How To Buy A Used Motorcycle From A Private Seller: A Pro’s Guide

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A motorcycle purchase can be a thrilling experience. A lot of people resort to buying a used motorcycle because they’re much cheaper than buying them brand new or buying one at a dealership. Every day, thousands of people purchase a used motorcycle.

It can be scary, especially if your goal is to purchase a motorcycle from an individual seller. There are many people out there who will try to scam you. I have sold over twenty motorcycles in the past few years, so I have a good understanding of how it works and what you should look for. This guide can help you to navigate your purchase and avoid any problems that you might encounter when buying a motorcycle used from a private seller.

Finding what you want

First and foremost, the number one thing you need to do when deciding to buy a used motorcycle from a private seller is knowing what kind of motorcycle you’d like to buy. Some people are very particular about the make or model they want, while others are more flexible.

Know the specific specs you want on the motorcycle you’re going to get; this will help you be prepared in knowing what to ask the seller so you know you’re getting exactly what you want.

Understanding Your Expertise

There are many reasons why someone might buy a bike. They want to ride their motorcycle at their leisure. Some are looking for a little bit of a project so they can fix it up how they’d like. Or, if you’re like me, you are maybe interested in buying a project motorcycle so you can flip it and pocket some money (see my article here about how to flip a motorcycle for a profit).

Whatever the case may be, you’ll need to understand your expertise in the matter. If you’re looking for something that’s road ready and doesn’t need work, you don’t need much of a mechanical background since you won’t be fixing anything.

However, if you’re looking for something that needs a little work, understanding your abilities to fix those issues is important. It’s incredibly frustrating getting a motorcycle thinking you know how to fix the problems only to find you’re way over your head. I’ve been there.

You can make a conscious effort of writing down a list or thoughts about the issues that you are willing to solve on your motorcycle. Do your research to find out how much it will cost to repair basic issues. It’s also a good idea to do some research about the specific motorcycle you want to get and understand common issues it may have.

An entire video series I created on motorcycle restoration has been released. Within the series are tips and tricks you won’t find anywhere else online as well as in-depth videos of hard to tackle components such as motorcycle body work, carb rebuilds, and electrical. Click here for more information if you’re interested in restoring or building your dream motorcycle!

You can check out several platforms

Once you’ve decided what kind of motorcycle you’d like to get, check several platforms for motorcycles that are for sale. You can do this online, in paper ads, or by simply looking for motorcycles. “for sale” Signs that appear on roads that you use every day.

One platform might not have the listings you are looking for, while another may have plenty of options. As society becomes more connected to the internet, online platforms are increasingly popular.

Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and Cycletrader are some of my favourite places to search for motorcycles online. Each of these platforms has allowed me to purchase motorcycles and it was great. Be sure to search for motorcycles in your area when you use Ebay. It is a bad idea to buy a motorcycle uninspected. Don’t forget to look at local online platforms that are popular in your area.

Find out how much the motorcycle is worth

Knowing the value of the motorcycle you are looking to buy is an important aspect of purchasing a used motorcycle from someone else. If you’re planning on paying cash, there’s nothing stopping you from overpaying the seller except your own knowledge.

A reliable resource I like to use any time I’m about to buy a used motorcycle is doing a quick search on NADA Guides. This platform considers the make, model, and year of the specific motorcycles you’re looking into getting as well as the area you’re looking to buy (which actually does have a huge impact on the price). Usually, the prices they give are fairly accurate.

Another way to find out how much you should spend on a used motorcycle is via this link Compare prices from other sellers of the same motorcycle. This can usually indicate the average price they’re selling at so you can know if you’re looking into one that’s priced too high.

These are just a few of the exceptions that you should take into consideration. NADA Guides are great to abide by, but there are occasional characteristics of motorcycles that slip through the cracks when this platform calculates it’s worth. Some motorcycles may be more valuable because they have unique features or customizations that make them more valuable.

I had, for example, a 1969 Triumph TR25W Trophy. It was restored to its original glory. The NADA Guides states that it’s worth $3,870 in excellent condition. These motorcycles are very rare as only a handful were made. Because of its rarity, I was able to sell it quickly for $5,000 within a matter of days.

How You’re Going To Pay

Now is the time to take a few minutes to consider how you’re planning on paying for your used motorcycle. Cash is the best way to buy one. It makes the transaction much simpler and runs more smoothly.

