Top 10 Tips for Buying a Used Motorcycle

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.

To make sure you get a set of wheels that’ll go the distance, it’s worth it to boost your know-how about what to look for 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 sleuthing 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, make sure the title matches the 17-digit VIN number, which you can usually find near the neck on most modern bikes. Carefully review the title and registration to make sure there are no liens, just to avoid unwanted surprises! If possible, get an online vehicle history report in advance to find out if the bike has ever been junked, salvaged, stolen or recalled — but keep in mind some sites require a fee. 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 rash, 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 frames generally are unsafe.

Check the chain and sprocket. The chain should be rust-free and have enough play to move up and down about by a ½ or ¾ 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 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 ‘n 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 real hard, which will cause the brake fluid level to fall. Once you release the brake caliper, the fluid level will rapidly rise.

Rev it up. Make sure the bike is cold before you start it up; warmed-up engines often can 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 and 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.

These tips can help boost your street smarts when it comes to buying a used bike that’s right for you. Now that you’re up to speed on used motorcycles, expand your knowledge even further! Learn more about embracing a cool, safe motorcycle mindset, and getting more out of your motorcycle trips.


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