When looking at buying a used bike, there is a very real risk of getting ripped off. The bike could be useless, worthless, or riddled with problems and a dark past.
However, there are many tools at your disposal to prevent this unfortunate outcome, one of the most important being the HPI Check.
There is more to it than picking one at random and running with it. Here we will provide you with the knowledge you need to choose the right service and use it fully.
What is an HPI Check?
The HPI Check is a vehicle history and status report from a third-party company. It is a valuable tool that can tell you a lot of things about a vehicle outright and indicate other things to be mindful of.
This is a combination of factors such as
- Whether the seller owns it/ has a legal right to sell it.
- Whether it’s the bike they say it is.
- Details which will determine how honest and accurate their description of the bike is.
- What sort of people may have owned the bike in the past.
Based on our comparison of common providers, our pick is HPICheck.com.
While the AA and RAC offer checks, they are no cheaper, don’t provide information about where they get their data from, and have no major benefits over HPI Check.
HPI Check Comparison
|Company||Cost per check||Data sources||Data Guarantee||Get Check|
|HPI Check||£14.99 or 3 for £29.97||Listed on website||£30,000||HPI Check|
|RAC||£14.99 or 5 for £29.97||Unlisted/ Unknown||£30,000||RAC|
|AA||£14.99 or 5 for £29.99||Unlisted/ Unknown||£30,000||AA|
Why get one?
Buying a motorcycle should be no different; the used bike market is littered with questionable machines both from dealers and private sellers.
An estimated 10,000 bikes were stolen in 2018 alone ; the risk of buying a stolen motorcycle in the UK is substantial.
You want a bike you grow to love and not one which is taken away, rendered useless, or a complete money pit leaving you out of pocket and depressed.
Are you buying an honest bike from an honest seller at the right price or parting with your cash for a bike you don’t want? An HPI Check will help you decide.
A small investment now could save you from a huge loss down the line, and without it you are taking a gamble on a stranger’s honesty.
Showing up to view a vehicle with a comprehensive HPI check also puts you in a strong position for battering should the buyer have “forgotten” to mention some details.
OK, What is covered?
Outstanding Finance Check/ Logbook loans
If a vehicle has outstanding finance against it, then it is still owned by that finance company.
If the seller (or a previous seller) stops paying, the finance company can repossess the bike, leaving you out of pocket and less one bike.
Similarly, the motorcycle may be being used as collateral to borrow money, this is a practice known as logbook loans. Again, even though you’ve parted with cash, the motorcycle could be repossessed.
Written off/ Scrapped
When a motorcycle is in an accident, it may be written off by the insurance company; the write-off category can be as follows under the current system.
A – The entire vehicle must be scrapped
B – Parts can be salvaged, vehicle body/ frame must be scrapped
S – Structurally damaged but can be repaired and returned to the road (not economical)
N – Not structurally damaged but repairable
Unless you’re in the scrap trade, categories A and B are to be avoided.
Categories S and N are more common to see on the market.
If repaired properly, they can be perfectly good motorcycles, but they will command a lower resale price and can be more difficult/ expensive to insure.
The important thing to take from this is whether the seller declared this vehicle a previous write-off or scrap.
If so, are you comfortable buying a vehicle in this category and at that price?
See our guide to motorcycle write-off categories
An HPI Check should be able to tell you whether the motorcycle registered to those plates is declared stolen or has previously been reported as stolen and then recovered (lowering its market value).
VIN and Engine numbers should be checked in person to identify this plate as belonging to the vehicle.
VIN and Engine Number/ Spotting a cloned bike
Registration plates alone cannot identify a vehicle; compare the plate against the frame VIN and engine number to confirm it is legit.
Cloned bikes are a bike stolen for parts and then put into a bought frame to give a legitimate V5 and number plate. The giveaway here is that the engine numbers do not match.
If the engine was swapped for a legitimate reason, this should be declared to the DVLA; if not, this is a strong indicator the bike is cloned.
True Mileage Check
A seller could be lying about the mileage a motorcycle has done; it’s easy to change clock mileage or swap them out for a much lower mile set. It’s also possible the clocks have ticked over back to zero at some point and gone on to rack up more miles.
If the mileage history doesn’t match up to the clocks and history, then avoid that bike.
