Your Guide To Buying a Used Motorcycle



What to check for when buying a used motorbike or scooter

It is essential to know what to check for when buying a second hand motorbike or scooter.

Unfortunately, there are many scam artists out there who are looking to take advantage of inexperienced buyers. 

Benefits to buying a used motorbike

The number one benefit of buying a second hand motorbike is simple – the price. The original owner takes all the depreciation costs while you pick up a fantastic low mileage bargain.

For a new rider, a cheaper motorbike will also cost less to insure.

Of course, you won’t get any warranty or guarantee when buying a used motorcycle, so doing your homework is essential. 

By following this guide you will be armed with all the information you need to avoid that lemon and find a bargain.

Research prices

First of all do your research. Find out the going rate for the type of bike you want. Check out the on-line classifieds and used bike dealers.

First impressions

When you first see the bike do you see a machine that looks like it’s been cared for or do you see a wreck? If it’s the first one then go on to the next stage but if not then it’s probably best to RUN away.

Examine the bike

First look for clues that the bike has been involved in an accident e.g. scrapes on the exhaust or the ends of the handlebars or foot pedals. If you do see scrapes, ask about them. If you feel uneasy about the answer then don’t buy it.

Ask the seller to start the bike for you. (If he doesn’t know how, be VERY suspicious). When the engine is ticking over listen for 2 particular sounds:

  • motorcycle engineA low frequency knocking sound coming from the bottom part of the engine (the sump). If you hear it, it means the big end has gone and you’ll need a complete engine rebuild. Don’t buy it.
  • A high frequency tapping sound from the top part of the engine (the cylinder head). This could mean the tappets are worn and need to be replaced or they could just need adjusting. If they need replacing it’s expensive.
  • If you don’t hear either of these 2 sounds, hold a gloved hand lightly over the end of the exhaust for about 5 seconds. If you still don’t hear them then so far so good.
  • If there is severe dark smoking from the exhaust it means the piston rings are going and need replacing. Again, an expensive job.
  • If you see oil coming from the cylinder head that’s bad news.
  • motorbike handlebarsBounce the front of the bike up and down and then look for oil rings around the shiny parts of the forks. If oil rings are there it means that the fork seals have gone and need replacing. It’s not expensive for parts but it is for labour unless you can do it yourself. Now do the same with the back of the bike.
  • Look also on the forks for pitted rust holes. If there are some then you’ll be forever replacing the fork seals.
  • Now move the bike forwards and apply the front brake. Move forwards again and apply the rear brake. If you hear a grinding noise it means that either the drum needs cleaning or new shoes are needed.
  • motorbike chainCheck for slackness in the chain. There should be about an inch and a half of slack. If it’s any slacker make sure the digits on the adjustment nuts are not on max as this could mean that a new chain and sprockets are needed.
  • Turn the handlebars right and left. They should be smooth with no cracking, crunching or grinding noises. If you do hear any of those noises it could mean the bearings have gone.
  • Look at the tyres. The depth of the tread should be at least 1mm. Anything less is illegal. Check also that the rubber is not perished. If it is it makes getting a puncture a lot easier and remember, you won’t be carrying a spare so it’s vital to have good tyres in good condition.
  • Finally, ride the bike. Accelerate, brake front and back, turn corners, do U-turns, stop it, start it again, test the security system if it has one.

Legal documents

The seller should have the log book (V5) and, if the bike is 3 years old or more, an MOT certificate. If he hasn’t then don’t even bother examining the bike. There may also be a service book.

Once you’ve got the log book in your hands do the following

  • Check that it’s not a forgery by holding it up to the light to see the watermark
  • Make sure the frame and engine numbers match and are the same as in the log book
  • Make sure the colour of the bike is as stated in the log book. If the bike has been resprayed ask to see the receipt for that job
  • Make sure the name and address on the log book is where the bike is now

If there’s no watermark then don’t buy the bike.

If any of the other 3 are not as they should be there could be an honest reason. Ask, and if you aren’t happy with the answer, don’t buy it.

Vehicle check

If you’re thinking of buying a used motorbike (or any vehicle) whether privately or from a dealer, get its history checked out first – Get your HPI motorcycle Check.

They will email you a comprehensive motorcycle history check.

  • Checks on stolen/police interest
  • Stolen log book check
  • Write off/accident damage – see motorcycle write off categories
  • Mileage discrepancies – see how many miles is a lot for a motorcycle
  • Outstanding finance
  • Scrapped by the DVLA
  • Plate transfers
  • Former keepers
  • Full VIN/chassis check
  • Make and model
  • Engine number and size
  • Colour changes
  • Imported or exported
  • Date first registered.


If you’re happy with it all, start haggling. If you’ve done your research you’ll have a good idea if you’re being ripped off or getting a bargain.

And remember, there are more bikes for sale than there are buyers, so be prepared to walk away.

If you’d like more information about buying a used bike then click here for the most thorough report (with photos) we’ve found on this subject. It’s American but most of it still applies.