However, it’s still completely possible to purchase a used motorcycle from a private seller using a loan. You can enjoy many perks by doing this.

If you’re planning on using a loan, you’ll first need to inform your bank that you intend to buy a motorcycle so you can get preapproved first. This will save you time and money. You’ll need to tell the bank the type of motorcycle you’re thinking about getting so they can give you specific things to look for while you’re out looking (mileage limits, year, etc.).

Once you find the motorcycle you want to buy, you’ll need to inform the seller you’re using a loan and have them meet you at your bank to complete the transaction. You’ll fill out some paperwork and the seller will hand the title over to the bank (or if they also had a lien on it, their bank will transfer the title over to your bank). After all paperwork has been completed, the bank will give the check directly to the seller. The motorcycle is now yours.

Additional perks include the bank conducting additional VIN checks when you apply for a loan to purchase a motorcycle. If the seller does anything illegal, the bank will likely arrest him. They do their homework because they don’t want to invest in something that’s going to cause them trouble.

Contacting the seller

Once you’ve found a used motorcycle you’re interested in enough to go and look at it, you’ll need to contact the seller to schedule a time to see it. While this is an obvious step in your process, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind when making an appointment.

When you schedule a time to see the motorcycle, make sure you aren’t confined to a small window of time to see it (meaning don’t go during your lunch break). You’ll want to give yourself as much time as you need to look at the motorcycle so you don’t feel pressured to make a quick decision because of a time crunch.

If possible, meet the seller at their home when you schedule an appointment. Some sellers are wary about giving out their address to strangers which is okay, but if they’re willing to meet at their place then take advantage of that. This will reduce the likelihood that the seller is trying to con you.

Before you leave, ask the seller not to start the bike or heat it up. You’ll want to see and test the motorcycle when it’s cold and see how it acts when you try to start it. Feeling the exhaust pipes is a good way to check if it was started by the seller before you bought it.

If it clearly wasn’t in the sun previously and the pipes are warm or hot, ask the seller if they started the bike. It’s a possible red flag if they deny starting it; they may have started it to hide some mechanical issue they didn’t want you to see.

Be courteous with your seller when setting up an appointment. They have a schedule, too, so you’ll need to work around free time that you both have. If they are texting or emailing you, be prompt to respond.

What to look for when riding a motorcycle

Now that you’ve contacted the seller and scheduled a time to actually see the used motorcycle you’re interested in buying, be ready to look at some specific things on the motorcycle itself. Again, it’s all up to you what you’re willing to deal with when it comes to the mechanical issues on the motorcycle. There’s no fine line between whether or not it’s a good buy, it all depends on you and your situation.

Before starting the motorcycle, you’ll need to look at several things. First, look below the motorcycle. Is there any evidence of the motorcycle’s leaking? Also ask the seller where they normally store the motorcycle and request to see where that’s at; this way you’ll be able to see any leaks on the ground in that location.

Also, look out for any signs that the motorcycle has been tipped. These signs include dented or scratched side panels, dented tanks, bent foot pegs and crankcase damage.

A motorcycle getting tipped over doesn’t necessarily mean you should automatically reject it. Most motorcycles used at one time or another will have been tipped. It’s important you know what damage has been done from the tip and the severity of it. If there are several of these damages that are severe, it might indicate a bad accident which might be something you’d want to stay away from.

Next, you’ll want to roll the motorcycle and see how it reacts. While it’s still turned off, put the motorcycle in neutral and roll it back and forth. If the motorcycle rolls easily, it is a good sign. You can click down to first; if the clutch does not pull, it is likely that there is a problem with your clutch or transmission.

Also inspect the tires while you’re rolling it. Are they moving straight or are there wobbles? A wobble could signify a hard collision. Pay attention to the condition of the tires and look out for cracks or bald spots.

Before you take the bike for a ride, make sure to inspect it thoroughly before you start it. It’s important to note how easy it is to get it started. When it does start, take note of how it idles and whether or not it’s revving high or sputtering.

Pay attention to engine noise and any other sounds it might be making If you hear a knocking sound, it could indicate serious issues. You should look out for any signs such as smoking, leaking, and backfiring. These are all signs that your engine or carburetor may have problems.

