What to Look For When Buying a Used Motorcycle?

buying used motorcycle

Buying a second-hand or used bike can be an overwhelming experience for first-time buyers if they do not know what exactly to look for.

There are many questions that bug buyers of second-hand bikes, for example, what parts of the bike do I check, what questions shall I ask, and how do I know for sure that I am not spending my bucks to buy a cheap lemon instead of a working machine? And if you’re wondering what to look for when buying a used motorcycle? No worries! Here’s our take to make things simpler for you.

We are here to give answers to each and every question of yours. In this detailed guide, you will get to know everything that you need to see and ask for before purchasing a used motorcycle.

Things to Look For When Buying a Used Motorcycle

Some of the key components to check before purchasing a used motorcycle include vehicle history report, exhaust system, private seller registration authenticity, service history, front and rear tire, foot pegs, ownership history, engine block, exhaust pipes, and clutch levers along with a brief comparison of uneven wear from the motorcycle checklist from private sellers.

  1. Overall Appearance
  2. Check the VIN
  3. Ask for a Test Drive
  4. Exhaust Pipe
  5. Motorcycle Frame
  6. Clutch
  7. Brakes
  8. Suspension
  9. Sprocket & Chain
  10. Tires & Tubes
  11. Wheels & Spokes
  12. Fuel Tank
  13. Coolant
  14. Oil
  15. Electricals
  16. Title/Registration
  17. Cold Start Capabilities
  18. Overall Safety

Assess the Overall Appearance

The first thing that you need to check is whether the bike looks new or has been used for years because it will give you an idea about the price.

If the motorcycle looks like it’s never been used before, then you can bargain on the price, but if there are many scratches here and there (especially around the gas tank), then it means that somebody else has already ridden this motorcycle and you might not get a good deal. It can also mean that the bike has a weak battery. Check for a broken or cracked sight glass.

Examine the pitted fork tube for leaky for seals. You may need to replace the fork tubes in case they are faulty.

Next, check how symmetrical all the body parts look- does everything seem to be in place? Or do some parts look different compared to others? If yes, then make sure to ask for a fair price.

Check the VIN Number

Also known as Vehicle Identification Number, the VIN is a 17-digit number that contains important information about the motorcycle.

Here are 5 things to check in your used motorcycle’s VIN:

1) How many owners has the bike had? Is it being sold by an original owner or several owners have bought and resold this motorcycle? The more numbers in the total owners’ field, a clear and fair deal you can get for this used bike.

2) Make sure to look at how many miles have been clocked up on this used machine because bikes with high mileage tend to develop problems sooner than those with low mileage. This will allow you to make out whether or not this ride will last long.

3) As mentioned earlier, check the price of the motorcycle because it will help you determine whether or not you are spending your bucks on a lemon. A high-priced used motorcycle is more likely to be in steady and good shape than one that’s being sold at a low price.

4) Check how many times this second-hand ride has been dropped because motorcycles that have fallen down several times tend to develop problems sooner than those that have only fallen once or twice. Also, make sure to ask for reasonable rates if it has faced multiple falls.

5) Look at what kind of material was used in the making of this new bike because there are different materials for different models and brands. If you know which brand uses which material, then you can choose the best ride for you.

Ask for a Test Ride

Before buying a motorcycle, ask for a casual ride because it will help you find out if certain parts of the bike (like throttle or brakes) work well or not.

If they do not, make sure to bargain on the price because poor quality parts mean cheaper prices.

Examine the Exhaust Pipe

A loud exhaust pipe means that there has been excessive use of the engine and its components which might lead to your pocket getting lighter after every few weeks of driving this used ride- so be cautious!

Ask for low rates if it’s too noisy. You should also take into account that some motorcycles have more powerful engines than others and may therefore tend to be a bit louder.

Reassess the Motorcycle Frame

Make sure that the top, bottom, and center of the used motorcycle’s frame are absolutely solid because if it’s not, then it may lead to problems in the future- like throwing off the alignment of wheels. The steering head is a crucial component that must be checked for when buying a used motorcycle.

If any parts look wobbly or rickety, get a correct resale value, or else you might regret your decision later on.

Cross-Check the Clutch

The clutch should not be too tight or too loose but right in between because there are certain risks involved when shifting gears from neutral to first gear if it’s too tight.

Otherwise, the motorcycle will jerk when shifting to higher speeds in case it’s too loose for its own good. Ask for a reduced cost for the used motorcycle if there are problems in this area.

Lastly, check up on the clutch fluid because if it’s low or empty, then you might have to spend money on repairs in that aspect later on.

Identify for Spongy Brakes

Check how well all three brakes work- the front brake, the rear brake, and the handbrake- because they should all be in good condition for a safe ride.

If one is not working properly or stops working completely during your test drive, then bargain for a fair rate because it may need costly repairs.  You should also ask for a low final price if there are problems with the entire system rather than just one part of it.

If any of the above-mentioned procedures seem daunting to you, then hire an experienced motorcycle mechanic who can help you do even complex inspections.

