How To Buy A Used Motorcycle

How to buy a used motorcycle

There are many different ways to buying a used motorcycle. It is important that you are confident and relaxed while making your decision or else your used bike can leave you stranded on the road. So regardless of whether you want to purchase your used bike through a dealer, a private seller, Craigslist, eBay or from someone located out of state; we highly recommend you to go through this article step by step to have a better understanding of your buying considerations.

So the first question that comes to your mind is; why should I buy a used motorcycle?

Second-hand bikes are becoming more and more desirable lately. When compared with a cheap motorcycle that you buy as a beginner; buying a second-hand bike will not only save thousands of dollars, but if you keep it for three to four years you’re most likely to be able to earn your money back when you sell it. How cool is that! Moreover, you might even get some free upgrades thrown in; like an aftermarket exhaust that you were longing for more than a decade!

Know Your Bike

There are loads of things that can give you an idea of what the bike’s life has been. First thing first, make up your mind to find a bike that has low mileage; anything between 15,000 and 25,000 miles and has been taken care of very well is a good option. Another important thing before you even leave the house is to evaluate the seller by examining the ad of the motorcycle. Take a look at the pictures, the listed description, contact details and email id. You want to purchase a bike that’s within your economic range regardless of what a bike is actually worth. So make sure you have defined your price range since you don’t want to spend your time arguing price with an unrealistic seller and eventually winding up wasting your time.

While buying a used motorcycle, there are three main areas to focus on: Aesthetics, Engine and Hidden costs.

Motorcycle Aesthetics


Our first priority is always aesthetics, but it depends on what will swing your vote on whether you want the bike or not. However, if a bike looks bad then don’t even care to take a ride on it. Always take a mate along with you to inspect a bike, because the more eyes the better. Make sure your mate can spot minute differences and is very professional in his opinions. Having two people to inspect helps you to notice different issues with the bike at the same time.

Few areas to look include scratched yokes from a key ring, cracked fairings or an aftermarket variants or a repainted one (indicating that the bike has been dropped). Keep in mind that aftermarket fairings are usually bad quality and that OEM fairings are very expensive.

If the paint is rough or the headlights are hazy, the bike could have been stored outdoors which is never a good thing but it can easily be remedied. The same cannot be said for torn seats which look awful including cracked light housings or rusted headers and exhaust.

Lastly it should be spotted right away but always make sure that the bike is actually the year that was being advertised. Nothing frustrates more than an incorrect and false advertisement.

Motorcycle Engine


So a benefit of starting with the aesthetics is that the way a bike looks on the outside shows how the bike will most likely look on the inside. If the bike has never been cleaned, dropped much frequently and is not much loved by the owner; this probably isn’t the best purchase. But even if the bike is clean there are still dozens of ways to get a better idea of how the bike has been treated mechanically.

The first one you want to cover here is a professional inspection; anybody buying used motorcycle should have a pro check for their bike regardless of whether or not it’s mandatory in your state or region. Why? A professional mechanic is likely to find some safety issues that you may miss during your own inspection of the motorcycle.

The next thing you want to go through with the seller is to request them that they leave the bike cold. A bike that starts easily and runs well from cold is likely to be in a very good state of tune. Hearing that the engine fires up easily when it’s cold should be an excellent reassurance that the bike is probably in a very good shape.

A lot of sellers will warm up the bike before you get there but make sure you ask them not to; it’s a great technique to understand the bike since they can behave differently at different temperatures. Parts like the ignition coils can perform differently between cold and operating temperatures. Even the idle can be different when the bike is cold, so always have a look at how it idles at different temperatures.

Pro Tip: If you ask a seller to leave the bike cold yet when you reach there and realize that the bike has been warmed up, you might want to proceed with a little caution.

Next, take it for a ride. It doesn’t need to be far, just enough to get a feel for the clutch’s condition, how the brakes are, and if there are as many gears as they are supposed to be else the gearbox might have a much bigger problem. Also, make sure the motor revs to the full and responds as expected.

