How to Buy a Used Motorcycle + Checklist

Thinking about joining the incredible world of motorcycle riding? Then you’re going to need a bike!

In this post I want to share some of the most helpful tips for buying a used motorcycle. This will be especially helpful you’re new to the motorbike lifestyle.

With these tips you’ll avoid getting scammed and leave the transaction with a beautiful, fun to ride, and new (to you) motorcycle!

Don’t hesitate to print out the checklist below and bring it with you when you go to look at a bike. Any reasonable seller won’t mind helping you go through it. And if they aren’t interested in helping you out – that’s a sign to head on to the next one.

Regardless of your budget this guide and helpful tips will save you from ending up with a lemon. If you’re totally anxious about buying a used bike you can head to your local dealer and let them sort it out. Otherwise, let’s jump into how you can find a great used bike without getting scammed or shorted in any way!

yamaha r6

How to Buy a Used Motorcycle Successfully

It’s probably going to take you 30+ minutes to meet the seller and go over the bike you’re interested in. This includes inspecting the bike and asking any questions you might have.

If you’re in a rush there are three main conditions to look for:

  • Obvious crash or drop damage
  • Leaking fluids
  • Overall care and appearance

Signs of obvious crash or drop damage would include cracked or broken fairings and aftermarket mirrors or signals. Another big sign is a bent brake or clutch lever.

This damage is fairly obvious to spot and can usually be seen on the side of the bike opposite the kickstand. If the seller mentioned any damage in the ad it’s not as big a deal compared to if they’re trying to hide something.

Leaking fluids can be easily spotted under the bike. Look for any leaks inside the bike as well coming from any of the components.

The overall care and appearance will indicate how well the owner took care of it. The chain, fairings, and motorcycle components should be clean. Look for any rust or built up dirt/debris that would indicate the bike was poorly cared for.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions at any time. The seller should have an answer for everything and will likely be happy to help you out. Immediately walk away if you get any negative or weird vibes.

Check out this article on the best motorcycles for new riders if you’re having trouble deciding on your first bike! Keep following the rest of this guide for a better idea on how to buy a used motorcycle.

Inspect the Bike Cold

vintage motorcycle

Regardless of the year of motorcycle you’re checking out it’s important that it’s cold when you arrive. This means that the bike hasn’t been turned on and left running before you come to inspect it.

It’s harder to hide issues when the bike is cold. You’ll also be able to turn it on yourself to see and hear how everything runs.

Mention this to the seller before you arrive. Let them know to not turn the bike on and that you’d i’d like to inspect it cold – they will understand.

When you arrive place your hand near the exhaust and engine to verify that the bike hasn’t been running. Should you notice any heat then it could be that the seller is trying to hide something.

Ask to start the bike yourself. Listen to the engine and exhaust as it starts up for any excessive rattling or unusual noises. At this point you can also check for leaking fluids underneath the bike or unwanted smoke coming from the exhaust.

Thoroughly Examine the Motorcycle Components

custom honda motorcycle

Assuming the bike is cold when you get there the next step after starting it is to thoroughly examine everything.

Look closely at the bar ends, levers, and footpegs. These components received the most wear and tear and they’ll give you indicators of whether or not the bike has been dropped or damaged.

Damaged or replaced bar ends, bent levers, and scratched footpegs are all indications that a bike has been dropped or damaged some way. Ask the seller about anything you find and don’t hesitate to walk away if you’re not happy with the answer.

Bar ends and footpegs aren’t usually replaced unless something happens to them. The shift and brake levers can sometimes be upgraded but make sure to ask if the seller has the originals.

Next inspect the fairings (plastic body parts) for anything that’s damaged, scratched, or cracked. Should you find anything unusual always point it out to the seller and ask for an explanation.

Finally, take a look at the mirrors and any turn signals that stick out past the body of the bike. These typically need to be replaced as they’re usually the first thing that breaks off when a bike is dropped or crashed.

It’s a good idea to bring a flashlight to get an up close look of all of the motorcycle components.

Inspect the Oil Level, Brake Fluid, and Tires

cruiser wheel

The oil level, brake fluid, and tire condition are even more indicators telling you about the overall condition of the bike. These will also give you a better idea of how well the motorcycle was maintained.

Before going to meet the seller, look up how to inspect the oil level of the specific bike you’re interested in. Most bikes come equipped with a sight glass on the side that will show you the oil and its level.

Check that the oil is above the minimum level and verify that it has been recently changed. The oil is essentially the lifeblood of the motorcycle and will indicate how properly the bike was maintained.

Next, look at the brake fluid color and its level. Check online to see how to inspect the brake fluid on the specific bike you’re looking at. For most bikes the fluid should be a lighter color and above the minimum required level.

Finally, inspect and ask about both of the tires. Ask how recently the tires were changed and how many kilometers/miles they currently have on them.

Look at the wear bar indicator to see how much life is remaining in the tires. Also, check for any flat spots with longitudinal grooves which is evidence of a burnout.

If the bike needs new tires, you’re in luck. Check out our post on the best motorcycle tires for some recommendations.

Should anything come up that you’re not sure about always immediately ask the seller. Walk away if the seller doesn’t provide a reasonable answer or seems to be hiding something.

