Buying a used bike can be a stressful ordeal, because there just aren’t the same resources out there for you to use as there are in the used auto market. Don’t be scared off though – awesome used bikes hit the market at great prices all the time! Here’s how to make sure the one you’re looking at is a dream and not a nightmare.
Buying a used bike can be a stressful ordeal, especially if you are newer to motorcycling, and don’t have a lot of experience with motorcycles in general. When buying a used car, there are numerous resources out there to help you understand its market value and get a fair deal – however, the motorcycle market just doesn’t have the same resources or knowledge available to you to give you the same level of reassurance. For the most part, when it comes to shopping for motorcycles, you have to “already be in the know” – and a lot of that comes with experience that simply not all buyers have.
You can score a great deal on a used bike, but it takes some research and some work. Unlike new bikes, every used bike has it’s own story – it’s your job as the buyer to figure out what that story is. There are some real gems out there, and we’ll help you find them!
But that doesn’t mean you have to go into the used motorcycle market complately unarmed! There a bunch of tips we can share with you in order to get a great deal on a used bike, even if you are newer to riding. In this article, we identify the 10 most important things to look for when looking at a used bike to buy, and how to go about doing it like an expert.
1) Comparable Sales/The Market
Before you ever even go and look at a bike that’s caught your eye, you should have done your research on what the market is like for it. This is something that professional dealers always do – but surprisingly, many buyer’s skip this critical step, often instead relying on their “gut” or how much they like the bike. This is exactly how many buyers end up getting a bad deal!
To do your homework, first do a search for all the bikes in your area that are similar to the one you have your eye on. See what they are listed for, the condition they are in, and any extras they might come with, and see how those prices stack up against the one you want. If the price is high, you now have ammunition to use in your negotiations; if it’s low, you may have found yourself a great deal, but there could also be hidden problems with the bike that explain the low price. (A price way below market is usually a red flag.)
If you want to do even more digging, you can join an internet forum for owners of the same model, and start a post there asking for information on what the secondhand market is like. Forum users frequently share a lot of helpful information of this type, not only for prices, but on things you should be looking for with respect to that particular model (such as common problems, frequent fixes, must-have modifications, etc.)
Armed with all this information, you’ll know a lot more about what questions to ask when you meet the seller, and a ballpark idea of what you should leave there paying.
2) Vehicle History Report
These days, used cars are rarely purchased without some kind of vehicle history report to accompany the transaction, such as a Carfax report, Autocheck report, or something similar. Problem is, Carfax and AutoCheck only report on cars and light trucks – motorcycles just aren’t in their wheelhouse. Luckily, some other companies specialize in VIN checks for motorcycles, such as CycleVIN and InstaVIN.
When you pull your report, your provider will run a detailed search for the motorcycles history based on its VIN number, looking for things like:
A motorcycle history report may include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Disclosed damage
- VIN decoding
- Odometer reading
- Multi-state searches
- Damaged or salvaged titles
- Stolen titles
- Rebuilt titles
- Manufacturer specifications
- Manufacturer recall history
Ask your seller for the VIN for the purpose of running a history report before you even show up with cash. If there are any red flags that pop up, you may not even decide to go look after all – but if you do, you’ll have more ammunition to negotiate yourself a great deal.
3) Miles (And How They Were Accumulated)
High miles is a sign of a lot of wear on a bike – but it’s not necessarily the only sign that matters. Some bikes are built to rack up miles, and when taken care of properly, they will run well for many more. Others, however, are built to deliver high performance for a relatively short amount of time (like dirt bikes, dual sports, some sport bikes, and so on.)
Be aware of not only how many miles the bike has, but how those miles compare within similar bikes. This will give you a feel for how riders use that bike, and how the bike you are looking at falls in the spectrum. Also ask about how the miles got there – hard miles off road or winding a bike out on the track will wear the powertrain out a lot faster than easy miles cruising the interstates.
4) Tires (and Footpegs)
Much more so than any other vehicle, motorcycle tires actually “tell a story” about how a bike was used and how well it was taken care of. “Reading” motorcycles is somewhat of a black art among serious riders, but there are some basics to look for.
Wear in the center – especially if the center is clearly “squared off” – is an indicator that the bike was ridden mainly on straight roads or freeways, and was likely used for touring or commuting. High wear near the edges mean the bike was leaned over hard and ridden aggressively, and wear on the bottom of the footpegs is another telltale sign.
New tires are great – you may be saving a lot of money not having to buy new ones – but also, consider asking why they were replaced. The old tires may have been ridden on hard, and the previous owner didn’t necessarily want that to be seen on the tires, so he/she just replaced them altogether.