With those checks completed and the bike is pretty warmed up; check once again to see if it idles correctly. Usually the seller wipes away the fluid on the forks while presenting it to a new owner. However, a badly used motorcycle usually spills oil when hot; check to see if fork seals have been popped. While it is still hot, take a look at the engine oil as well. This lets you get a better look to see if there are any oil leaks.

Motorcycle Chain

Hidden Costs

Finally, take a deeper look at the bike to see if there are any hidden costs lurking around when buying a second hand bike. We always set a budget and try to get as much as possible within that budget, so it can turn out to be a disaster when you hit your budget with a great looking bike and discover that you have to spend another few hundred dollars on replacing parts that you didn’t plan on.

Always have a look at the condition of the chain and chain sprocket hook. A chain with lots of tight spots will need extra money to replace, so try and get that deduction off from the price of the bike. Same goes for tires as well, avoid buying a bike that has minimal treads or the ones with plain cheap tires that don’t accompany with the particular brand.

Dealer vs. Private Seller

One of the biggest fears most people have when buying a used motorcycle is getting screwed over or having a dreaded buyer’s remorse. To ease some of your concerns, let us take a look at some of the advantages of buying a used motorcycle from a dealership.

A lot of people think that dealers generally have a bad reputation, but apart from a slightly higher fee especially if you live in a state that doesn’t charge taxes on private party, there are actually a lot of advantages if you are buying a motorcycle from a dealership.

First; it’s easy, convenient and pretty safe when you go to a dealership. You have all the top motorcycle brands available right there in front of you to look upon. You can compare the different makes and models; moreover, you can talk to the salesperson and get additional information without feeling awkward.  

Second; a dealership is an established business. Any reputable dealer will be covered under consumer protection and regulatory laws which makes the deal quite safe. You also have the option to check the history of the bike by inspecting the VIN report.

Third; bikes offered by dealers have a warranty which can also be extended. So if there’s an issue later on down the road you have something to fall back on. This sense of security that you can take the bike to have all the issue addressed and taken care of is a great thing with dealerships.

Fourth; if you’re not in a position to pay cash, they make financing super easy. So whether you bring your own financing in or you use in-house financing, it’s all super easy and streamlined.

Fifth; if you want to trade in a vehicle, you can do that very easily through dealership. Although you are not going to get top value for that trade-in but again it’s just super convenient and easy.

Let us now take a look at some of the disadvantages of buying a used motorcycle from a private party seller.

First; when you buy a used bike from a private party or from an individual, there are lot more risks associated with the deal that you are not aware of. You don’t know the seller or the individual who you’re meeting up with, so it’s risky just meeting up with a stranger. Also you don’t know the history of the motorcycle, so you have to go with your judgment and your intuition alone. You also don’t know if you’re dealing with somebody who is ethical, up front or honest.

Second; you have no warranty or guarantee when you’re buying from a private party. Also these private deals typically take place in cash. Most people aren’t comfortable walking around with four or five grand in their hand, and even if you do, it is less likely that you have that sort of fund readily available.

Third; you are limited to the options that are available. So depending on your geographical location, there may not be a lot of used options out there. You do not have an option to pick between colors, the variants or the model year as well.

Key Takeaways: While it may look at a first glance that you are saving a lot of money while dealing from a private seller; but the cost of hidden damages or mishandling may soon add up to the difference.

Tips For Buying Used Motorcycle From Private Seller

Since majority of people that buy motorcycles from dealers finance them from banks, you can have a strong leverage in the private market with cash. Meaning? Normally a dealership transaction usually comes in with down payment and the buyer finances the difference through lenders. Most of the transactions that occur between the private party and the buyer happen then and there. If you are willing to pay all the money upfront in cash, then you are at an advantage here.

Private sellers are usually looking for buyers that have all the cash out and ready to buy it right there.  Majority of these sellers have a clean and clear title in their name; and in case they owe the bank you can meet them at their bank to pay the difference.

So what is your advantage here?

