transfer a certificate of title. 

Similarly there appears to be no law, regulation or procedure, formally in place, for the motioning of the Court for a declaration of ownership of a motor vehicle so as to permit Penndot to issue a new certificate of title to memorialize the current owner and allow for registration of the automobile.  Further it is important to note that Penndot has unfortunately purged many of their old motor vehicle records, including ownership and registration records.  As a result, Penndot openly states that “[v]ehicle record information is available for the past 10 years only.”  Penndot Form DL-135 (Rev. 9-10).  Obviously this practice of record retention leaves open many scenarios whereby an owner cannot acquire a certificate title because Penndot has no record of ever issuing one.

What can be done to acquire a title?  One solution is to Petition the Court of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania.  Attorney Bryan Shook can assist you with this.  He can be reached at

Legal History Lesson:

Vehicle titles in Pennsylvania are often the most misunderstood aspect of vehicle ownership.  This is because of historically misinterpreted and misunderstood notions of what exactly constitutes “ownership” of a motor vehicle in Pennsylvania.

Under the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, an “owner” is defined as:

A person, other than a lienholder, having the property right in or title to a vehicle. The term includes a person entitled to the use and possession of a vehicle subject to a security interest in another person, but excludes a lessee under a lease not intended as security.

75 Pa. C.S.A. § 102.

The Superior Court has described titles and ownership this way;

[i]n Braham & Co. v. Steinard-Hannon Motor Co., 97 Pa.Super. 19, 23 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1929), though it involved the interpretation of earlier legislation concerning motor vehicles, the following language of Judge, later President Judge, Keller is nonetheless pertinent and applicable to The Vehicle Code of the present day: ‘It is clear that the primary purpose of the Act of 1923, supra, was to protect the public against the theft of automobiles and their resale by the thief, and to facilitate the recovery of stolen automobiles. It was a police measure, and was not designed to establish the ownership or proprietorship of the car, * * *.’ And at page 25, of 97 Pa.Super. Judge Keller said: ‘It follows that the act does not provide nor intends to provide that the ‘certificate of title’ shall determine the absolute ownership of the car, or alter or affect in any manner the actual ownership of the vehicle and the relations of the persons interested in it. It only requires registration by the person entitled to its possession and in control of its operation. The certificate is not a warrant of ownership or muniment of title as usually understood in the law. It may be relevant evidence in establishing such title.

Weigelt v. Factors Credit Corp., 174 Pa.Super. 400, 404, 101 A.2d 404, 406 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1954)

The idea that a vehicle may have both a legal and an equitable owner was recognized by the Commonwealth Court in Dept. of Trans. v. Walker, 136 Pa.Cmwlth. 704, 584 A.2d 1080 (1990).  The Court in Walker stated that “[i]t follows that Section 102 of the [Vehicle] Code does not provide nor intend to provide that title to a motor vehicle shall determine absolute ownership of such. In fact, our research reveals that in Pennsylvania, the certificate of title constitutes no more than some evidence of ownership.”  Id., 584 A.2d at 1082, citing Semple v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 215 F.Supp. 645 (E.D.Pa.1963). See also Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. v. Duncan, 972 F.2d 523 (3d Cir.1992) (under Pennsylvania law, a state-issued certificate of title is in no way controlling on the question of ownership).

The courts of Pennsylvania look to see who it is that in fact possesses the attributes commonly associated with ownership.  Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., at 526.    The elements of ownership that Pennsylvania looks at are the elements of use, benefit, possession, control, responsibility for, and disposition of the automobile.  Wasilko v. Home Mut. Cas. Co., 210 Pa.Super. 322, 326, 232 A.2d 60, 62 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1967).


In summation, although you may not have received an actual certificate of title when you purchased your vehicle, you still most likely own the vehicle.  This is barring any type of theft in the vehicle’s past or another “owner” stepping in and challenging your interest while asserting that their interest is legally better than yours. 

With this in mind, the motioning of the Courts for a declaration that you are the owner of the vehicle, and therefore entitled to a certificate of title from Penndot is often your best bet in getting the vehicle properly titled and on the road.  The declaration of ownership is possible if you have actual legal ownership of the vehicle.  The court will, to the extent that it is able, extinguish the rights and interests of all others, whom you are able to find and notify of the proceedings, in the vehicle.  This will ultimately allow you to register and enjoy your vehicle without having the issue of not having a title hanging over your head and clouding your “ownership” of the vehicle.

