Motorcycle rider

Top 10 Tips for Buying a Used Motorcycle

Updated June 4, 2020 . AmFam Team

Check out these 10 great tips for buying a used motorcycle, so you can safely and confidently get a bike that’s right for you.

So, you’ve decided to buy a used motorcycle. Good for you! You’ll probably save money on the bike itself, and you can reap additional savings by avoiding setup, delivery and dealer fees if you’re buying from a private seller. The last thing you want though is for your used bike to break down or have surprise damage and problems.

What to Look for When Buying a Used Motorcycle

To make sure you get a set of wheels that’ll go the distance, it’s worth it to boost your know-how. Here are our top ten tips to keep in mind when buying a used motorcycle.

A little homework helps

Once you’ve decided on a few models you want to check out, do some initial research online to learn more about reliability, safety and maintenance. If you’re budget-conscious, look at overall costs, from fuel efficiency to insurance, to make sure you’re right on track.

Review the paperwork

When you meet with the seller of the used motorcycle you’ve selected, be sure to do the following:

  • Make sure the title matches the 17-digit VIN number that’s usually near the neck on most modern bikes
  • Carefully review the title and registration to make sure there are no liens
  • Get an online vehicle history report in advance to find out if the bike has ever been junked, salvaged, stolen or recalled
  • Ask the seller for the bike’s service history, along with any maintenance manuals that came with it

Look for crash clues

When you sit on the bike, point the front wheel straight forward, and look to see if the handlebars are evenly aligned. The bar ends, levers and foot pegs shouldn’t show signs of rust, and look for scratches on the engine case or exhaust pipes. Bent brake levers also could indicate the bike went down hard on the pavement. If the frame is dented or bent, don’t buy the bike. Damaged motorcycle frames are generally unsafe.

Check the chain and sprocket

The chain should be rust-free and have enough play to move up and down about by a half or three-quarters of an inch. There shouldn’t be a lot of movement when you move the chain side to side on the sprocket. Speaking of sprockets, make sure the teeth aren’t worn down too much.

Inspect those tires

Look for uneven wear or damage, including cracks, worn-down spots or puncture marks. If there’s wear and tear on the edges of the tires, that may indicate the bike was raced on a track.

Give brakes the once-over

Feel the brake rotors for unevenness or grooves. Make sure the brake pads aren’t worn down.

Look for leaks

Feel underneath the engine near the gaskets to make sure there aren’t leaks — be sure the engine is cold when you do this! Check for leaks around the oil filter and oil pan bolt. If the fork tubes show corrosion, pitting or oil, the fork seals could be worn.

Spot check fuel and fluids

Look in the fuel tank for rust or corrosion — use a flashlight just to be sure! Check the oil level, which often is a telltale sign of good maintenance. The brake fluid level usually can be found top of the handlebars, visible through a clear window. When the engine is running, grip the front brake caliper really hard, which will cause the brake fluid level to fall. Once you release the brake caliper, the fluid level should rapidly rise.

Rev it up

Make sure the bike is cold before you start it up; warmed-up engines can often hide chronic engine issues. Listen for loud, unusual noises, like heavy knocks, creaking or rattling, which could indicate potential engine problems. Dark smoke could mean carburetor problems — and a future visit to the mechanic!

Take it for a spin

Start out slowly and try to stay on even, dry roads with light traffic. Listen for the same sounds mentioned above. When testing the brakes, they should be smooth and responsive, not “spongy.” If they are jerky, that could mean the discs are warped. When shifting the gears, they should be firm, even and not shift out of gear when accelerating. Watch for vibration or shimmying wheels. After your test ride, do a quick spot check for leaks.

Now that you’re up to speed on used motorcycles, you’ll be prepared when it comes to buying a used bike that’s right for you. But don’t forget to protect your bike with motorcycle insurance. Talk to an American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) today to learn about protection for your two-wheels.

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    Check the brake fluid. Motorcycle manufacturers’ recommendations will vary, but the general rule of thumb is that you should change your brake fluid at least once every two years. Refer to your owner’s manual and manufacturer tutorials if you want to do it yourself, or hand the job off to a pro.

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    Inspect the Interior of the Motorcycle

    Once you’ve checked the parts of your bike that keep you on the road and stop you when you need to, it’s time to check out some of the parts not visible to the naked eye:

    Check the oil. You may have changed your oil and replaced the filter when you winterized your bike, but if not, you’ll want to do that now — it’s good to give it a healthy start to the riding season.

    Test your battery. When your motorcycle sits still for months at a time, especially in less-than-ideal weather, your bike’s battery’s life can be shortened. It’s smart to charge it occasionally throughout the winter months, but if you forgot to do so, it may need replacing. If you’re having trouble getting your battery to work, remove it and take it to a local hardware store that offers battery testing.

    Look at the fuel filter. Your motorcycle’s fuel filter is crucial to the health of your engine. Give your bike a clean start by replacing the fuel filter and filling it up with a fresh tank of gas before you take it out for a long ride.

    Check the bike’s spark plugs. Most manufacturers will recommend that you check your spark plugs every 4,000 to 5,000 miles, but even if you didn’t ride your bike that much last year, you should still inspect them. Take a look at each one individually and keep an eye out for oil leakage, ash deposits or overall wear and tear. If you notice wear and tear or are concerned about their condition, replace them — they’re a small price to pay for a clean-running ride.

    Inspect other often-ignored moving parts. The chain, kickstand, throttle shifter — all these parts can get dried out and even rusty while in storage. And while they’re considered minor when compared to your tires, brakes and engine, they’re still important! Lubricate where you need to and avoid having to make a frustrating fix early in the season.

    Once you’ve inspected and tested your motorcycle, clean and shine it up make sure you're ready to ride with proper etiquette before you take it out on the road — then, make sure you’re protected from the unexpected with the right motorcycle insurance. Your American Family Insurance agent is dedicated to making sure your coverage is customized to fit your specific needs. Get in touch today and get the peace of mind you deserve.