Guide To Buying a Used Motorcycle
Looking for a used motorcycle is a lengthy process including many contemplations all the while determining what type of motorcycle you want. Cruiser, sport, touring- new or used and on top of it all – where should you look? What should you check or test on a used motorcycle; how will you know? So here’s your guide to buying a used motorcycle to help you find a good second-hand ride!
In The First Place
In the first place, you’ll need to decide what type of riding you plan to use the motorcycle for and what type of riding you’ll be doing. Ask yourself, will you be commuting, taking a track day or maybe both? Will you be taking some long distance holidays or short day trips? This way you’ll narrow down your choices. Try to be as honest with yourself as you can when deciding. A super powered sport bike might give you mega cool factor credits but you may just end up hating it if using it as a commuter or to take a passenger along.
Next, its beneficial if you can buy from a reputable dealership. Dealerships get many good quality trade-ins and even though buying private may result in getting you a lower price, you’ll not have any back up if the motorcycle breaks down or presents some serious issues after you’ve bought it. Most dealerships offer some type of warranty, or at the very least, will work with you should anything go wrong in the first few months of buying.
More tips, read on!
Guide to Buying Used Motorcycle Privately
If you opt for buying from a private seller, check the bike out for yourself. Don’t buy the first bike you look at and if possible, take a trusted friend along with you who is also a rider. Don’t look at the bike at night and bring a flashlight along with you to look into the smaller nooks and crannies –fuel tank, engine etc.
What to Look For
Upon first look if the bike is clean that indeed is a good sign of being well cared for.
- Tires. These should have good tread all the way across the surface with no signs of uneven wear or damage. Daily rider’s tyres will often have more wear in the middle on the tread (more highway driving). Others who’ve raced their motorcycle on the track, will have tires that show more wear at the edge of the tread. Check tire tread depth, profile (if the rear in particular looks a bit “squared off” rather than round, it’s overdue for replacement), and side-wall cracks.
- Check the condition of the drive chain and sprocket. The chain should have around ¾” of play (up and down) and the teeth of the sprocket should not show obvious damage or wear. Try to wiggle the chain side to side on the sprocket. There shouldn’t be much movement on a good set. Have someone sit down on the motorcycle and check to make sure the chain is somewhat snug, with very little movement up and down. Chains wear out over time, but sprockets should last much longer.
- Check the forks and rear suspension and check the brake disc rotors by running your fingernail across them. Feel for uneven wear or grooving. Look into the brake caliper to inspect brake pads for wear. If the rims are spoked, feel to check their overall condition and that each individual spoke is solidly connected. For bikes with steel rims, look for dents or damage.
- Sit on the bike. Observe the condition of the brake and clutch levers, straightness of the bars, bar-end weights, and instrument cluster. If these are marked this could be a sign of an accident or drop. Other signs could be scratched engine cases, foot pegs or exhaust pipes. Hold the hand brake and bounce up and down the front suspension. It should feel even and firm. Turn the handlebars side to side. Feel for any ‘notchy-ness’ or roughness in the movement or from the steering head. Get off the bike and check the fork tubes for signs of rust, pitting and oil. These are signs of worn fork seals, or possible future expensive problems. If possible, check the visible frame; remove the seat to see underneath it also. There should be no dents, kinks or visible damage to the frame. If there is, walk away.
- When the seat is off on most motorcycles, this is where you can get access to the battery. Check that the terminals appear clean. If you can bring a multimeter and test the battery health. It should read no less than 12 volts. Start the engine (be sure it’s cold sellers have been known to get a poor-starting motorcycles hot before a buyer arrives to make it more likely to fire quickly when turned over). The meter should read no more than 14 volts or so while running. If it does, that may be a sign of a ‘dodgy’ voltage regulator and it may overcharge a battery and cause it to fail. Check the lights and indicators at this stage also. Pull a fuse or two out and check for corrosion. Do this with the engine off of course. Replace the seat.
- Open the fuel tank and check for obvious signs of rust or corrosion using your flashlight (!! No not a match or lighter. Common sense but you’d be surprised!).