Look Underneath the Seat

motorcycle battery

The battery and other electrical wiring is most often accessed underneath the motorcycle seat. Pop open the seat and inspect the condition of the battery and any visual electrical components.

What you’re looking for is that the battery is as close to stock condition as possible. Additional accessories, such as a motorcycle GPS, heated grips, and USB chargers all put a strain on the battery.

These are necessarily a problem, but the smaller the bike the less you want connected to the battery directly. Ask about the battery age and whether or not the seller has had any issues with the electrical system.

With the seat off continue looking at any of the wires and accessible electrical components. Look for anything that’s damaged, cracked, broken, or that has been obviously repaired.

If you think you can manage with an old or tired battery, we’ve got you covered. Check out our post on the best motorcycle batteries to see our top recommendations.

While not a common problem for most people, electrical issues can be expensive and difficult to pinpoint. If anything looks amiss or the seller is being sketchy about the battery/electrical components – walk away from the deal.

Look Inside the Gas Tank

triumph motorcycle

This is a quick check to inspect the inside of the gas tank.

Unlock or open up the gas tank and look inside. Check for any rust spots or obvious damage.

Smell for any unusual scents, apart from fuel, and look for anything floating in the fuel itself.

A rusted gas tank or debris in the fuel could indicate a problem with the tank, fuel system, or quality of fuel being used. This can have an impact on motorcycle fuel efficiency and could lead to an expensive problem further down the road.

Check the VIN and Motorcycle Registration

Even if you’re buying the bike from a dealer it’s important to verify the VIN, registration, and motorcycle ownership.

Start by comparing the VIN with the numbers on the bike itself. Next, check that the registration matches the bike model and year. Finally, check that the seller’s ID matches the name on the registration.

In most cases all of the information will match. If the information doesn’t match or if you get any pushback from the seller then you need to walk away.

Doing your due diligence helps when buying a used motorcycle. You’ll be stuck with an expensive problem if you fail to check this information and pay for a stolen bike.

Take a Test Drive

harley davidson group ride

This can be tricky as many sellers won’t let you take their motorcycle on a test ride. At a dealership this won’t be a problem but private individuals typically are happy with letting you take out their bike.

You can always ask beforehand if you’re able to take a test ride. Even if the seller says no, show up with the cash and offer to leave it behind in exchange for being able to test the bike.

With my first bike, the trusty Honda CBR250R, I never got the chance to take it for a ride before paying for it. The seller dropped it off at my house and it was a few days while I put together the insurance before I got to take it out on the street.

Thankfully, I didn’t run into any problems. However, i’ll never buy another bike without being able to take it for a test ride first.

There are an equal number of issues that can arise while a bike is being driven. It also helps to get a feel for the bike to see if it’s comfortable and something you would enjoy riding.

It shouldn’t be a deal-breaker but it’s always a good idea to test ride any of the motorcycles you’re interested in.

Assess the Seller and Make Your Offer

back of a cruiser

The last thing to do before buying a used motorbike is to assess the seller on a personal level. At this point you had a chance to talk to the guy and get a feel for what he’s like.

Does he seem like someone trustworthy? Was he answering all your questions in-depth or did it seem like he was hiding something?

This is going to go off your gut feeling for the individual and ultimately it can go either way. For my first bike I spent over an hour talking to the guy. I had the feeling he was genuinely interested in making sure I was happy with everything.

Also, keep in mind that younger guys likely rode their bike harder and more aggressively than an older individual. This isn’t a problem for some bikes, but for sport bikes it’s something I would consider before buying.

After you had the chance to inspect the bike and speak with the seller it’s time to make your offer. If you’re happy with everything and the bike is a fair price feel free to start the paperwork and sales process.

Should you have noticed any issues with the condition or quality of the bike or you think it’s overpriced, make a lower offer and see how the seller reacts.

To be upfront, I 100% overpaid for my first bike. It was the first time I had ever purchased any vehicle and I didn’t really know the value of the other bikes on the market. This was a learning experience for me and won’t happen again for the next motorcycle I buy!

Buying a Used Motorcycle Checklist

motorcycle at the beach

Here’s my used motorcycle checklist that you can use to streamline the buying process. Feel free to print it out or write down any of the points that you find most important.

Some of this is common sense but the list is still helpful for anybody buying a used motorcycle.

Before You Go

  • Set a firm budget
  • Decide on a few specific facts you’re interested in
  • Contact insurance companies for accurate insurance quotes
  • Ask a friend or family member to come with you
  • Arrange motorcycle transportation if the seller can’t deliver
  • Set a date and time to meet the seller
  • Bring your license and payment

Inspecting the Bike

  • Check that the bike is cold
  • Verify the VIN, ownership, and registration
  • Inspect the motorcycle for any obvious damage
  • Check the motorcycle and the ground below for any dripping fluid leaks
  • Inspect the clutch, brake levers, mirrors, turn signals, and footpegs for any damage or evidence that the bike has been dropped
  • Inspect the general condition of the bike and get a closer look at the chain, oil, cables, and tires
  • Pop the seat to look at the battery and accessible electrical components
  • Assess the overall condition of the motorcycle
  • Start up the bike and listen for any unusual noises
  • Check that the lights, signals, and any odometer display information are working properly
  • Take the bike for a test ride if possible
  • If buying, complete all the paperwork and finalize the transaction

For questions or concerns about buying a used motorbike don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact me directly!

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