Here is a beautiful 2017 KTM Super Duke for sale, with new tires on it to help it sell. In addition, while it has been modified, all the mods are tasteful, close to OEM in appearance and finish, and the parts are from the best names in the business. You might pay more for this one than a stock one, but it would be a win, because you’d save a bunch of time money over doing these upgrades yourself later!
5) Oil and Other Fluids
If you can, take a look at the motor oil in the bike. Is it unusually dark? Gritty or dirty in any way? What you are looking here is not necessarily used oil – if a bike is being run at all, the oil be dark from use. What you are looking for instead is any sign of hidden problems. Look for discolorations or foreign fluids in oil, which might indicate a leak, or metal shavings that could indicated that the oil is not being changed on time. Take a look at other fluids too, especially brake fluid – dark brake fluid is often a sign of neglected maintenance.
6) Maintenance Records
If the owner has been keeping maintenance records on the bike, that’s a great sign. Don’t necessarily be turned off if an owner has done his own maintenance – while it’s true that this can’t be verified, some motorcycle owners are both handy and very passionate about their bikes, and actually do better work than any dealer would.
Generally, a book of records from a dealer or reputable shop is a great sign that a bike was well taken care of, and will also add value to the bike when you sell it later (assuming you keep the records going.)
7) The Paperwork
Primarily, this means DMV paperwork. If you are buying private party, the seller should have a clear title in hand, and you should get signed over to you when you pay for the bike. Also, make sure the registration tags are current. If they aren’t, you could be facing who knows how much in fees to get them back current – and this can turn out to be a lot!
Also, if there is any warranty associated with the bike, take a look at that too. First and foremost, make sure it’s transferable! If it is, read the fine print for stipulations on how it can be used, etc. All warranties are absolutely not created equal.
8) Consistency of Parts
This is where the knowledge about the bike you gathered during your early research will help you once again. Look over the bike, searching for any parts that look like they are aftermarket add-ons, or replacements for OEM (original/factory) parts. In some cases these are pricey and desirable upgrades – but in others, they are just cheap replacements for something that may have broken or been damaged. For anything that isn’t OEM, ask why it’s there.
Further, look for any parts that look new, OEM or aftermarket, especially in areas that would be damaged in a crash (like fairings, pegs, or lights.) Unless the owner has a very legitimate story for why there are a few sparkling new parts mixed in with parts that are a few years old, you are probably looking at a bike that’s been in an accident.
Sometimes, you don’t even need to look very hard to see parts that don’t match! Usually, however, it isn’t this easy. (Just for fun…can you guess what kind of bike this is?)
9) Look Underneath Stuff
If you are suspicious about a bike at all, you should dig a little deeper and do some detective work. If you can, look underneath recently installed aftermarket parts, or under OEM parts that look too new (like fairings.) If there is any crash damage being hidden under there, you will want to know about it before you buy (especially if the owner isn’t being forthcoming about it.)
10) All The Extras
Many used bikes come with extras. This can range from extra motorcycle gear, to upgrade aftermarket parts, to useful accessories. These can turn a good deal into a great deal, depending on what they are.
People who are selling motorcycles are sometimes getting out of riding altogether, and will frequently sell their gear along with the bike. This generally shouldn’t be factored into the price (unless it’s remarkably high quality gear and it happens to fit you perfectly), but if it’s good stuff, you may be able to sell it secondhand later and recoup some of your investment on the bike. Similarly, accessories, like luggage or security products, can make your life easier, and save you from having to buy anything similar later.
This Yamaha WR 450 comes with all this extra gear – everything you’ll need to take trips to the desert or track and go riding. If you are new to the sport, this is a big win!
Aftermarket parts, with a few exceptions, often don’t add a whole lot of value to a bike’s market price – but if they are upgrades you were planning to do anyway, they can really sweeten a deal for you. A bike with a $1000 aftermarket exhaust system, is definitely not worth $1000 more on the market (it might be worth a couple hundred more or so.) However, it will definitely save you from having to spend $1000 on a system yourself later.
Here’s a nice Harley-Davidson Dyna Street Bob for sale, with light modifications like the bullet fairing and mag wheels. If you like this style, this bike would be a catch because it’s already got key modifications done – and on a used bike, you’ll be able to get them at a minimal markup.
When researching the model you like, find out about the most common mods owners do – if the bike you’re looking at has them, you’re already several steps ahead in the game!
What are your tips for must-check things when you buy a used bike?