To answers the first question...
"1. is the only way to find out if it was ever registered to actually visit the dmv"
The DMV office is pretty much useless when it comes to mopeds. Why? Mopeds are so rare to the California DMV that, for the most part, anyone who works there is pretty much unable to be of any service to moped owners. In fact, they could make things even worse like register your moped as a motorcycle which sucks because then you have to pay a yearly registration and are forced under the laws that your moped was not actually designed for. This has been a topic discussed on this thread before (check above)
The fact that I went to the DMV was somewhat of a joke. The reasoning being that if you were to get them to run a search for you, it would be the ONE AND ONLY THING they know how to do that may almost be worth while. Really though, it's a waste of time to even go to the DMV for that. I honestly had some other business to take care of and casually mentioned the VIN of my new moped when I found out it was registered. Why wait in line or make an appointment to have them check on that for you? There is no need if you simply assume that if the bike comes with no registration (plates or registration card/paper) or if the current owner has no idea about it or thinks it does not have to be registered than the bike is already registered.
Like I had mentioned before. If the moped was fairly old (1970s-80s) and had pretty much resided in the state of California since it was produced, we are talking 30-40 years here, the odds are it is already registered. If you go to purchase a moped from someone and they don't know or believe that it does not need to be registered, just assume that SOMEONE (maybe not the current seller of course but someone, somewhere down the line) REGISTERED IT.
Basically, the only way not to assume it hasn't been registered is if it is from out of state. For instance my buddy got a Puch Magnum back east and he had no problem registering it with an original registration. Or, if you can vouch that the seller is indeed the first and original owner (MEANING BRAND NEW FROM THE FACTORY) and that the seller never registered it, which I seems highly unlikely. If someone I did not know very well told me this, I would have them sign the reg230 anyway! hahahaha
So, no there is no need to even go to the DMV to check. Simply assume that the moped is already registered and fill out the reg230 as a "Transfer of Ownership" (filling out sections c and d). Obviously if there is no plates or a registration card than you will also have to fill out section b.
To answers the second question...
"2. if i send in the registration and money and it come back registered, am i out of luck? or do i have to go to the seller of the moped and get his signature?"
Exactly, you would have to go to the seller of the moped and get their signature. You aren't completely out of luck by sending in the reg230 as an original but you HAVE on the other hand, wasted a good month and a half trying to get your stuff legit if fails. Plus, if you are not able to get ahold of the original seller then that would suck too.
The thing is though, for the most part, you can assume that it is registered, even if it doesn't have plates or the owner even understands registrations for mopeds. The odds are, again 30-40 years ago, someone understood this system and registered it, unless of course it is from out of state. Since moped registrations are for life, it doesn't matter if it was registered 30 years ago or not, that registration stays. So if that 40 year old moped you have now has been bought and sold by 10 different people, it doesn't matter, the original registered owner still stands. So the message here is, if its not out of state or the original owner isn't family member or someone you can trust to tell you it hasn't been registered, then it probably has and you want to fill out the reg230 as such!
KEY THINGS TO REMEMBER HERE...
DMV IS STILL WORTHLESS, JUST NOT AS MUCH AS I FIRST THOUGHT hahaha!
Hey, if you got to go down to the DMV and take care of your car registration or renew your license or something, by all means check the VIN for that moped you just bought too! The one thing these ladies (and gents) can do for you is run a VIN and tell you if its registered or not, but again they can't even give you names. It doesn't really matter though because we are going to assume it is registered already unless its out of state.
IF YOU FIND OUT IT IS REGISTERED, NO BIGGIE YOU JUST WASTED A LITTLE TIME (unless said seller cannot be found after purchase)
This whole "assume its registered" approach is really just to save you time. Also, it will help if you are not able to contact the seller you bought it from ever again. For example, the seller sells you the moped because they are moving to Madagascar!... REGISTRATION FAIL!!!! Other than that, you can send as many checks to the DMV with the reg230 filled out as the "Original Registration" all you want. Just remember it takes at least 2 weeks to mail and process the form. If you fuck it up and do it wrong, i.e. you try to do it as an "Original Registration" and Joe Shmoe Moped Owner has registered it, you have just wasted 2 weeks you could be out there riding. All you would have had to do was get the guy who sold it to you to sign it and fill out the extra section (section b). THATS ALL!!!!
ASSUME ITS REGISTERED WHEN...
-Seller says something false
Like, "yeah, these things don't need a registration, they are like bicycles" or "yeah, as far as i know it has never been registered" (yeah right) or "the guy i got it from told me it didn't need to be registered".
-The Bike Already Has Plates
Obviously if its got plates its been registered. If they don't have the reg card or aren't the ones who registered it, no problem just get the reg230 out and have them sign.
-The Bike has no Plates OR Reg Card
So, it just may happen that it looks legit. Seller has a nice looking 1979 moped no plates no reg card. You just may believe him when he says "yeah man, I've had this bike for 10 years, it's never been registered". HA! It probably has and assume as such! Whip out the reg230 and a pen right then and there and have them sign!!!
EXCEPTION(S) to this rule
-The Moped is purchased out of state and you personally bring it here...
this is basically the only real legit reason not to assume as much. However, if you purchase this bike from neighboring states such as Nevada or Oregon or even south of the border I would still consider filling out the form as a transfer, just in case!
-The Moped is from a known source and has not been registered.
If your uncle Louis gives you a moped from his teenage years, has pictures of himself riding it and your mama can vouch that he never registered it. Go for it! Odds are though, if you don't really know the person well, sellers on craigslist for example, they could possibly tell you just about anything to make a done deal.
and lastly again...
"DON'T FRET ON THE OWNERSHIP!!!!"
For mopeds in California, the "registered owner" is kind of meaningless. Why? Because no matter who the "registered owner" is, the seller who sells the moped TO YOU is the "transfer owner". The reg card works similar to a bill of sale but actually even easier. The only thing that matters to the California DMV is that SOMEONE sold you the already registered moped. IT DOES NOT and I repeat DOEST NOT have to be the original owner. With that said, registration means little in the way of theft recovery or a theft deterrent THE POINT OF REGISTERING YOUR MOPED IS TO NOT GET HASSLED BY THE COPS FOR NOT HAVING ONE! If you want to keep someone from stealing your moped, lock it up and if you want to recover it if it gets stolen... I don't know what to tell you, MOPED LOJACK? hahaaha
Does this mean mopeds could be stolen, sold and re-registered?
Yes but I by no means condone such a thing. I merely bring up the fact that just because you are or someone else is "the registered owner" means nothing other than when you get pulled over, the cops can't hassle you for riding a non registered bike. Also, having papers or not having papers does not matter in California. If someone tries to up the price on their "legit moped" let them know that all you need is their damn signature! Also, there happens to be these diamond in the rough finds out there. My buddy for example found an abandoned rusty old Sach in another friends backyard. It had been there for years and no one claimed it. My friend scored it FOR FREE and everyone who lived in their house as stoked because the got rid of "junk in their backyard". Do I consider that stealing if someone abandons a moped on your property and you give it away to get rid of it? Hell no! You threw it away and never ask about it, some one else got it. period. If that person gets it, fixes it up and basically helps the greater community again, then they deserve to register that moped in their name! (this issue has also been discussed earlier)
HOPE THAT ANSWERS IT ALL...I FREAKING WROTE A BOOK, SORRY FOR MY NERDIENESS, I MEAN WORDIENESS HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!