What to look for when buying a used motorcycle
Inspecting used bikes for wear and tear, damage, and other issues is integral to the motorcycle purchase process. Having a used motorcycle checklist can help you spot potential problems with a purchase before you invest. Know what to look for when purchasing a used motorcycle, so you don't have hefty repair costs later.
Questions to ask when buying a used motorcycle
Used motorcycles can sometimes hide a lot of damage and problems. Whether you're buying from a motorcycle from a dealership or a private seller, there are several questions you should ask when buying a used motorcycle.
Has the bike been involved in a crash?
If yes, then the vehicle’s value decreases by a substantial amount. There may also be damage you can't see from an accident. Even if the answer to that question is no, look at the foot pegs and levers at the handlebars. If these are bent, the bike may have been involved in a crash. At the very least, it means the bike may have tipped over.
How old are the tires?
You can check the numbers outside the tires to find out how old they are. Most motorcycle tires will last around six years. If the tires are nearing replacement age, you can use this information to negotiate the price while factoring in the cost of new tires.
Is there a repair record?
Many motorcycle owners hold on to every service and repair receipt related to their machine. If you have a record of all the work done to the motorcycle, you can gauge the issues you may encounter later. Knowing how often the motorcycle was serviced also gives you an idea of how well the previous owner maintained the machine. Learn more about motor vehicle records.
When was the last time anyone rode the motorcycle?
If no one has used a motorcycle in a long time, you may need to do some pre-ride work to ensure its safety before taking it for a test drive.
What to check when buying a used motorcycle
Follow our used motorcycle checklist for every component to examine before you purchase your bike.
If the motorcycle has dings, scuff marks, or rust, its condition may indicate that it wasn't maintained well. On the other hand, a clean bike shows the owner took care of it and likely kept it in a covered garage.
Motorcycles are a high-theft item. Ensure the vehicle identification number (VIN) matches the title. If there are discrepancies between the information on the title and what you see in front of you, be wary of the seller.
You should always examine a motorcycle "cold," which means it shouldn't be running when you begin your inspection. Ensuring the motorcycle is off and hasn't been started recently means you can check how well it starts, look for issues in the exhaust, and much more.
When looking over the bike, take it out of gear and move it forward. Test the brakes. Check for any resistance in the brake lever and measure whether it brings the wheel to a stop or not.
Try to shift the motorcycle's gears. Shifting should happen smoothly, with no resistance and almost no noise. Signs of damage to the transmission can include loud sounds when shifting or clutch action that isn't smooth.
Check the motorcycle's fuel tank. Open it up and look inside for any floating debris, and signs of rust. Any sediment or rust in the fuel tank can be a sign of significant problems and, at the very least, indicates the machine needs to be cleaned.
Oil should look like syrup. This means it's new or has been recently changed. Thick black oil means it hasn't been changed in a while but isn't necessarily indicative of problems. However, silver or milky oil means water is somehow entering the engine and signifies a major repair likely will be needed.
Coolant typically smells sweet and has a green color to it. If you see brown coolant, it can mean another substance, such as rust or oil, is mixing with the coolant. If you see this, you may want to reconsider the purchase.
Working lights on a motorcycle are crucial to safety. Test every one of the lights, from the blinkers to the headlamps. Check the brake lights, too. If the lights are dim, the battery needs to be changed, or the bulbs themselves need servicing.
Look at the level of wear on the tires. Most motorcycles will have some level of wear and tear, but if you see severe wear or damage to the tires, it points to the rider burning out or possibly using it on a racetrack. Ask the seller how they used the bike before showing interest.
Tips for buying a used motorcycle
Buying a used motorcycle can be a smart investment that reduces the overall cost of owning a bike, but you need to know what to look for when purchasing a used motorcycle. Signs of damage or abuse can mean you'll be making expensive repairs that negate your savings. If you buy from a responsible owner or a reputable dealer, you minimize the risk of buying a bike with severe damage. Learn more about buying a new vs. buying a used motorcycle.