More Tips on Buying A Used Ride

Be sure to complete some thorough homework to get the best (and legal) deal

When you finally do find the used bike that you think is the one you have to do a couple final housekeeping items such as realizing if it is a good deal and not a scam, how you will pay for the bike, and finally, how you will transport it to its new home.

Tips on buying a used bike
So you found the one, but there are just a couple more steps you should take in order to get that expected bike home.Cruiser

Cool deal or hot bike? A four-year-old V-Max for $1500? If a deal sounds too good to be true, it might be. Fortunately, you don't have to be Columbo to spot some of the tell-tale signs that indicate the bike you're looking at may have been stolen.

The most obvious giveaway is a broken or missing ignition switch or, if the switch is intact, a screwdriver or something else in place of a key. Don’t be fooled by sob stories about how the switch is back ordered at the dealership. Tell the seller you’ll come back to look at the bike when it’s fixed. If the asking price suddenly drops, take a hike.

Missing or altered serial numbers on the engine or frame might also indicate a stolen bike. Even if they’ve been defaced by some legitimate accident, it’s more than likely you’ll be asked to explain how by some very humorless people when you go to register the bike in your name. Ditto for a missing license plate. And, of course, the numbers on the bike should match the numbers on the title.

The sale’s not over until the paperwork is in order. If the title isn’t there, you shouldn’t be either. If there is a title but it looks altered, get the name of the previous owner off of it and make a call before you close the deal. If the name and address of the owner on the title doesn’t match that of the seller, find out why. Ask to see the seller’s driver’s license or some other form of identification. If the seller balks, beat feet.

If the seller is pressuring you to close the deal quickly, for cash, put your hand over your wallet and listen carefully for sirens in the distance. Even if the bike is legal, odds are the seller is trying to pull a fast one on you. There are lots of right bikes out there. Don’t get hustled into buying the wrong one.

If the seller’s story keeps changing—first the bike belonged to his brother, then his cousin, then to some guy he met at a bar—or if he doesn’t know much about the bike’s history, despite claiming to have owned it for a year, ask yourself what the real story is. It might sound like pop psychology, but beware a seller who won’t make eye contact with you. Finally, never be afraid to walk away from a deal that doesn’t feel right.

The Price Is Right—Or Is It?
Determine whether a bike is worth its asking price the same way you would if you were buying a house—compare it to other similar bikes for sale in the same area. Let's say there are five Viragos for sale in the paper, all in similar condition. Four of them are selling for roughly the same price, but Virago number five is priced $1000 higher. You don't have to be Alan Greenspan to see it's overpriced for the market. There are instances, however, when the higher price is justified, such as a low-mileage bike in excellent condition, with complete service records and a box of spare parts.

The asking price notwithstanding, the farther away a bike is, the more it’ll cost you to get it home. Let’s say you see two bikes advertised, each the year and model you want, one in your hometown and the other three states away. The one in town is priced at $4000, and the other one is priced at $3000. That thousand-dollar difference looks tempting, until you factor in what it’ll cost you to get the cheaper bike home. Flying out and riding back, or having the bike shipped to you, can eat up any savings in a heartbeat.

Beware of using "blue books" to establish prices. These books use national averages to determine what a bike is worth without taking regional preferences into account. To use an extreme example, a motorcycle worth $6000 in sunny California, with its 12-month riding season, might not fetch as high a price in Minnesota, where everything except atomic motion comes to a standstill in the winter. A seller in Minnesota insisting on getting book value probably is going to wait a long time for his phone to ring.

tips on buying a used bike
Be sure to get photos of the bike and not just overall shots, you need detailed shots in order to see that everything is what you can handle.Cruiser

Cash or charge?
When you go to look at a used bike, you'd better know how you're planning on paying for it before you get there. Most sellers prefer cash, a cashier's check or some other form of certified funds. But if you don't have the purchase price stuffed in a mattress somewhere, you'll need to borrow it.

The most common strategy is to go to your bank and sit down with a loan officer. Some banks, however, won’t finance used motorcycles. In that case, you still have other options. You could qualify for an unsecured loan, in which your sterling credit history and signature will get you the money you need, but a higher interest rate applies because there isn’t any collateral. You can get a home equity loan and use the money for your bike instead of remodeling your bathroom, or borrow against your car—as long as it’s paid for and worth at least as much as the bike you want.

Finance companies are another alternative, but don’t fill out an application and apply for a loan at every one you visit. Each time a finance company makes an inquiry about your credit, it sets off an alarm: Why is this person asking about borrowing money at so many places? Why are so many companies suddenly checking this person’s credit rating? And, you can actually decrease your chances of getting approved. Only when you decide which company has the best deal, and you have a good chance of getting approved, should you fill out an application.

If you and your credit card company are on good terms, you can take out a cash advance for a fee based on a percentage of the amount. The advantage is you can pay off the loan on your own schedule—the minimum payment one month, a big chunk of the next or all at once from the proceeds of the sale of your previous bike. (But beware, many credit cards charge significantly higher interest rates for cash advances.) The danger is in not paying it off soon enough, and turning your bargain bike into an interest-generating nightmare.

Buying Long-Distance
The Internet has become a popular place to advertise motorcycles for sale, and an equally popular place for crooks to scam gullible buyers. Buying a bike that's too far away to see, is an exercise in trust, but it doesn't have to be a leap of faith. Savvy net buyers all say the same thing: Trust your instincts. If the deal doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Here are some tips to keep you from getting ripped off long-distance.

Get to know all you can about the seller. Ask for the seller’s complete name, address and phone number, and supply yours in return—many sellers are just as wary of being ripped off. Ask for the name of the shop that worked on the bike, and the name of the service manager or other shop personnel, to confirm the seller isn’t just a scam artist.

After making initial contact electronically, call the seller and ask the same questions you’d ask a seller in your hometown—ask a lot more, in fact, because the seller’s answers are all you have to go on. Be specific to avoid any misunderstandings. Ask for photos of the bike, and not just overall shots, but detail photos (either actual prints or digital ones sent via e-mail). If you have friends who live in the seller’s area, ask one of them to look at the bike.

Agree up front what to do if you or the seller wind up unhappy with the deal. If you’ve ever been to court to settle a dispute across state lines, odds are you’d rather bite off your own head than do it again. Agree on payment, whether by check or money order. (Do we need to say it? We will anyway. Never, never send cash.) Some Internet companies like ( can broker the deal for you for a percentage of the purchase price. Good ones will take care of title and registration transfers.

When the deal’s complete, except for picking up the bike, you can either go and bring it home, or have it shipped to you. Federal Motorcycle Transport (800/747-4100, is one of several companies that specialize in shipping bikes. A reasonable seller will split the cost of shipping. Even if you foot the bill yourself, it could be cheaper than taking time off to retrieve your new used bike.