Brake fluid should be light amber in color and free of bubbles, water, and dirt because if the brake fluid is low or dirty, then it may lead to problems while braking.

Make sure to ask for a fair low rate if you notice these indicators because that means your ride needs repairs and aftermarket parts.

Get a Suspension Check

The suspension should not be too hard or too soft instead, it should be of the perfect balance of the two because that allows for a comfortable drive whether you are on smooth roads or bumpy ones.

If there are problems in this area, then ask for a decreased rate because repairs may need to be done sooner than expected.  

Sprocket & Chain Assessment

The bike’s sprocket should be sturdy and not too worn because if there are problems with the chain or sprocket, then it may lead to excessive use of the engine which might prove costly in the future.

You can also take into account that motorcycle chains need lubrication once in a while- so check up on whether the chain has been lubricated recently. If it hasn’t, make sure to ask for a reduced rate because repairs are needed.

Evaluate the Tires & Tubes

Old tires will tell you how long ago they were replaced by looking at tread depth. The deeper the tread lines are, the older the tire is which leads to poorer performance on wet roads as well as an increased risk of getting into accidents at high speeds.

Make sure to reduce the costs if there are cracks, bulges, or any other indicator because that will need immediate replacement.

Wheels & Spokes

The wheels should not be too wobbly or have loose spokes because that might cause problems while riding and also during the inspection process itself.  

On the other hand, if they are too tight then it might lead to excessive stress on the motorcycle. Also, check if the used motorcycle has foot pegs or not in case if it is your first bike.

Take a lower pri if you find anything out of the ordinary in this area and don’t forget to bargain for a steeper discount for repairs that need to be made!  

Test the Fuel Tank

Make sure the tank is not leaking any fluids because if it does, then you will have to spend money on repairs later on.

Also, ask for a steeper discount if the fuel lines are too worn or cracked because that might lead to problems with starting up your bike after it has been turned off.

Examine the Coolant

The coolant should be transparent and pale yellow in color because if it is murky or dark, then that might mean serious damage has been done to the radiator.

You can also ask for a steeper discount if you notice any bubbles in the radiator fluid- especially those caused by air pockets which may lead to engine overheating.

Check for the Oil

The oil should be dark in color and there should not be any leaks or signs of leakage because if it is low or dirty, then you might need further repairs.

You can also ask for a steeper discount if the oil has been changed recently because that means it will need to be done again soon which will cost you money.

Cross-Examine the Electricals

Make sure all the electrical parts are stable because if there is a problem with any one of them, then you might need repairs soon.

You can also check if the bike’s battery terminals are corroded and ask for a steeper discount if they are.  This means they have been exposed to water or moisture which is harmful to their health.

Legal Exchange of Title/Registration

The bike’s title or registration should be readily available and in your name, if you are buying it in person.

If the seller cannot provide either of these, then you should ask for a steeper discount because that might mean they do not own the bike which entitles you to refuse the purchase.

Get all the details of the buying process from the insurance company and make sure to ask for retail pricing guides. Additionally, do not forget to ask for the owner’s manual that most dealerships miss out on. A hot engine is a sure sign of excessive wear for the bike.

Make sure to take into consideration all of these things before deciding whether or not you want to buy that specific motorcycle- especially if there is no price negotiation involved with your purchase!  

Cold Start Capabilities

Check if the engine turns over quickly and cleanly- that will tell you what to expect when it comes to starting up your new bike.

If the engine barely turns over, then it might mean there are problems with the battery or starter motor which should be addressed before you decide whether to purchase the used motorcycle or not.

You will be surprised to know that so many problems with a bike could be hidden perfectly with a hot running bike.

As a pro tip, ask the owner of the bike to leave the machine out in the cold before you go for inspection. All start problems will come to the forefront if the bike is cold. So, in that case, either you can drop the decision of purchasing the bike or can ask for a big discount.

Consider Overall Safety

Always make sure to set a lower price if the bike is in overall poor condition or there are signs of rust, corrosion, and other damage which may be dangerous for riding.

It will always be preferable if you can find a used motorcycle in good overall condition because they might cost you more in the long run especially when it comes to expensive repairs that will need to be made.

The best way to avoid that is by making sure your bike is in a safe condition before purchasing it- whether new or used!


In conclusion, always remember that you should be ready to face any problems with a used motorcycle depending on its overall condition and whether the seller is willing to negotiate the price for them.

Check all the specifications as mentioned in this detailed guide before putting your hard-earned money on the line.

Do not spare even a few dollars extra than the fair market price for a used motorcycle. Test ride to certify before purchase and explore the used motorcycle market to get an accurate motorcycle checklist from private sellers. Motorcycle values depreciate with time and a new motorcycle may cost you a lot of money. Ask for an ownership history search or maintenance history of the bike for unever wear and tear from your private sellers.

Older model bike require routine maintenance to operate smoothly. Contact a private seller to make the most of your first motorcycle riding experience with old biks. If any confusion arises, take an experienced mechanic with you or have someone by your side who has an ample amount of experience in the field of motorcycles.

Happy First Buying!

About The Author

daniel and sarah on motorcycle

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