As far as I’m concerned, the best time to buy a used motorcycle is right now — at the end of the riding season, when owners are considering winter storage. The holidays are right around the corner, and that used bike looks a little like an ATM sitting in the garage. The weather hasn’t turned so much that you can’t get in a good test drive, and if you buy now, you’ll have the whole winter to make any alterations that you have in mind before spring rolls around.
Doing some homework before you start shopping for a used bike will help make the experience better. First, examine your finances, and figure out how much you want to spend on a bike. If you’re planning to finance your purchase, go to your lender and get preapproved for a loan amount. Talk to your insurance agent, and find out what factors you should consider in order to make sure that you can afford proper motorcycle insurance. Engine size, motorcycle style and other factors can greatly affect your insurance bill — so find this out before you buy.
Once you’ve honed in your budget, financing and insurance, it’s time to figure out what kind of bike you want. There are several excellent free websites that will tell you the current value of used motorcycles in your area, including Kelley Blue Book and NADA Guides. You can also check out what’s selling around the country on eBay Motors and Walneck’s Classic Cycle, among other sites. There’s even a link on the Harley-Davidson website that accesses a searchable database of used motorcycles in dealer inventory across the country.
Buying from a dealer has some advantages over buying from a private party. The dealership may provide a warranty with a used bike sale, and you may be able to negotiate a discount on any service or upgrades that you’d like to perform on the bike before you take ownership. A dealership may have access to financing and insurance, and will be able to help you with licensing and registration.
Buying from a private party, you’ll probably pay less for your used bike, but you won’t have any of the same advantages. You’ll need to inspect the motorcycle yourself, or arrange to bring the motorcycle to your mechanic for an inspection before completing the purchase (highly recommended). Be sure to ask the seller if they have service records and receipts for parts and accessories that come with the bike.
Ask the seller for a test ride. A cautious seller will probably refuse to allow you to ride the bike — cash in hand can help persuade the seller that you are a serious buyer. If the seller won’t let you ride solo, ask if you can ride pillion while the seller pilots, or at the very least, as the seller to ride the bike up and down the street in front of you, shifting through the gears. Trust your ears — if the engine sounds funny, there’s probably something that needs maintenance or repair.
Look over the motorcycle carefully in full sun, if possible. If full sun is not an option, bring a good flashlight and give the whole bike a close inspection. Beware of any obviously new parts — they may be recent replacements due to an accident. Compare the general condition of the motorcycle with the odometer reading, and make sure that the two match.
Come prepared, and bring a friend who will help keep you from getting too excited about the shiny used bike in front of you. Bring a checklist of questions you want to ask, and things you want to look over on the bike before you buy.
Negotiating a price for a used bike is tricky. Just make sure that you’re within your budget, and that the price you pay reflects the market value of the bike in your area. Asking prices on eBay or Walneck’s are not the market value — sale prices are often much lower than asking prices. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, and don’t be afraid to walk away if the price is too high. There will always be another used bike down the road.
Be sure that you get all of the proper paperwork from the seller so that you’ll be able to register and insure your new used bike. If the seller financed the bike, you may have to accompany them to their lender in order to get the title. If you are going to finance the purchase, make sure that you get all of the information you need in order to get the cash to your seller.
The web is a great resource for advice on buying a used motorcycle. I really liked Patrick Duff’s article “Buying a Used Motorcycle,” on the Sound Rider website.
Don’t let the season go by before you buy your next used motorcycle!