What To Look For When Buying A Used Motorcycle

What To Look For When Buying A Used Motorcycle

Buying a used motorcycle, especially if it is your first motorcycle, can be a very intimidating task. In this article “What to look for when buying a used motorcycle” we provide you with a list of some of the things that you should be looking for when you go to inspect a used motorcycle that you are interested in purchasing.

Related articles (links will open in a new window):

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Pre-Work: Before you go to look at the used motorcycle

Research – Research the model online and determine if there are any known faults or issues with the particular model. This will help firstly determine if maybe you should start looking at your other options (if they are known to have many faults) and secondly it will provide you with additional items to add to your checklist. This research should also provide you with a good indication of the expected miles on these models, this will help you identify the motorcycles with both unusually low and high mileage.

Find a mechanic friend or at least an experienced rider – If you don’t know any mechanics then you can still look one up in your local directory or ask your local bike shop who they recommend. Many motorcycle mechanics will do checks for a fixed fee. It may be best to do this after you have already inspected the bike yourself and determined that it is something that you are interested in, as this way around will save you money, however you do of course risk the chance of someone else purchasing the motorcycle before you. If you don’t want to pay for a mechanic to inspect the motorbike then at least take along a friend who has motorcycle riding experience so that they can offer their opinion.

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At the inspection – What to look for

Pen – Take along a pen and paper for writing notes. Remember to note down the engine and registration numbers for checks that we describe later in this article.

Service history / paperwork / manual / spare keys – Ask the owner if they have all of these. After you perform your other checks and are happy with the bike you should ask to have a look at these.

Ask the owner about the history and problems – Get a feel for if they are telling you the truth. They may even be very honest and tell you things that you would not have picked up by yourself.

Check if the motorcycle has been dropped – You are looking for telltale signs of the motorcycle being dropped. There will usually be scratches on the muffler, bar ends, levers and fairings. Just because a motorcycle has been dropped does not mean that it isn’t still a good buy, lots of bikes have been dropped, probably a lot more than your realize. It just means that you will need to take this fact into consideration when you look to buy. Remember that all scratches can be repaired, both by yourself and maybe also already by the existing owner.

Check the oil – The oil should be light in color. The level of oil should not be below the minimum thresholds.

Tires – Check for depth and condition. Also check to see how much of the tire is worn. If only the centre of the tire is worn then it has been used by either a rider who is not testing the limits, or someone who rides on the highway a lot. Balling on the outside edges of the tires may indicate that the bike has been ridden to the limit.

Brake pads – Check the amount of meat that is left on the pad.

Forks – Look for oil leaks.

Indicators/lights/horn – Check that they are all working.

Oil leaks around the engine casing – Small amounts of oil can be normal, especially on particular bikes. Look for any excessive oil or oil stains on the ground where the motorcycle is usually stored.

Start it up – Does the motorcycle engine sound normal? Are there any strange knocks? Is there an excessive amount of smoke coming from the exhaust? Give the throttle a rev and continue listening for strange sounds.

Test ride – If you are happy with the condition of the used motorcycle so far then ask the owner if you can take the motorcycle for a test ride. Personally I would not purchase any motorcycle that I have not taken on a test ride. Try all of the gears, multiple times. Ensure that the front and rear brakes both work without any problems and keep in mind whether or not the steering feels correct. Make sure that all of the instrumentation is working as expected. Remember that you do not own this used motorcycle, so while it is necessary to test all functions and not just go to the end of the street and then ride back, you should not be trying to get a knee down or pop any wheelies!

What to look for when buying a used motorcycle sometimes needs to involve more than one person, so have a friend watch you ride off and note whether or not there is excessive smoke coming from the exhaust. Small amounts of white smoke may be ok, but large amounts of white smoke or blue smoke indicates possible problems.

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Badly worn tires


After the inspection – Checks

Before handing over any money for your potential new motorcycle you will need to ensure that the motorcycle has a clear title. Depending on your location there are different government bodies who can perform these checks for you, usually either free or for a small charge. Many of these can now be done online.

If a motorcycle has money owing, is stolen or was previously written-off, you should leave the current owner to sort this out before you perform the transaction. Perform another title check which should come up clear before you hand over any money. If you don’t do this then you risk the possibility of the motorcycle being seized, or an insurance company coming after you.

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Buyers Hint: Give this one a miss.


Handing over the money

When it comes time to hand over the money ask the current owner to provide a receipt, or you could write up a receipt at home and then ask the owner to sign. You should have two copies of this. The receipt should state the names, license numbers and addresses of both the existing owner and yourself, bike model and rego, the amount which has been paid as well as today’s date. Yourself and the existing owner should also sign each of these copies.

The existing owner will need to provide you with the spare key, registration documentation and hopefully also any previous service history. If they have agreed to provide any other items as part of the purchase price such as accessories or spare parts then remember to collect these too before leaving with the motorcycle.



We have now taken you through everything you need to know for “What to look for when buying a used motorcycle”. You should now have the knowledge of what you need to do before the inspection, at the inspection, after the inspection and also at the time when you need to hand over the money to the existing owner. We hope that this article helps you to find your first motorcycle.


Do you have any killer tips that you would like to share or has this article helped you? Tell us in the comments section below.


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