Knowing which questions to ask before making your used motorcycle purchase can mean the difference between buying a great used motorcycle at a sweet price or ending up with a bike that nickel-and-dimes you for years.
Review these seven tips, then download and print the list of questions at the end of this post, and you'll be prepared to ask questions that help you make a smart buying decision.
Used motorcycles often provide good value compared to buying a new bike. Prices and value for a used motorcycle depend on five main factors: Physical condition, mileage, use, maintenance history, and customization.
Here’s what you can typically expect to see for pricing and value related to these factors:
A bike that’ll probably cost more up-front, but last longer:
A bike that’s likely cheaper up-front, but more costly later:
Let’s take an in-depth look at the price/value factors so you’re not only prepared with the right questions to ask when you’re shopping for your used motorcycle but you’ll also know what to look for.
The motorcycle’s physical condition dictates its value as well as what additional resources you may need to put into it after your purchase. At a high level, you want to look for:
Anything on the used motorcycle that appears to be damaged can be a cost consideration you make as you shop.
Like any vehicle, a motorcycle’s value decreases as its mileage increases. You can expect to pay less for a high-mileage bike, but it may require more upkeep as components start to fail.
The average mileage for a motorcycle is about 3,000 miles per year, so you can multiply the bike’s age by 3,000 to see how it stacks up relative to how old it is.
How the previous owner used the bike can affect its condition, thereby impacting its value. If it was mostly used for highway commutes or leisure rides, it’ll likely be in good shape. If it was ridden hard—for racing or over rough terrain—it’ll be more worn and likely less valuable.
Maintenance has a major impact on how reliable you can expect a bike to be long-term. If the previous owner performed regular inspections, oil changes, and winterized and stored it properly, you can feel confident paying more knowing it’s a solid investment.
Many riders personalize their motorcycles which can affect its value. Customized changes can include upgrading parts and/or adding artistic flair. Here are some examples:
Remember, not all customizations add value. This is where knowing what the used motorcycle originally looked like, and how it was configured, pays off. You can often learn about common updates to specific models in online forums.
You can expect to pay more for a used motorcycle from a dealership than from a private seller. That said, trustworthy dealers will usually:
Buying a used bike from a dealer is likely the way to go for a low-effort, low-risk purchase. Motorcycle dealers are in the business for the long haul and have reputations and repeat business to look after.
Buying from a private seller can put a fine motorcycle in your garage at a great price—as long as you perform your due diligence as an educated buyer.
Private sellers can have plenty of reasons to sell their bike, including:
Each motorcycle has a unique vehicle identification number (VIN). An on-road motorcycle needs to be registered and have license plates and insurance, just like a car or truck.
If you find a used motorcycle that sounds good at a fair price, ask for the VIN before you go look at it. Your request shouldn’t be a problem if the owner isn’t concealing an issue.
Whether the seller sends photos or you check out the bike in person, compare the VIN on the motorcycle to the number noted on the bike’s documentation. Be sure that the title and registration also include matching:
If there’s a lienholder, they should’ve signed off on their portion and you should receive the contact information to verify this. Beware of salvage, rebuilt/reconstructed, flood damage, and other-than-clear titles that affect resale value.
If something seems suspicious with the VIN, title, or registration, it’s usually best to walk away. Buying the motorcycle and dealing with the subsequent paperwork would likely be a headache, and it could be a total loss. You certainly don’t want to buy a stolen vehicle.
You can learn a lot about the used motorcycle you’re interested in by acquiring a vehicle history report. CycleVin and VINData Vehicle History can help you locate information on the motorcycle’s title, lien status, safety recalls, DMV history, and more.
Once you know the used motorcycle aligns with how the seller represents it, it’s time to look it over carefully.
A bike’s longevity is dependent on routine motorcycle maintenance and the quality of the materials and service it receives.
As a motorcycle owner, you should already be well-versed on standard maintenance requirements and schedules. Feel free to ask questions to determine how the current owner has managed maintenance.
Ideally, they’ll provide a service record with invoices from a quality motorcycle shop. Some motorcycle riders are dedicated to DIY upkeep; this can be a real plus, as skilled owners take the time to do great work on their machines.
Refer to the maintenance history during your inspection to ensure their statements check out.
Ask to see the maintenance records so you’ll know exactly how the bike has been taken care of.
Now it’s time to see if the bike of your dreams is in ride-ready shape. Depending on your arrangement with the seller, this might actually be the first time you see your prospective new bike in person.
When you schedule a time to meet the owner and see the bike, insist they don’t start the motorcycle before you arrive. There are two main reasons for this:
Are your motorcycle tires ready for riding? Remember, rear tires wear out faster than front tires. Also, keep in mind:
Every motorcycle needs professional service sooner or later. Whether you’re a longtime rider or this is your first bike, find a local motorcycle repair shop that’ll work on the bike you want to buy.
Once you find a motorcycle, perform your once-over inspection, and agree on a price, ask your shop to check it out.
Sellers shouldn’t have an issue with your request for a bike inspection. A trained motorcycle mechanic is the best test rider and can tell you if the bike is good to go, or if it has problems you missed.
With this expert advice, you can decide whether to proceed with the purchase, negotiate a new price, or pass on a lemon.
Buying a used motorcycle should be exciting. And if you know what questions to ask to get the information you need, you can get a great motorcycle at a nice price. Doing it right may take more time and effort, but that investment pays dividends, mile after mile.
To help save time, here’s a printable list of questions you should ask as you’re searching for the perfect new-to-you bike.
For folks in Texas, here’s your printable list of questions. Happy hunting!
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