5 Questions to Consider when Buying a Pre-Owned Motorcycle

Good for you! You’ve decided to buy a pre-owned motorcycle. Now what?

Assuming you’ve already done your research (you know, things like checking out reviews, comparing insurance costs, reading our piece on buying new vs. pre-owned, etc.) here is our somewhat definitive list of the five questions you should ask yourself before purchasing a new-to-you motorcycle.

1. The devil you don’t know or the devil you REALLY don’t know?

Okay, so “devil” is a strong word, but the question here is whether to buy from a private seller or dealership. In either case, you’re dealing with the unknown to some extent. You’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of each in order to figure out what works best for you.

At first glance, the perception may be that you can get a better deal from a private seller and that very well may be the case. But you may also find that the “better deal” from a short term perspective doesn’t pay off in the long term.

Do you really know what you’re getting from the private seller? And if there are problems down the road, what recourse will you have? The answers are quite likely, “No,” and “Very little.” That said, if you’re dealing with the sole owner of the bike who has meticulous records on the bike’s maintenance history, that private seller deal might be a true bargain.

On the other hand, if you purchase through a reputable dealership, you can be fairly certain that the bike will have undergone an inspection that any serious issues have been corrected. And if something goes wrong 15 miles down the road, chances are that dealer is going to work with you to make it right, something a private seller would be far less inclined to do.

The dealer will also have access to a motorcycle history report, the ability to finance, and warranty options to provide further peace of mind. (Many of these are also available via a private seller purchase if you work through a dealership’s seller assist program.)

Finally, realizing that we’re stating the obvious here, a dealership will have a wider selection of motorcycles available. ‘Nuff said on that point.

2. How has the bike been ridden and maintained?

Whether you get a candid response or not, you should still be asking about the pre-owned bike’s prior use and maintenance.

Has the bike been dropped, stunted, raced or wrecked?

Are maintenance records available?

If the seller is cagey when responding to these questions, the mileage doesn’t seem to match the owner’s riding tales, or he has no maintenance records on hand, buyer beware!

3. How do you know what the bike is really worth?

Luckily, this one has gotten a lot easier to answer with the multitude of sources now available online.

You can check sources like NADA, Kelly Blue Book, and CycleTrader or research your desired model by comparing online prices at various dealerships.

Another less frequently considered option is financing the bike, regardless of whether it’s a private seller or dealership purchase, through a dealership. The lender won’t approve financing beyond the reasonable value of the bike.

4. Can you afford the upkeep?

When considering a pre-owned motorcycle, keep in mind that not all bikes are created equal. Reliability, and hence the probability of repair, vary greatly by both brand and type of bike.

According to a post by CheatSheet.com, metric bikes (e.g., Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda and Kawasaki) were rated amongst the most reliable by owners participating in a recent Consumer Reports survey, with American-made Victory and Harley-Davidson among the middle of the pack. The Euro brands (Triumph, Ducati and BMW) received lower dependability ratings with Can Am bringing up the rear.

MotorBikeWriter.com further reported that in the same survey, cruisers were deemed the most reliable type of bike, followed by dual-sport/adventure, standard, touring, sport touring and sport bikes.

While the heart wants what the heart wants, if disposable income is a consideration, you may want to steer toward metric cruisers in order to minimize repair costs.

5. Does the bike have a clear title?

We debated whether to list this as the first question, as is more indicative of its importance, or to put it down here at number five, in hopes that it would remain fresh in your memory as you moved on to Craigslist, CycleTrader, or your local dealership’s pre-owned inventory website. We opted for the latter.

It would be impossible to overemphasize the importance of ensuring a clear title on the bike before you finalize the purchase. Without a clear title, you can’t register the bike. It’s that simple.

So what does a “clear title” mean exactly? Simply put, it means that there are no liens against the bike; it is fully paid for (i.e., no outstanding loans) and owned by the seller and is free of any liens or legal issues associated with prior owners.

We highly recommend visiting your local DMV or MVD to request a title history prior to remitting payment and taking possession of the bike. Your local dealership and many online resources will also perform this service for a small fee.

With a title history, you’ll not only be able to determine if the bike is free and clear of liens, but also see how many owners it’s had, whether or not it’s been salvaged, and how many accidents, if any, it’s been involved in.

One comment

  1. I have been wanting to get a motorcycle for some time but I’m not sure about buying it preowned. I like that you suggest checking online to make sure the value of the bike is what the seller has it listed for. There are so many sites that compare prices of bikes so this should make things easier for me. Thanks for the tip!


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