Whether buyers are planning to purchase their first motorcycles soon or they’ve been riding for years and are looking to upgrade, used motorcycles offer an affordable alternative to buying a new model. Buying anything used can come with a certain degree of risk, though. Buyers who don’t want to wind up with an unrideable bike on their hands need to know what to look for. Read on to find out how to avoid buying a lemon.
Table of Contents
- Find a Reputable Seller
- Check the VIN
- Examine the Bike Cold
- Inspect the Bar Ends, Levers, and Footpegs
- Aftermarket Foot Pegs
- Look for Clues about How It Was Ridden
- Pay Less for Salvage Titles
- Avoid Electrical Problems
- Prioritize General Condition Over Mileage
- Always Insist on a Test Ride
- Get the Search Started Off Right
Find a Reputable Seller
It’s never wise to buy a cheap bike from a private seller. There’s just no guarantee the seller is being upfront about the motorcycle’s condition, and not all underlying issues are immediately apparent after just a quick inspection and test ride. It’s better to find a used Harley Davidson at a well-respected dealership. That way, riders will know exactly what they’re getting.
Check the VIN
Before buying any bike, check its vehicle identification number (VIN). Start by making sure the numbers aren’t restamped, which is a sure sign that the bike is stolen. Next, check to see if the title numbers match the VIN on the headstock. Titling errors can be expensive to fix, so buyers are better off avoiding them.
Examine the Bike Cold
When working with a private seller, buyers should ask him or her to leave the bike cold until after they have performed an initial inspection. It’s much easier to hide starting problems and certain types of running problems if the bike is already warmed up. After inspecting the bike to make sure it hasn’t been started up recently by checking the jugs and pipes, ask the seller to start it. If the bike doesn’t start immediately or it sounds like it’s running rough, look elsewhere for a good deal.
Inspect the Bar Ends, Levers, and Footpegs
This is a great way to identify undisclosed accidents. If the bar ends, levers, or footpegs appear to be damaged or they’re more worn than they should be given the bike’s age, the chances are good the seller has taken at least one serious tumble. Here’s what to look for:
- Road rash
- Curled levers
- Broken levers
- Cut and re-shaped levers
Aftermarket Foot Pegs
Buyers who notice any of these issues should confront the seller directly. If the seller tries to lie about the accident, that’s a bad sign. There could be any other number of things wrong with the bike that the seller is failing to disclose.
Look for Clues about How It Was Ridden
There’s nothing wrong with hard riding, but it is best not to buy a motorcycle that’s already been ridden into the ground. Not all private sellers will be honest about how they treated their bikes, but there are a few clues that could tip off savvy buyers.
When examining the bike, check its tires. If there are flat, longitudinal grooves, that usually means the previous rider was doing a lot of burnouts. On sports bikes, check the edges of the tires. Pilling or feathering usually mean the bike was used for track racing, which can be hard on even specialized motorcycles.
After checking the tires, check the foot pegs. If the hero blobs are worn down, that’s a sure sign the seller has been riding the motorcycle hard. Those indicators are there to tell riders when they’re leaning too deeply around curves and are likely to start scraping expensive parts.
If those expensive parts still look like they’re in good shape and the seller is offering a good deal, it might be fine. If he or she tries to lie about what the bike was used for, that’s a red flag, though. It means the seller is unlikely to disclose other negative information about the motorcycle.
Pay Less for Salvage Titles
Check the title carefully before signing on the dotted line. If it’s designated as a “salvage” vehicle, that doesn’t always mean what riders think it does. More often than not, the bike was stolen, taken out for a joy ride, and then recovered. A salvage bike hasn’t necessarily been in an accident, and plenty of these motorcycles are in good shape. However, the resale value is poor. Make a lower offer to reflect that.
Avoid Electrical Problems
Problems with electrical wiring can be difficult to diagnose and expensive to fix, so avoid them like the plague. It’s usually pretty easy to tell if a previous owner has been messing with the wiring. Just pop the seat and take a look at what’s hooked up to the battery.
If all the connections are factory standard, that’s a good sign. If there are vampire connectors, electrical tape, extra power leads hanging off the bike, or single-colored wires, that’s not. It usually means the previous owner has been doing DIY electrical repairs, which rarely hold up.
Prioritize General Condition Over Mileage
The odometer only tells one small part of a bike’s story. What’s more important is its general condition. Most riders are either very fastidious about all forms of vehicle maintenance or they’re very lax about them, so the general condition of the bike, including the paperwork to back up any repairs or professional maintenance, can say a lot.
Always Insist on a Test Ride
There should never be any issues with taking a used bike out for a test ride at a dealership provided the buyer has a motorcycle license. Some private sellers are skittish about this, though. If necessary, potential buyers can leave behind their licenses to give the seller some assurance that the bike will be coming back in one piece. If the seller still refuses to allow a test ride, there’s probably something wrong with the bike and it’s time to start looking into other options.
Get the Search Started Off Right
Many of the potential warning signs listed above can be avoided by heading to a reputable dealership. Used bike dealers will never try to sell stolen goods and they safety-check all their motorcycles before putting them out on the floor. Novice riders who don’t know what they’re looking at should always buy from a dealership, even if it means spending some extra money.