- If it’s a sport bike for sport touring, inspect under fairings Remove the same fairing the owner removes to change spark plugs and do routine maintenance. Check the frame for vulnerabilities at the weld points/joints. Inspect the overall condition of the engine block, plugs, and radiator. Check for leaks around the oil filter and oil pan bolt.
- Check for little holes (1/16th of an inch) drilled in fasteners and fluid drain bolts. It’s a dead give-away that the bike’s been raced or at least used hard on track days.
- Check brake fluid levels. This is usually on top of handlebars, in an enclosure with a clear window. With the engine running, pull hard on the front hand brake and release while watching the fluid level. It should fall and rise. It should rise quickly once the brake is released.
- Confirm you’re able to take the bike to a reputable dealership to be assessed and inspected. A few dollars spent now could save you a lot of money and trouble in the future. Furthermore, dealerships can usually do an ownership history search for you to make sure the bike in question wasn’t stolen or hasn’t been listed as “written off” by an insurance company.
Take a Test Ride
- Pick a nice day with dry roads and good visibility if possible. Bring your bike licence and proper gear. Most dealers will have loaner gear available for you to use. If at a dealer, be prepared to sign an insurance waiver; if privately, be ready to leave your license with the seller as security.
- Pick a route that you are familiar with that has light traffic and good road conditions if possible. Start slowly and get used to the way the bike feels and responds.
- Listen for any unusual engine noises, suspension creaking or rattling and any undue vibrations. Ask questions about anything you have doubts about.
- Test the brakes. They should not ‘pulse’. That is a sign of warped disks. They should engage smoothly and evenly and not grab violently or feel spongy.
- Accelerate through the gears. The transmission should feel firm and not slip out of gear under acceleration or feel ‘clunky’.
- While on a straight, clean patch of road, swerve left and right slightly to see how the bike responds. It should feel stable and easy to correct.
- Inspect the bike again after the ride, looking for any leaks or drips. Check the oil, through either the sight glass or; when the engine cools, the dip-stick if it has one. Most semi or full synthetic oils will darken after only a few miles. That is completely normal.
- Ask the seller for a service history a record of bills or receipts. A good rider uses the motorcycle’s owner’s manual for notes and records. Ask for an owner’s manual and factory tool kit if available.
- Be realistic when negotiating on the final price. For a private seller the bike may have much sentimental value and insulting the seller by offering too low may cost you the sale or ensure that you will not get a fair price.
- If at a dealership, realise that the salesperson may have targets to meet and a boss looking over his shoulder. Do some research on-line; use the retail pricing guides if available, or read the bike classifieds to get a fair market value of the bike. Then, set your buying price accordingly.
- Beware! Usually a used motorcycle requires a Used Vehicle Information Package, which the seller should provide. You’ll also need a safety certificate I’d hold out for one from a reputable bike shop. Generally, any licensed car mechanic can certify a motorcycle whether they know what to look for or not.
- If you’re planning on trading in your bike to lower costs: clean it, wash it, wax it and clean the wheels. Every hour the dealer has to spend tidying it up will cost you on the trade in price.
- Tighten and lube your chain. Basic maintenance is critical to the trade-in price. A loose, dirty chain is a sure sign of lack of maintenance and will make the dealer wary.
- Have a verifiable service history. Have receipts or dealer history.
- Know how much your bike is worth. Don’t just say “as much as I can get”.
- Get an ownership history.
- Never take the first offer. A dealership will offer below what he is willing to pay. Be ready to barter with price, discounted service or free or discounted accessories.
- Insurance is never optional. You will need it eventually.
*NOTE: Motorcycling involves risks, be prepared before you ride. Invest in good quality riding gear for your greatest comfort and safety. Most importantly, take a course on motorcycle riding. This will help you be proficient in operating the motorcycle and make you a defensive rider while usually lower your insurance rates. Even if you have operated a motorcycle for years, an advance rider class is a way to tweak your riding skills and make you a better safer rider. Ride within your limits and experience and buy the motorcycle you feel you control or overpower not the other way around. If you have any uncertainties about the road or the – merit of a particular machine, trust your instincts and don’t ride.