Your leverage while purchasing a second hand bike from a private seller is the cash the majority of buyers don’t have. So when you’re looking for a motorcycle you’re not going to pay a dealership price, you can have much negotiated deal price. Keep in mind; further you’re willing to travel geographically, the better deal you’re likely to get.

However, there are certain risks associated with these types of deals. One of the major risks that you may face while buying a motorcycle form the private market is that no matter how nice the seller is, as you leave their driveway there’s no guarantee that that motorcycle is what they say.

Generally when you buy through a private party and the deal is done, they call it a ‘tail light’ warranty. As soon as those tail lights are off, there’s no warranty left. So in case you face any issue with your bike even the next hour, chances are seller will not be going to cover any of your expense. That’s the way the private market works.

To avoid any such situation, it is better to be prepared while purchasing your bike from a private seller. Make sure you keep the below points in mind while dealing with a private party.

  • Make sure to ask specific questions such as, do you have a clean title in your name in hand, has the bike ever been dropped, are there any scratches or damages on the motorcycle. Be specific about the questions that you ask, especially if you decide to travel far.
  • It is highly recommended to setup a meeting in a very public place somewhere that’s currently open or a residential address preferably their house. If you’re meeting at seller’s house; one of the tips that we recommend that you can use is, search the seller’s address or cell phone number on Google. See if everything correlates, if the house address matches up with the guy’s name. You can find out a ton about a person just by putting their number on Google.
  • It’s important to run a VIN check. A seller can hide a lot on the motorcycle, but a VIN check exposes a lot of what’s been recorded on the history of that motorcycle. A lot of times your state will offer a free VIN check through their website.
  • Look for any red flags that you actually may see as you’re looking at a motorcycle. Make sure that the parts are original OEM, something that’s very common in used motorcycles are Chinese and aftermarket components.
  • Tires are the most important factor that should influence your buying decision. Any used motorcycle having good tires is a positive indication, whereas crap tires indicate that the person you are buying from never used to love his machine. Also when you’re negotiating your price, you should consider this factor as they can become an additional expense post your purchase. Good tires will have lots of tread left on them and will be properly inflated. If you look at a used motorcycle and the tread looks flat, that’s something to wonder about.
  • Another important thing to check is the oil. It is the lifeblood of any motorcycle irrespective of the brand. Depending on whether you’re dealing with cruisers or sports bike, almost all the bikes will have a sight glass or a dipstick. The oil should not be dark, it has to be clean. Well-maintained motorcycle will not be having dark or sludgy oil. It will have nice clean amber color or light brown color. If someone’s trying to sell you a motorcycle and you need to do an oil change, then you either need to cancel or renegotiate that out of the price of your bike.
  • When buying from a private seller, make sure the motorcycle has decent pair of brake pads. Most of your modern motorcycles have disc brakes on both front and rear, look at the brake pads and make sure that they have plenty of grips left in them. The brake pad lets you know whether the motorcycle was handled too aggressively or if it was handled with care.
  • If it’s a chain driven motorcycle, which a lot of motorcycles are including sports, classic, dirt, and duel; make sure it’s not loose or rusty. In case it is having a belt, inspect the belt and make sure they look good. Be certain about its tension or any cracks visible on the surface.
  • Finally, take a close look on the controls of the handlebars. If they’re all weathered or worn out and covered in any kind of sludge or if the bolts are covered in rust; chances are the motorcycle was dumped outside the garage for many months.

How To Buy A Used Motorcycle From Out-of-State

One of the most common questions related to out of state motorcycle purchase is the process related to sales tax. When you purchase a bike from out of state, regardless from a private seller or a dealer, you pay sales tax in the state that you live in. So if you think you can go to a state with no sales tax (like New Hampshire), buy a bike and take it to New York without paying tax, you’re wrong. You will have to pay the sales tax in the state that you register the vehicle in. 

Another important thing to understand is that there is no double taxation; you don’t pay tax in the state you purchased and again in the state you’re from. You only pay the sales tax in the state you’re from. So whether you buy it from an out of state private seller or from an out of state dealer; if they try and tell you that you owe them sales tax or registration fees, it’s simply nonsense.