Has the seller declared the correct number of previous owners? If not, why not? A high number of previous owners could mean the bike has had a lot of issues or seen a lot of sitting unused during its lifetime.
Import models can come with some issues to consider and should be declared by the buyer in the advert.
Generally, you’ll see 2 categories of imported bikes:
- A near UK spec machine imported from elsewhere in Europe, more common to see in the 80s and 90s.
- Usually the only difference is the clocks are in Km’s, not Miles though some models will vary.
- It may cost slightly more to insure, but parts availability shouldn’t be a problem.
- A non-UK spec machine imported from elsewhere (Usually Japan in the case of motorcycles).
- It must have an MSVA (Motorcycle Single Vehicle Approval) certificate for UK roads. If it does not have one, you could be left having to modify the vehicle to get this key piece of documentation.
- Insurance could be higher, especially if the grey import model is sought after.
- Parts and knowledge on this side of the pond may be in short supply or very pricey.
If a vehicle is registered as exported, you cannot legally use it on UK roads. More to the point, if it’s been registered as exported, what on earth is it being sold here for? Avoid export-marked bikes.
Registration changes are often just a matter of an owner swapping to a personalised registration. But, in some cases, this may be an attempt to conceal a chequered past, and that is worth knowing about.
If a bike has changed colour you should be asking why –was it involved in an accident that has not been declared at some point?
If it was sprayed or wrapped, is the job a quality one? Is it declared to the DVLA as being a different colour than it currently is, and why hasn’t the seller declared it?
MOT and Tax History
MOT history can tell you a lot about a bike on its own:
- If it has had many advisories/ fails, likely, the owner hasn’t been kind to the bike or kept on top of routine maintenance.
- Repeated failures on things like front wheel bearings can indicate a lot of wheelies have been pulled off badly.
- Chain wear can often show they have not been lubricating or adjusting the chain – what else has been neglected?
- A clean pass with little to no advisory items indicates a motorcycle that has been maintained and cared for.
- Read more about motorcycle MOT.
If there are gaps in the MOT and Tax on a bike, it will have been laid up or SORN for a period of time – if this is the case, you have 2 main things to contend with:
- Why was it laid up – were lots of things wrong with it, was it in an accident, or was the owner simply not using it?
- When it was laid up how much deterioration did it see? Bikes that have been sat for a while tend to have issues when put back on the road. Often a new battery is a must, fuel systems will be gummed up, suspension seals or rubber lines may have hardened and cracked, fluids and tyres could need replacing.
Running costs and value
Estimated running costs and vehicle value are also provided – these are based on an average bike of that year and model being bought and run by your average rider.
What it doesn’t cover
The HPI Check is information only and it is up to you to use that information to inspect the vehicle, the advert and the seller.
You will need to check the information in the report against the advert.
When you view the vehicle check the number plates, VIN, engine number, colour, and description all match the HPI Check and everything seems to add up.
Also it will not cover:
- Service history – check the receipts and stamps.
- Mechanical faults.
- Current vehicle condition vs the valuation, if the bike is in a worse condition than average for a bike of that year, mileage, etc the price should reflect this.
- Fake V5c Documents – How to spot a fake V5c
It doesn’t mean the purchase is risk-free or that you should let your guard down.
Free/ Nearly free Checks?
Many companies are offering free “HPI” checks.
These are not official HPI Checks – they are vehicle checks using outdated information or information you can obtain freely and easily yourself.
It’s worth noting that once you have provided your information to their companies, they are nailed on to sell it to a third party. Expect to get spammed for the rest of your days!
Data is inaccurate and not guaranteed. Is it worth it to save a few quid?
A check is only worthwhile when based on accurate information; incorrect information is worse than none when buying a used bike.
What you can find out for free
The DVLA will provide the following checks for free:
- Tax Status/ SORN Status
- Whether the vehicle is listed as stolen
- MOT Status/ History
- Export status
- Outstanding Recalls
You can access these using the following free resources:
The used bike market is an absolute minefield, but a quality HPI check can prevent nasty surprises down the line.
Do your research when checking a bikes mechanical and servicing history and try to get a good read on the buyer. If it doesn’t feel right or things don’t add up, walk away.