Motorcycle enthusiasts will tell you about their tight-knit community of riders. Riders are often more philanthropic, educated, and accomplished than other auto enthusiast groups. Even when over sales are down, the used market is always a great place to look for bike purchases.
Making a major investment, like a vehicle, can be really tough on your own. Buying used is a great way to save money and find vintage bikes, but it comes with more risk. You’ll need to know what to look for when researching and buying a used motorcycle.
Refer to this used motorcycle buying guide to protect yourself from lemons and bad deals.
Research Your Ideal Bike
The worst thing you can do when shopping for a used motorcycle is to jump on classified listings and used auto dealership sites without preparation. You’ll want to do research on the type of bike that you’re looking for. Is this bike for pleasure, transportation, or all-terrain purposes?
If you don’t have a specific bike in mind, try to at least narrow down your choices between certain bike brands. You can get a good idea about models to look out for, common problems, availability of parts, and etc. Those who are selling a known defective model prey on prospective buyers who just see a great deal and a shiny exterior.
Look into models that have known shortcomings, so that you can either have it corrected or avoid increasing the risk of common motorcycle accidents. Do what you can to protect yourself on the road.
Account for Price of Parts and Labor
A used motorcycle with some mileage on it will likely need more trips to the mechanic for maintenance and prevention. Get some estimates on how much this might cost and research the parts for motorcycles you’re looking at. Foreign bikes, for example, are going to cost more for both parts and labor.
While this may be a universal truth among automobiles, even Harley Davidson uses foreign-made parts. You’ll find many instances of overlapping like this out there.
Used Motorcycle Buying Guide for Testing
When you arrive to check out a bike that you’re interested in, insist on being the first to start it up. Starting a motorcycle cold is very different than after it’s already warmed up. If there are any underlying problems, you’ll notice little hiccups (or big), heavier cycling, and overall difficulty getting cranked.
Even if the seller doesn’t want to admit any major problems to the bike, you could probably get it at a cheaper price.
Other Red Flags
Besides doing a cold crank, there are a few places you should be paying close attention to. Start with the brakes, take note of any wear on the pads and if there is any slipping at all. You should be taking it out for a test run, breaking at speeds of at least 40 mph.
The last thing you want is to find out that you’re driving thin or misshapen brake pads while riding in the rain. It’s a good idea to be overly cautious in this case.
Smooth function of the clutch is also important. It should take minimal effort to operate the lever, no matter how old the bike is.
Do a once-over to spot any signs of rust, dents, or discoloring. The gas tank should free and clear of signs of rust. Also, pay attention to the color of the gas inside it. If it’s dark, then that gas has been sitting inside for a long time and needs to be changed.
Check the seat for cracks, tears, or repairs. Make sure the tires are also free of cracking, has proper treading, and a rounded profile. While you’re down there, examine the suspension for any signs of damage. Small nicks and dents can lead to failure if gone unnoticed.
Start with a hard limit on your budget. Try to shop for motorcycles within this budget and try to bid low on used bikes that you find. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a lower price if it is within reason.
If the price is already much lower than the average going rate, you’ll need to dig to find out why. Ask if the motorcycle is completely paid off. Does it require additional work? Is the paperwork in order?
Always be suspicious if the terms change or if the seller starts asking for more because “they have a lot of offers”. It’s possible that the bike could be tied up with fees and they’re trying to overcompensate.
Don’t Get “Sold”
Even if you’re buying from a private dealer and not a used car lot, don’t let your guard down. People out there who are desperate to make money will sell you sob stories and excuses once you’re close to buying. Stay firm and don’t compromise if you don’t have to.
Some sellers may even get you out there with a great price, low mileage, and great exterior, but it won’t start. They’ll try to sell it as just a small problem and that if you don’t buy it now, you will lose out to someone else. Never make your considerations on what the bike looks like on paper.
Yes, that bike may go for $5,000 more elsewhere with the same miles, but how much will it cost to get running? It’s possible that this bike was in an accident recently, but only the body damage has been properly fixed. Try to question them about any past accidents, crashes, or problems.
If you’re smart with your line of questioning, you might be able to catch them in a lie or admit that they don’t know how to fix it.
Bring a Friend
The only way to get the bottom of an unknown mechanical problem is to have someone there to advise you. Even if they’re not a professional, it’s good to have a second pair of eyes. Sometimes our excitement for getting a good deal or finding our dream bike can cloud our judgment.
We’re more likely to overlook problems that appear to just be cosmetic. Those small problems might just be symptoms of a bigger issue. Learn about common engine problems to be able to test and eliminate more costly repairs.
This is how you get the best deals, at the behest of a less-knowledgeable owner.
Registration and Title Transfer
When you’re ready to commit to buying a used motorcycle, get the VIN number from the seller and call the DMV to verify it’s current status. They can also tell you how much it will cost to transfer it. Make sure the title is under the person selling it to you and get a copy of their driver’s license.
This should be done no matter how nice or unassuming the seller is. An error made due to assumptions can put both parties in a bad situation.
Ideally, you should have researched insurance rates for motorcycles beforehand. If not, do it before any official business takes place. If you’re buying from a dealership, you’ll need to obtain this insurance before you can make the purchase. Motorcycle insurance is a little different than regular auto insurance.
You will find it to be cheaper to get the bare minimum insurance for a bike than a car, but you should account for the higher risks that come with riding. Purchase liability coverage that extends beyond standard protection. This is commonplace for any reputable financiers, as any minor motorcycle accident can do a lot of damage to a bike.
Start by increasing your Personal Injury Protection amount. This will cover your medical bills and lost income in the event of a crash. This protection can also be extended to an additional passenger riding with you. If you can’t afford much else, at least max out the PIP.
Finally, you can also expand your accident coverage when you aren’t at fault, but the other person can’t cover. That includes both uninsured and underinsured cases. This type of premium insurance also accounts for vandalism and theft, which most standard motorcycle insurance won’t.
Thank you for reading our used motorcycle buying guide. We hope it helps you prepare for your next big purchase. Even if you’re already pretty well-versed on motorcycles, it never hurts to go over the basics.
Remember to take your time when researching deals and motorcycle history. Always leave a little room in your budget for unexpected repairs and aftermarket items that will help your bike perform above expectations. Thankfully, motorcycles haven’t changed as much as cars over the years, so a lot of flaws can be found with a keen eye.
When you do find that dream bike, immerse yourself with all the manufacturer user guides out there on it. You can download the official service repair manuals for hundreds of different bikes on Auto Facts. All of them are offered free of charge in PDF format.