What to Look for When Buying a Used Motorcycle: Part 1

//What to Look for When Buying a Used Motorcycle: Part 1

What to Look for When Buying a Used Motorcycle: Part 1

While the riding season is nearly upon us, wheeling and dealing for used motorcycles is never out of season. When shopping for a used motorcycle, general appearance and how many bells and whistles come with the bike are usually what catch your eye. Looking good is definitely a benefit, but if the bike you buy doesn’t run, or doesn’t run well beyond the simple paces you put it through, it won’t do you much good.

Having been a line mechanic for a Harley-Davidson dealership, one of my roles was to assess the condition and value of all the bikes that were being traded in. In today’s post, Part 1 of What to Look for When Buying a Used Motorcycle, I’d like to share some of the general guidelines I used during inspection:

  • Assess the general condition of the bike, look for any oil leaks. If none are visible, check the oil itself. Look specifically for the condition and amount of oil in the bike. Dirty oil, or a low oil level, indicates poor maintenance habits by the motorcycle’s previous owner.

Tip: Visually inspect the underside of the bike. If it is squeaky clean, it may have just been washed, potentially to mask a possible leak.

  • Next, raise the seat and look at the condition of the motorcycle battery, which is often a good indicator as to how well a bike has been maintained. What you are looking for is a full battery with clean, tight terminals. If the battery does not pass inspection, there is a good chance you may find other problems.
  • This one may seem obvious, but take a good look all areas of the motorcycle for any signs of damage from the bike being dropped or crashed.
  • Check for operation of all the lights. Turn on signals, test brake lights (both front and back), and any check all other electrical accessories while you’re at it.
  • Inspect the tires for any unusual wear patterns. A cupped (i.e., scallops along the edges) front tire indicates problems inside the front fork. Look for weather checking (little cracks) on the sidewalls and measure depth of the threads, which must be 1/16th or better to be safe. If the tires aren’t in good shape, add the cost of a new set of tires to the purchase price of the bike.

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3, when I’ll cover what to look for and be aware of when it comes to the feel and sound of the used motorcycle you’re thinking about buying.

By |2014-03-28T15:02:47+00:00March 11th, 2010|Categories: Tech Tips|Tags: , , , , , |10 Comments

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  1. Jerome Berrebi May 24, 2016 at 1:06 am

    Hi Scott, your blog is really nice and informative. Although people are often wary of buying pre-owned and used vehicles, if you take your time and know what you are doing, you can potentially find yourself one heck of a deal and save yourself a small fortune. Here’s a look at a few handy tips on buying a used Harley Davidson.

    1. Try to get to know the owner
    2. Ask them why they’re selling
    3. Ask to try before you buy

  2. April Cook April 22, 2016 at 9:51 am

    I’ve always wanted to get a motorcycle, and I think used might be more in my budget. Thanks for the reminder to check the operation of all the lights. It’s easy to forget about the light that you don’t easily see from where you are sitting. Thanks for the great information!

  3. […] Create and bring with you an inspection checklist covering all the tips outlined in Part I, Part II, and this part of the […]

  4. Motorcycle Technician School March 25, 2010 at 1:07 am

    Nice Post ! General Guidelines are good.

  5. wink winckler March 24, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I am puzzeled, If the front tire is cupped that usually indicates low inflation out of balance or oil in the forks that may need changing. I would ask if the local dealer serviced the bike and when.

    • Scott Holton April 2, 2010 at 9:35 am

      Wink, Cupping is not caused by underinflation. When underinflated you will see excessive wear to the outside edges. Technically that is not cupping, but it gets lumped in along with often. The fork oil is an internal fork issue as I describe.

  6. Jack Whitaker March 23, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    I look at the air filter, remove it and take a light and look down the intake as far as I can c & take my finger and rub the sides to see what comes off, which shouldnt be anythng. take the seat off and look at the mounting bolts and c is any dirt around hold down bolts & all around the bike 4 prior owner cleanness. check to c of scrapes on pegs,floorbrds, etc in addition to checking all the essentials.good info in article. load test battery.

    • Scott Holton April 2, 2010 at 9:39 am

      Jack, these are wonderful additions to our inspection. However, when I had to determine quickly the state of a trade in, generally I didn’t have enough time to remove items from the bike to check. While most sellers will do pretty much anything to sell their bike, some may object to pulling things apart. Never hurts to ask though!

  7. […] Part 1 of What to Look for when buying a Used Motorcycle, I wrote about the importance of conducting a thorough visual inspection of the bike you’re […]

  8. Cowboy Bob March 11, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Good stuff.

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