Even if we're talking about a ten-year-old model rather than a fresh-of-the-line one, buying a used motorcycle is still a big investment. Skip your research, forget to check the paperwork, or let your heart rule your head, and there's a good chance you'll be coming away from the sale with a lemon. If you'd rather not blow a chunk of your savings on a useless pile of metal or, even worse, a death trap, it pays to ask the right questions. As to what questions count as the right ones... these ten, for a start.
1. How has the motorcycle been maintained?
According to questionsgems.com, one of the most crucial questions you should always ask before committing to a deal is 'how has the motorcycle been maintained?' Obviously, you can't guarantee a completely accurate answer, but unless the seller's a consummate liar, you will at least get a good understanding of what's been happening. If the owner has kept maintenance records, take it as a sign the bike has been well taken care of. If they've been maintaining it themselves, don't necessarily write it off - if they know what they're about (and if you're not sure, ask), a motorcycle owner with a passion for tinkering with engines will quite often do a much better job than a disinterested third party.
2. What's the VIN?
Before you turn up at the seller's door with your cash in hand, ask them for the VIN. Once you have it, you can run it through a VIN checker like CycleVIN or InstaVINto pull up the vehicle history report. The report will include vital information like disclosed damage, odometer reading, multi-state searches, damaged/ salvaged/ stolen titles, recall history, specifications, and a whole lot more besides. Run the report over with a fine-tooth comb. if any red flags jump out, use them to your advantage to either negotiate on the sale price or, if they're particularly glaring, walk away from the deal entirely.
3. How have you found the motorcycle to ride?
Sure it's vague, but asking a fairly innocuous question like 'How have you found the motorcycle to ride?' will help you open up a dialogue with the seller and get a deeper understanding of what they, as much as the motorcycle, are like. Once you've established a dialogue through open-ended questions, you'll have an easier time knowing exactly what little nuggets of information to hone in on.
4. How long have you owned the motorcycle?
Whether a seller has had a bike for 5 years or 5 days, it doesn't really matter (although if they're flipping it that quickly, you might want to ask why). The point of this question isn't necessarily to establish anything about the bike, it's to establish a relationship with the seller. Remember, you need to buy the seller as much as the motorcycle. If anything seems 'off' about their response to interested, innocent questions like this, think twice before going any further.
5. Have you ever crashed the motorcycle?
Let's face it, very few motorcyclists haven't crashed at some point or another. Even fewer of them will hesitate to tell you about the experience. Providing there was no substantial damage, it's not necessarily a reason to walk away from the deal. If, however, the seller seems reluctant to answer or tries to dismiss the question off-hand, take it as a warning sign.
6. Are any extras included?
Ultimately, you're buying the motorcycle, not the accessories that come with it. That said, it never hurts to ask if the bike comes with any extra goodies. As bikebandit.com notes, many sellers will be looking to offload anything from extra motorcycle gear, to upgrade aftermarket parts, to useful accessories. Unless they're of exceptionally high quality, these shouldn't be factored into the price. Even so (and even if you end up selling them secondhand later), they can help sweeten the deal.
7. What aftermarket parts have been added?
Always ask what parts have been added or replaced. Once you know, check them. If they're high-end and desirable, great. If they're cheap, a replacement for something that's been damaged or broken, or something other than OEM, ask the seller for more details. If the upgrades weren't necessary but where ones you were planning anyway, consider it a deal sweetener. Just be cautious of factoring it into the price. After all, the fact the seller spent $1000 on a swanky new exhaust doesn't mean the bike is now worth $1000 more.
8. What's the mileage?
High mileage isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some bikes are designed to ride hard and ride far - provided they're properly maintained, it doesn't have too much of a bearing. That said, if you're looking at a sports bike, a dirt bike, or an adventure bike (in other words, bikes built for performance rather than distance), be wary if the odometer has crept past a reasonable point. It's also worth asking how the miles racked up - if it was on a dirt trail or track, the bike is likely to be in a worse state than if they accrued with some sedentary cruising along the interstate.
9. Can I take the motorcycle for an inspection?
Every used motorcycle should be inspected before you hand over a single dime. The fuel tank should be checked, as should the oil level. The overall condition should be assessed; the brake and clutch should be tested; and the suspension should be put through its paces. The chain should be tested for tension and condition, and the tires should be inspected for wear. The exhaust should be examined for rust and corrosion. Essentially, the bike needs to be completely and comprehensively checked, and unless you're au fait with motorcycle maintenance, it's worth handing it over to a mechanic to do the checks for you. If the seller seems reluctant to agree to an inspection, ask yourself why.
10. Do you have the title?
As Gear Sustain notes, the final thing you should always do before buying a used motorcycle is to ask to see the title. If you're buying from a private seller, they should have a clear title that you can get signed over to you as soon as the deal is finalized. While you're at it, check that the registration tags are current - if they aren't, it's worth checking how much it will cost in fees to get them current.
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Written by Benjamin Smith
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