Buying a previously-owned bike can be an intimidating experience, but if you know what questions to ask when buying a used motorcycle, you’ll be much more confident in your decision when it comes time to put down the money or walk away from the deal.
Here’s our list of the five questions you should ask every seller before you even consider a test ride.
1. Does the owner have a clean title in their name?
One of the most important questions to ask when buying a used motorcycle is whether or not the owner has the title for the bike.
That’s because without the title, the rest of the details don’t matter – even if the bike is showroom perfect.
Having the title in hand enables you to verify that the VIN number stamped on the frame matches the bike in front of you. This is an important first step to making sure you aren’t about to spend your hard-earned cash on a stolen motorcycle.
Once you’ve gotten a hold of the title and verified that the VIN matches on the bike, you’ll also want to verify that the title is “clean” and the bike hasn’t been issued a “salvage” title.
A salvage title isn’t a death sentence for your deal, but you need to know that even if there’s nothing wrong with the bike, a salvage title (or a “rebuilt” title) drastically reduces the resell value of a motorcycle, and it’s probably not worth it for you to roll the dice on anything but a clean title for your first bike.
The other thing you’ll want to verify on the title is that the person in front of you is the same person who’s listed on the title itself.
It’s a common practice for people who like to buy and sell several bikes a year to try to resell a bike before putting it into their name to avoid taxes and dealer fees depending on the state you live in.
As a general best practice, you should only buy a motorcycle that has already been titled and registered in the seller’s name. Or you’ll run the risk of inheriting a nightmare at the DMV when you go to register the bike yourself.
2. Why is the owner selling the motorcycle in the first place?
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of being moments away from securing your dream bike, but it will be worth your while to ask the seller what his reason for selling the motorcycle is in the first place.
There are plenty of honest reasons for selling a bike, but it’s just as common for an owner to want to unload a bike because it’s about to cost him some serious money in service or repairs, so just do some critical thinking on what they’re telling you.
If the owner has bought a newer model and no longer needs to keep his second bike, verify that there is a newer bike in the garage if you can.
If they’re saying they just don’t ride it anymore, make sure that the service records tell the same story.
It’s also common for big life events, like an upcoming move or a new baby on the way, to force the sale of a motorcycle. Just do what you can to verify that what you’re being told makes sense, and don’t be afraid to ask for more details in the course of polite conversation.
Often times, the more you speak with an owner the more they’ll reveal about their motorcycle, intentionally or otherwise, so just keep the conversation rolling and listen closely to what you’re told.
3. How long has the seller owned the motorcycle?
Asking how long the seller has owned the bike can be one of the most telling questions to ask when buying a used motorcycle.
Compare the reason for selling the bike with the amount of time the owner has had it.
For example, in the scenario above where the owner purchased a new bike and no longer needs a second one, it would make sense for them to have owned the older bike for a few years and to have the maintenance records and title to show that.
If they’ve only owned it for a month or two, on the other hand, there’s a good chance they got a lemon themselves and could be trying to unload it now to recoup the cost.
The best-case scenario for this question is that the current owner has had the bike since it was brand new, regardless of how many years that may be.
There’s no better feeling than buying a clean bike from its original owner and having every piece of paper and spare part that came with it since it left the showroom floor.
4. Does the owner have service records for the bike?
When we put together our list of questions to ask when buying a used motorcycle, we need to make sure we've got one or two on our list about the bike's service history.
Again, what we’re looking for are clues to the type of owner you’re buying from.
Ideally, we want someone who has taken meticulous care of their machine and knows its condition well.
The more obsessive an owner is about keeping every little document or receipt, the better it is for you.
Now it’s worth mentioning that types of service records can differ.
While actual records and receipts from an authorized mechanic are the preferred method of documentation, hand-kept records can be valuable too.
At Grypmat, it’s no secret that we like to do our own wrenching from time to time. Our customers are the same way, and there’s nothing wrong with preferring to handle your own maintenance rather than pass it off to a dealer and hoping they take as good care of it as you would.
That often translates to homemade service records, either written down in a book or kept in a spreadsheet, documenting which services were completed at which mileages.
What we’re looking for, regardless of the kind of records the seller provides, is that fluid changes like oil and coolant were done within the recommended intervals, and that more costly “major” work - like valve adjustments and suspension servicing - isn’t overdue or coming up in a few hundred miles.
Often a seller will look to unload a bike that’s coming up on an expensive service they don’t want to pay for. That’s completely understandable, but an honest seller will disclose that information, and the price of the bike should be negotiated to include the upcoming costs.
Ask the seller for the owner’s manual and compare the service chart inside with the records they have provided. Has anything been neglected?
5. Does the bike have any issues?
This might seem like an obvious question to ask when buying a used motorcycle, but it’s important for several reasons.
If a bike has some minor issues, like a worn brake rotor or chain that needs to be replaced, you’ll come across it during your inspection of the bike. These issues aren’t necessarily a deal breaker, but the important reason for asking the question is to see whether or not the owner discloses anything before you find it yourself.
If the owner does have a minor issue or two and tells you about them upfront, that’s a good sign that they are likely being honest about the condition of the bike and aren’t hiding more serious issues that may be lurking underneath.
If they fail to mention something obvious that you’re able to detect during inspection, that’s a definite red flag, as you can’t take their word on the overall condition if they can’t be trusted to be honest about the basics.
Final Thoughts on Buying a Used Motorcycle
The best questions to ask when buying a used motorcycle are simple and straightforward, and the owner’s answers to those questions should be as well.
The most important question to ask when buying a used motorcycle is the one you ask yourself:
“Do I feel good about this purchase?”
If anything about the deal doesn’t feel right, be it the owner or the bike itself, walking away is the best decision you can make.
If all of the questions above come back with answers you like, you’re just a test ride away from taking home your next two-wheeler.
New to riding a motorcycle? Learn the basics of shifting here!