I’ve bought and sold a bunch of motorcycles in my life, and only two of them from a dealer. I’ve helped friends locate and purchase motorcycles, and I’ve talked others out of bikes they really wanted, pointing out damage and problems that would only get bigger as the bike ages. Here are some tips that will help you out when you’re looking to buy a used bike.
The first thing you need to do before you purchase a used motorcycle is homework! I know, we all hate that part, but researching what you want in a motorcycle and why will make you a more informed buyer, and an informed buyer is a savvy buyer that won’t be taken advantage of. Read through the forums, find out what kind of quirks the bikes you’re looking at have, and know the general sale price of the bikes. Learn what your state or municipality needs from you, in order to put a plate on the bike, and make sure you are prepared to correctly fill out and supply all of that paperwork.
The best way to buy a used motorcycle is: don’t be in a hurry. Look at a ton of motorcycles. Don’t ever let any seller talk you into a rush sale. Besides, you know what you’re doing now, and you also know what bikes you’re looking for and how often they pop up on used motorcycle sites for sale. You’ll know a good deal when you see it, but if the online pictures of the bike didn’t show the damage you see in person, be ready to walk away, or talk the seller down.
3. Respond To Those Ads
Now that you know all about the motorcycles you’re looking for, what year ranges are good (and which, if any, have problems) and what models you prefer, you’re ready to make some connections. Contact the person selling the bike, and set up a time to go see it. Again, and I know it’s easier said than done, but don’t set your heart on any individual machine. There are always more out there.
4. Bring a Friend
If you don’t know a lot about motorcycle mechanics, or you’re new to the sport, the best thing to do is to bring a friend with you who knows what they’re doing. The next best thing is to make purchase from a local reputable dealer, so that if anything goes wrong you have some recourse. You will pay more for a used bike in this case, but a dealer is open to haggling, and if you know the bike and what it’s worth, you can talk the price down some.
5. Make a Checklist And Use It
If you know your way around a bike, it’s still a good idea to bring a written checklist with you so that you don’t forget about looking at any given system in the excitement of the moment. Just like having a motorcycle officially inspected (there's your checklist, friends), you should give all of the major systems a look, and it’s a great idea to bring a flashlight with you, to get a good look at brake pads and under/inside any plastics.
6. Give The Bike a Once-Over
Check for leaks, worn out components and crash damage. If it runs, have the owner start it up, but be sure the engine is cold. Have the owner pop the seat off: if you see a rat’s nest of aftermarket wiring in there, especially if there are any screw-on wire nuts, or if any of it looks like lamp cord, run away and do not look back.
7. Talk To The Seller
While you’re going through your checklist and shining a light at the brake pads and hose fittings, talk to the seller. Are they an enthusiastic rider? Do they know anything about the bike they’re selling? Can they tell you all about the maintenance, and any recall work, that was done to the bike? Do they have all the correct paperwork for a bike sale? Is the title clear and in hand, and in that person’s name? Does the VIN on the title match the bike? If all of this is “yes,” and you have a good conversation with the seller who doesn’t sound like they’re trying to hide anything, you have a good bet for a bike. If there is anything dodgy at all about the state of the title, pause long enough to check that out. Title problems can get expensive fast and can ground your new bike indefinitely.
8. Maybe Test Ride It
If you feel comfortable with it, take the bike for a test ride. Often if you put the agreed-upon cash price for the bike into the seller’s hand, and there is a you-break-it-you-bought-it understanding, a seller should be OK with a short ride. For a very expensive motorcycle this might not fly, but when it’s a less expensive used motorcycle, in this situation, it should be fine. Only do this if you are an experienced rider, you feel comfortable riding a new bike, and have developed a good rapport with the seller.
9. Get Your Paperwork In Order
Lastly, make sure you have all the paperwork you need and the seller has filled everything out correctly. Your homework should include learning what is required to slap a license plate on your new machine, and making sure you get everything you need with the bike.