Next, you’ll want to take the motorcycle for a ride. You might be hesitant to let strangers ride your motorcycle. But at the same time, you need to know what you’re getting yourself into and taking it for a ride can really help you understand how the bike functions.

You can negotiate with the seller to make them more comfortable letting you ride the car. Perhaps they will take a photo of your license and allow you to ride with them in their vehicle.

If the seller absolutely refuses to let you ride the motorcycle for no apparent reason, you may want to look elsewhere for your used motorcycle (unless you’re buying a project bike that isn’t ride-able). The seller could be hiding something they don’t want you to see.

Once you’re out on your ride, pay attention to the suspension on the motorcycle. Do you find it rides smoothly on bumps? Or is it stiff and uncomfortable when riding? Make sure the brakes are working properly. If the motorcycle wobbles, or the alignment is incorrect (the front tires should be at 90 degrees relative to handlebars), you need to inspect the brakes. Listen to the engine and exhaust for any unusual sounds, and then notice how smoothly the acceleration works.

This checklist can make it difficult to remember all the details when you are buying a motorcycle used from a private seller. My PDF checklist can be downloaded and printed here. This makes the process easier.

Questions to Ask the Seller

There are a list of questions you should ask the seller any time you’re looking into buying their motorcycle. These questions can help you get additional answers outside of the original question you’re actually asking.

First, I like to ask the seller how long they’ve had the motorcycle. There’s really no specific time that I look for, but however long they’ve had it can indicate how much they actually know about the motorcycle.

I like to also ask about the last time it had been registered. This may indicate possible legal issues that the owner may have had to deal with, as well as how frequently the motorcycle has been used.

It’s a good idea to ask the seller of any problems with the motorcycle that they’re aware of. No motorcycle is perfect, so it’s a good sign if the seller is honest and tells you of some problems it does have. You’ll also want to ask why the seller is selling the motorcycle in the first place.

Asking the seller about any maintenance or fixes they’ve done can indicate how well the motorcycle has been taken care of. Requesting maintenance records isn’t unheard of if you’d like to request those. Be wary if the owner says they haven’t had to fix a single thing – that could mean something is about to break and you’ll have to fix it when you buy it.

Finally, I always ask the seller if they have the title to my motorcycle. Very rarely do I buy a motorcycle without a title (and that’s only done when I buy a barn find). As a rule of thumb, don’t ever buy a motorcycle if the owner does not have the title (the exception is if their bank has it).

It is possible to generate a new title if you buy the motorcycle without it’s original title, but that requires a lot of paperwork and you could become a victim of buying either a stolen motorcycle or a motorcycle that still has the lien on it. You can read my other article for more information about purchasing a motorcycle without a title.

A summary of the questions you should ask the seller

  • How many years have you owned the motorcycle?
  • What was the last time it was recorded?
  • Are there any mechanical issues you’re aware of?
  • Why is this motorcycle being sold?
  • How often have you performed maintenance? What fixes have you made?
  • Do you hold the title?

Here are some things to watch out for

One of the greatest fears about buying a used bike from a private seller, is being scammed. You could end up with a stolen or lemon motorcycle, or a motorcycle still having a lien. Getting caught in these situations are emotionally and financially draining so it’s no wonder people try to avoid it.

These situations can be avoided by being aware of a few key points. I’ve used the following guidelines in many of my vehicle transactions.

Don’t take a promise from the seller stating they have the title and they’ll mail it to you later. It will never happen and you’ll never hear from the seller again. You should only give the cash to the seller if they immediately give you title. You should not accept a lower offer than the owner.

Make sure that the VIN printed on the title matches the VIN displayed on the motorcycle. VIN numbers are located at or near the top of most motorcycles. A VIN check can be done by your local DMV for a nominal fee. A simple phone call will get you an insurance company to perform a basic VIN search. These resources can tell you whether or not the motorcycle is stolen and/or if there’s still a lien on it.

It is possible that the price for the motorcycle is too expensive. If the seller is selling the motorcycle at a ridiculously low price, there’s probably a hidden reason why so proceed with caution.

Pay attention to the general attitude of the seller. Is their knowledge of the motorcycle minimal? Are they anxious or jittery when you interact with them? In situations like these, trust your gut. Click here to read my article on how to tell if the seller has stolen a motorcycle.