Finally, always remember that a vehicle sold without a certificate of title is a vehicle sold with questions.  This, however, does not absolutely mean that the vehicle can never again be titled.  It does however underscore the need for the exercising of enhanced due diligence throughout the transaction.

The above information is in no way meant to be construed as anything more than general information.  The above information is not legal advice.  The author encourages you to seek the help of an attorney any time you are contemplating the purchase of a vehicle without a certificate of title.  Further THE AUTHOR ASSUMES NO RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCEPTS NO LIABILITY FOR ACTIONS TAKEN BY USERS OR READERS OF THIS DOCUMENT, INCLUDING RELIANCE ON ITS CONTENTS.  It is strongly encouraged that you seek legal counsel for all matters related to a collector or antique vehicle purchase given the amount of money involved and the rarity of the vehicles.  This information is not intended nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. 

This page includes links for your assistance only.  This page is in no way associated with the NCIB page or the NMVTIS. 

Bryan W. Shook, Esquire is a devoted automobile enthusiast.  Attorney Shook would be glad to help you with any vehicle title issues you may have including lost titles, no titles, bill of sale transactions, etc.  Attorney Shook is a collector and as a collector knows the ins and outs of the hobby, let Attorney Shook’s legal knowledge of the collector car hobby work for you.  Attorney Bryan Shook can be reached at 717-884-9010 or by email at  For more information –

United States Congress sets National Collector Car Appreciation Day as July 9, 2010

May 8, 2010 · Posted in News · Comments Off on United States Congress sets National Collector Car Appreciation Day as July 9, 2010 


By: Bryan W. Shook, Esquire


May 4, 2010 – At the persuasion of the SEMA Action network with assistance from automotive restoration manufacturers association (ARMO), the United States Senate approved Senate Resolution 213 on May 4, 2010.   The Resolution sets National Collector Car Appreciation Day as July 9, 2010.  Local, regional and national events to celebrate the newly enacted appreciation day are being developed across the country.  This marks a large step forward in collector car hobby. 

The resolution, which can be viewed online at states that:


Designating July 9, 2010, as `Collector Car Appreciation Day’ and recognizing that the collection and restoration of historic and classic cars is an important part of preserving the technological achievements and cultural heritage of the United States.

Whereas many people in the United States maintain classic automobiles as a pastime and do so with great passion and as a means of individual expression;

Whereas the Senate recognizes the effect that the more than 100-year history of the automobile has had on the economic progress of the Nation and supports wholeheartedly all activities involved in the restoration and exhibition of classic automobiles;

Whereas collection, restoration, and preservation of automobiles is an activity shared across generations and across all segments of society;

Whereas thousands of local car clubs and related businesses have been instrumental in preserving a historic part of the heritage of this Nation by encouraging the restoration and exhibition of such vintage works of art;

Whereas automotive restoration provides well-paying, high-skilled jobs for people in all 50 States; and

Whereas automobiles have provided the inspiration for music, photography, cinema, fashion, and other artistic pursuits that have become part of the popular culture of the United States: Now therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Senate–

(1) designates July 9, 2010, as `Collector Car Appreciation Day’;

(2) recognizes that the collection and restoration of historic and classic cars is an important part of preserving the technological achievements and cultural heritage of the United States;

(3) encourages the Department of Education, the Department of Transportation, and other Federal agencies to support events and commemorations of `Collector Car Appreciation Day’, including exhibitions and educational and cultural activities for young people; and

(4) encourages the people of the United States to engage in events and commemorations of `Collector Car Appreciation Day’ that create opportunities for collector car owners to educate young people on the importance of preserving the cultural heritage of the United States, including through the collection and restoration of collector cars.

Attorney Bryan W. Shook is not only a devoted automotive enthusiast, but is also an experience litigator who devotes a large portion of his law practice to helping collectors and hobbyists understand today’s market. Attorney Bryan Shook is available throughout the United States for consultation, advice, and information. If you’d like more information about this topic or would like to speak with Attorney Bryan W. Shook please email him at

Bid with Knowledge; Buy with Confidence – Vintage Car Law