If you ride a motorcycle, you’re OK with taking on more risk than the average Joe Schmoe who spends his days behind the doors of his sensible midsize car. Buying a used motorcycle, however, can expose you to more risk than even the hardiest two-wheeled warrior is willing to take on. When you buy a new motorcycle, you’re protected by a warranty and the fact that the bike is new – no one has messed with it and all the parts are in pristine condition. With a used bike, all of those assurances go out the window. Think of these 10 tips for buying a used motorcycle as your helmet for navigating the used motorcycle market place. They won’t protect you from every bad used motorcycle out there, but they will protect you from a lot of them.

10: Get the Right Type of Used Motorcycle for You

It’s easy for a lot of used motorcycle shoppers to focus on one kind of used motorcycle: the cheap kind. Just because a bike has a nice price doesn’t mean that you should buy it. Think about the kind of riding you do and the best bike to help you do it. If you primarily do long point-to-point rides, is being hunched over the handle bars of a tiny sport bike really the most comfortable way to take a two-wheeled road trip? A hardtail bobber might look cool, but not if you’re going to use it to commute through a pot-holed urban landscape every day. Think about what your riding goals are and focus your shopping on the kinds of bikes that will actually help you reach them.

9: Buy It from the Right Place

We’re going to come out and say it: Buying a used bike from a weirdo on Craigslist is not always the worst decision. Odds are you’ll save some money in the process. However, where you buy a used motorcycle has a big impact on the buying process, so it pays to weigh the pros and cons of the various places that have used motorcycles for sale.

Private sellers tend to have lower prices on the bikes they sell because they don’t have any overhead, like a showroom, which keep expenses down. Those same private sellers aren’t going to be able to offer you a lot of protection in terms of warranties, and you’ll have to bring your own financing or pay cash. You’ll also have to handle all paperwork yourself. Buying a used motorcycle from a dealer, on the other hand, will give you some consumer protection, as well as access to dealer financing and maybe even a warranty. You can also be reasonably sure the bike has been inspected prior to sale, and the dealership can help you with registration and other paperwork. For all those services, however, you’ll likely pay more for the bike. It’s up to you whether it’s worth it.

8: Research Pricing

Everyone’s favorite used motorcycle is one that doesn’t cost too much, but bike pricing can vary wildly. When you shop for a used motorcycle, spend some time researching pricing so you can make sure you’re getting a good deal. Hone in on the make, model and year of bike you want, as well as any common options or modifications. Then check out different listings for the bike you have your eye on to get an idea of what fair pricing is. Keep in mind that private sellers are generally less expensive than dealers when it comes to buying a used bike, but dealers will usually offer you a bit more in terms of consumer protection. Either way, make sure you know what the bike you want is worth and what you’re willing to pay before you buy it.

7: Do a Test Ride

You wouldn’t marry someone you’d never been on a date with (unless a reality TV producer paid you a lot of money), so you should never buy a used motorcycle you’ve never taken on a test ride. When we say test drive, we mean put that bike through its paces. Ride it on as many different kinds of roads as you can. Check how maneuverable it is in tight places. Run through all the gears it has, and do it multiple times. If you can do it safely, take the bike to its limits. Be on the lookout for little issues that could signal bigger problems down the line. Used motorcycles don’t have moms you can meet to detect red flags, so make your test ride count.

6: Get the Bike Inspected

In addition to test-riding a used motorcycle you need to either inspect it yourself or get it inspected by a professional. Unless you’re a professional motorcycle mechanic yourself, having a professional take a look at any used bike you’re considering is always recommended. During the inspection, pay attention to the hoses and keep an eye out for any fluid leaks. Also pay attention to wear and tear on items like the tires and brake pads. Look for indicators that the bike has been painted — it could be a sign that it was in an accident. You’ll also want to be sure that the bike can pass any motorcycle safety or emissions inspections in your state, so you don’t have to pay to bring it up to the inspection standard.

5: Check for Recalls

Car recalls tend to dominate the news compared to motorcycle recalls, but that’s just because there are more cars on the road. Motorcycle recalls can and do happen, and you don’t want to buy an unfixed motorcycle that’s subject to a recall. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a database of vehicle recalls by year, make and model that you can search to find out if a motorcycle has any recalls. If it does, get documentation from the seller that the bike has been fixed. If it hasn’t been fixed, you’ll probably want to pass.

4: Get a Used Motorcycle Bill of Sale

If you buy a used motorcycle from a dealer, you’ll get a formal bill of sale that shows how much you purchased the motorcycle for, any taxes you paid and who holds the title of the bike (if you took out a loan to pay for it). Some private sellers may not automatically give you a bill of sale and that’s a problem. You’ll need proof of purchase and price to file registration and other paperwork. It’s easy enough to find a bill of sale template online, print it and fill it out. Insist on getting a bill of sale when you buy a used bike.

3: Make Sure the VINs Match

Like cars, motorcycles all have a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). When buying a used bike, you’ll want to make sure the VIN on the bike matches the VIN in all the paperwork – otherwise, you could be buying the wrong bike. Worst case scenario, you’re buying a stolen one. The VIN on the bill of sale, registration and title should all match. You’ll also want to make sure that the VINs on the various parts of the bike match, so you don’t end up buying a Harley with a Honda engine. Check and double check all VINs and if they don’t match, walk away.

2: Get Maintenance Records

One of the risks you take when buying a used motorcycle is that the bike may not have been well maintained. Like any machine, a motorcycle needs regular upkeep. If it’s been sitting during winters, you need to be sure it’s been put to bed properly each time.

If you’re willing to put up with not knowing how the bike was treated, you can forego getting maintenance records from the seller, but you shouldn’t pay as much for a bike with no maintenance records as you would for one that has a fully documented history. Get the fullest picture of the motorcycle’s maintenance history as you can.

1: Know How a Used Motorcycle Has Been Modified

Modifying and personalizing a bike is one of the main attractions to motorcycle ownership for a lot of people. Loud pipes, custom chrome and a drilled-out engine are as central to bike ownership to some people as fringe and leather. If you’re buying a used motorcycle, however, you want to make sure any modifications that have been done have been done properly. A custom paint job or seat isn’t that big a deal (thought the paint job could have been done to hide repairs due to an accident) but other modifications could significantly change how a bike performs or even be illegal.

Before you buy, get all of the documentation you can from the seller about modifications, and check that the modifications to the bike are legal in your community. Once the bike is yours, you’ll be on the hook for any changes that have been made to it, even if they weren’t made by you.


This article was worked on by a variety of people from the Autoversed team, including freelancers, editors, and/or other full-time employees.