You can negotiate the price

Don’t be afraid to negotiate on the price. Unless the seller’s ad said “firm on price,” Negotiation is an important part of the process. It is what most sellers want. First, don’t negotiate too low or you might offend the seller. If you low ball them too much the seller may think you’re not worth interacting with anymore.

With that being said, it’s okay to still try to talk down the seller a little bit. For example, if you’re looking at a motorcycle for sale and the price posted is $5,700 and you’re hoping to get the seller to come down $200, you can try negotiating to $5,300. The seller will most likely counter your offer somewhere in between, leaving you with the price you want.

Paperwork You’ll Need

Buying a used motorcycle from a private seller doesn’t go without needing to fill out certain paperwork. It will be much easier to register and complete the transaction if you know what paperwork you will need.

As we’ve already discussed, you’ll need to obtain the title from either the seller or from their bank. If you’re using a loan for the purchase of the motorcycle, the bank will assist with obtaining the loan.

Get copies of maintenance records. This will allow you to track when you have to do maintenance next.

Don’t forget to have you and the seller fill out and sign a bill of sale. This document is required when you register your motorcycle. It is legal proof that the motorcycle is owned by the previous owner.

The seller and you should both be listed on the bill of sale. It should also include your name, address and contact information. You can download and print a free motorcycle bill of sale by clicking here

How to Get It Home

There’s actually a lot you’ll need to think about once you complete the transaction of buying a used motorcycle. Outside of figuring out how to get it to your place, there’s a few other things to consider.

First and foremost you should never ride a motorcycle home after buying it if you don’t have your motorcycle license. Although it is legal to purchase a motorcycle, riding one home is illegal. If you get pulled over without a license, even if it’s just a small distance, you could be faced with a large fine and even get your motorcycle confiscated.

If you don’t have a license (or a permit to ride a motorcycle), bring a friend or family member you trust who does have a motorcycle license and have them ride it home while you follow them. If that option isn’t available, you’ll need to trailer it home somehow. It doesn’t hurt to ask if the seller would be willing to ride it to your place if you pay them for their time.

Before you take the motorcycle out of your driveway, it is important to immediately contact your auto insurance company and get your motorcycle insure. The bill of sale proves that the motorcycle is yours. You are now liable for any damages or accidents that occur to it.

It would be terrible if you were to cause an accident on the way back.

Registering Your Motorcycle

Each state may have its own rules and regulations, but they all must follow the basic guidelines. It is very similar to registering your car.

When registering your purchased motorcycle, you’ll need to go to your local DMV with the correct paperwork. You’ll need the title of the motorcycle, the bill of sale, your motorcycle license, and proof of insurance. If you have a lien on your title the DMV will contact you with additional paperwork. Usually provided by them.

You’ll need to bring the motorcycle with you and have it parked in the DMV parking lot. A DMV worker will come out to the motorcycle with you and do a VIN inspection on it to ensure it isn’t stolen or has a lien on it. They must be able to see it.

After providing the right paperwork, signing papers, and paying the fees, the DMV will provide you with your new plates and registration that you should immediately put on your motorcycle if you’re able.

Additional Random Tips

There are just a few more additional tips I’d like to offer that could help your experience when buying a used motorcycle from a private seller. Buying a motorcycle can be very exciting, but it’s important to keep your composure while actually looking at a motorcycle you’re interested in.

Showing extreme excitement in a situation like this could alert the seller that they don’t need to bring down the price much because you really want the motorcycle. Be pleasant during the interaction, but don’t show the seller that you’re a pushover; keep your emotions in check.

Take a second person with you any time you go and look at a motorcycle you’re interested in buying. It will be useful to get a second opinion and to see if there are any potential problems. This may also show the seller that you have twice the eyes on the bike, which could make them less likely try to take advantage of you.

If the situation allows, don’t buy the motorcycle the first time you look at it. Again, buying a motorcycle can be an emotional thing so it’s always a good idea to sleep on the idea and let yourself mull it over before handing over the cash. It’s okay to tell the seller you’re looking at a few other motorcycles and you’d like to think about it before buying. Obviously don’t take too long, but give yourself time to make a wise decision.

Never buy a motorcycle without first inspecting it. Your offer should be unique After Seeing the motorcycle in person. Don’t offer a final price before setting eyes on the bike because it may not turn out to be what you thought.

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