A Checklist For Buying A Used Motorcycle

Buying a used motorcycle is not a complicated task. If you have some common sense and are willing to follow some guidelines, almost anybody should be able to negotiate a satisfactory sale.  Unfortunately, common sense can’t be taught in guideline article, but this article will provide you with information on items to check to avoid making a bad purchase. Negotiating skills are something you need to learn elsewhere.

  1.  Do Your Research

Unless this is your first motorcycle, you may have some idea of what you are looking for in your purchase. Taking this into account, the first logical step is to learn as much as possible beforehand – so, do your research! The majority of bikes have certain idiosyncrasies that might be misinterpreted as problems. For instance, BMWs tend to smoke on start-up if they are left parked on a kickstand. This could be considered a fault in the engine; however, it is a harmless side effect without any damage to the engine at all.

It is also recommended that you learn certain basic mechanical skills. You do not need to be highly experienced to purchase a used motorcycle, but you should know what a steering-head bearing is and if it needs attention. Articles to teach you about these items and terminology can be found online or at the DIY section of the local library.  

  1.  The Practical Side

Rather than go on and on using technical terminology, it is easier to provide a checklist to help when buying a used motorcycle. The information below is a practical guide for items you should review when faced with the motorcycle, and once you have gone through the list you should have an idea of what shape the bike is in.


  • The Body Work


The body work involves different areas including the fuel tank, the fenders and side covers, the seat, the windshield, the saddlebags, and the paintwork.

Examine the fuel tank’s general condition to determine if it is in good operating order. The fenders and side covers should not have any dents, scratches, or broken side-cover tabs. Look for tears or collapsed foam when examining the seat, and the windshield should be correctly mounted without cracks. The saddlebags must be checked for any signs of damage.  A soft saddlebag must be checked for abrasions or tears, particularly on the wheel side panels. Finally, the paintwork needs to be in a good condition and repaired areas must be considered. The chrome should be rust-free and shiny.


  • The Engine, Transmission And Clutch


When reviewing the engine, you need to examine the oil, starting and running of the motorbike, idling, smoke emissions and noise.

Oil in the engine should be at a correct level using relatively clean oil. Of course, cleanliness is a subjective matter; if there is doubt; find out when the oil was last changed.  Oil leaks should not exist! The majority of sellers will warm an engine before you arrive, so the starting and running of the engine could be deceiving; however, if there is any heavy smoke emitted from the engine, then you should consider leaving. A warm engine should run smoothly and idle at a reasonable speed. It should also respond well to the throttle, but if it sputters then something may be wrong with the engine.  

Noise is a major issue to consider when purchasing a used motorcycle. Decent engines should a quiet or, at least, fairly quiet; however there are engines that are louder by default. Rattles, rumbles and knocks are indicative of potential damage to the engine, which could result in accidents. If there is a noise, it is best to avoid the motorbike than have to deal with disasters in the future.

The transmission is best checked when performing a road test – something that is not always possible. Typically, the transmission will engage smoothing and it must never jump out of gear.  If you are not able to test the motorcycle, then you should ask the owner to run it through the gears. In this instance, you must listen for any missed shifts as this can indicate problems with engagement.

Clutches need to be correctly adjusted to ensure it does not slip or drag. As with the transmission, the clutch is best tested during a road test. The exhaust is checked as part of the clutch and you should always look for physical damage on the exterior, particularly rust bubbles.  The system should not have any broken hardware and must not leak.


  • Handlebars, Controls And Switches


When viewing the handlebars, you need to ensure that the bars are straight and the grips are in good condition. Both mirrors need to be in place and secured correctly.  

As part of the controls check, you should examine levers making sure they are correctly adjusted and straight. Also consider checking the ends of the levers for scratches – this could be a sign that the bike was in an accident or dropped. Switches must work correctly and not present any sparks when testing. Furthermore, the cables should operate freely without any tears in the covers.


  • The Cooling System


If applicable, you should check the cooling system to ensure it is in good working order.  It should not have any leaks, the coolant level should be between the maximum and minimum marks, and the temperature gauge should read ‘normal’ when the engine is warm. Cooling fans will differ according to the bike; therefore, it is necessary to read the owner’s manual to determine effective operation. Of course, it is important that the coolant fan turns on whenever the temperature gauge approaches the ‘red zone’ indicating a hot engine.

  • Tires And Wheels

Contrary to popular belief, you must not merely kick the tires to check their condition.  A used motorcycle should have tires with plenty of tread and no signs of dry rot. The wheels should not have any dents or wobbles. The spokes should be straight and snug, any bent spokes will need to be replaced.  

As can be seen, there are various elements to consider when buying a used motorcycle. By using this checklist you will be able to find the best second-hand motorcycle for your needs.

Author: Brandon Park