Another important thing is to make sure there are zero dock fees, if the price of the bike is two grand make sure you pay less or the same amount (unless you’re riding the bike home then you need a temporary tag which costs approximately $65).

Primary things that need to be kept in mind while purchasing from another state:

  • When buying a used motorcycle from a dealer located out of state; make sure you do some research about the dealer’s reputation. When buying from a private seller, it is advisable to ask a local mechanic to conduct an independent inspection.
  • Try to search for someone in motorcycle forums and communities that can actually have a look at it.
  • Call your local dealers and do a VIN inquiry to make sure the motorcycle is not stolen. You will also get a service record that can give you the idea about the condition of the bike.
  • Use companies like UShip to get bids for your bike to be shipped to you and then call the lowest bidders directly and try to negotiate a lower price. If in doubt, companies like Haul Bikes have a great reputation when it comes to shipping. Alternatively, you can rent or buy cheap one way airline ticket and ride the motorcycle back home. This is probably the best way and you even get a chance to inspect the bike yourself before buying it.

Buyer Checklist

Used Motorcycle Buyer Checklist
Buyer checklist for purchasing used motorcycle

Red Flags When Buying Used Motorcycle

Let us take a look at some of the primary things that should be considered as a red flag while buying a used motorcycle.

  • Signs that it has been dropped frequently; this can significantly impact the value as well as the overall condition and safety of a used motorcycle. There are several levels of impact when the bike is dropped, some may be minor parking drops, or the barely moving drops where the bike basically just falls to the side; so make sure you take a note of major scratches and skid marks apart from the little ones. If the owner informs you that a damaged bike was just a layover in the parking lot and it’s got scratches running along the gas tank, you should probably have that person explain to you exactly what they consider a parking drop.
  • The scuffs and drops are cosmetic damages, but once they have occurred, the surface of the bike has been compromised. These areas are more prone to rusting, so unless you like riding a rusty bike, you will have to give these areas some extra care.
  • Look for random new parts, for example, one foot peg has been replaced but the other is clearly old and mismatched, or the pair of blinkers or side mirrors that do not pair with each other. A bad owner who is trying to piece their bike together after being damaged is more than likely to replace what they absolutely have to in order for it to look good enough to sell.
  • The condition of a bike’s chain will tell you everything you need to know about its owner. Check to see if it’s rusted and poorly maintained or looks recently lubricated and properly oiled. This is one of the fastest ways to judge the life of the bike; if the chain isn’t in good shape then the days of the engine are surely numbered.
  • Look for signs of rust; it indicates that the bike was kept outdoors. It may also indicate that the bike was damaged or dropped at some point.
  • Check the wear patterns on the bike’s current set of treads, an uneven tire wear is a red flag, it’s a sure sign that you’re looking at a bike that’s probably been handled aggressively or even abused. It could also mean a motorcycle that needs suspension adjustment or has a bent fork. Now just because a bike was ridden extremely aggressively doesn’t mean that it’s not a solid buy, but it does mean you should pay special attention to the overall mechanics of the bike and ask a lot of questions regarding the frequency of maintenance, etc.
  • Pay special attention to any clicking or gurgling sound near the engine. So if you hear something wonky, make sure to ask about it.
  • Lastly, and probably the most important one; make sure the bike has a valid title.

Bottom Line

Leave some money in reserve for what we call ‘unforeseen expenses’. A lot of people forget that motorcycles typically have sales tax when they are transferred even if they are used again. You may also need some additional cash to change some parts or to buy some essential motorcycle gears.

Buying a motorcycle from a dealership has its own advantage, but you’re typically going to pay a higher price for that. Along these lines, if you are buying from a private seller you have the potential to save yourself a ton of money and an opportunity to grab some great deals.

If you do your homework, do your research and your due diligence, you can get great deals in the used market. So the biggest takeaway whether you are buying a used bike from a dealer, a private seller, or through any online platform is to make sure you are informed as a consumer. The transaction should make you feel good about it.

Take your helmet with you and remember to learn some cool motorcycle hand signals.

Ride safe 🙂