How to buy second-hand: Top ten tips when buying a used bike

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You may think that buying a used scooter or motorcycle is a minefield, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are our top ten tips to buying a used machine…

Do your homework

What kind of bike do you want? What will you be using it for? Does it match your lifestyle –you’re your budget? Once you know what you’re looking for, then narrow down your search and look at alternatives. Spotted one you like? Have a look at some more and do some research.

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Make sure you know the current market value of a machine, what kinds of things tend to go wrong with them, how much dealers are selling them for, how much they’re being sold privately and how much they are brand new.

Buy from the best place for you

There are pros and cons for buying privately, from a dealer, from an online auction – or a regular one. It’s entirely up to you and your circumstances. Some people prefer to purchase from a dealer as you may get extra things thrown in such as a warranty and there is a physical place to go back to if anything is wrong with the machine.

Online auctions are popular – sometimes you can get a great bargain and there’s chance to see machines from all over the country. We’d recommend that you go and see the bike or scooter in the ‘metal’ before the auction ends as unfortunately some sellers only choose the flattering shots of the well-polished parts.

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Buying privately can work out cheaper than going to a dealer but unfortunately you have less legal protection if things go wrong. Unlike a dealer, a private seller doesn’t need to make checks on the bike by law either.

Auctions can be great fun. Get it right and you can bag yourself a good deal. However, don’t forget there are often fees on top of the price when the hammer goes down.

Ask lots of questions

We’d suggest calling up the seller or dealer before you go and view the bike and asking some initial questions.

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  • What’s the service history? Who did the work – a garage or a mate down the road? Does it have all the stamps in the book? Are there receipts for all the work that’s been done?
  • How many owners has it had?
  • Has it been crashed? Has it been dropped in the garage/garden/petrol station?
  • What has it been used for?
  • What modifications have been done?
  • Does it have a road legal exhaust? If not, does the standard one come as part of the deal?

Think about what you want to ask before you call or go to view it – and don’t be nervous about writing them down to make sure you remember them. You may set off with all the best will in the world, but forget your questions as soon as you get there and you see your dream machine.

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Go and see it – oh and take a friend…

So you’ve found a bike, it’s around your budget and you’ve got your heart set on it. Job done. Nope – not yet. We’d recommend that you always go and see a bike before you part money for it. Whether you’re bidding for it on an online auction or buying from a dealer down the road, go and check over the bike or scooter yourself so that there are no nasty surprises.

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It’s always good to get the opinion of a trusted friend – even better if they are mechanically minded. Not only does a second opinion come in handy, it can also give you a bit of support when negotiating.

Have a good check over the machine – and start it up

People always tell you to have a good look around the bike before you buy it, but what do they mean? And what exactly should you be looking for? Here’s a handy pull-out guide for you to take with you as a tick-list…

– Are all the panels there and in good condition? Are all the screws and fasteners present, do the panels fit properly?

– How are the tyres? Are they the correct sizes with plenty of tread and not squared-off. This is where the centre of the tyre wears flat through prolonged straight line use. It can still be legal, but there’s a ridge that you feel as you lean the bike over.

– Are the chain and sprockets properly adjusted and plenty of life left – i.e. the chain not coming away from the sprocket when you pull – or sagging and rusty?

– Does the suspension still have its damping? Push the back end of the bike down quickly – does it spring back up like a pogo stick or rise up smoothly – like it should?

– What do the brakes look like? Do the pads still have plenty of material on them?

– Instruments. Do the numbers line up on the odometer? If not the mileage could have been adjusted. How many different keys are there? There should be one that does all the locks. If not, chances are it has been stolen or badly damaged at some point. Do the locks look butchered?

– Exhaust. Is the downpipe out of the engine in good nick? Are the bolts rusty and seized? Original or aftermarket end can? If aftermarket is it legal to pass an MoT? Is the original available?

– Wiring. Under the seat, behind the panels, behind the headlamp. How much is bodged and taped together, where does that aftermarket alarm fit in?

– Check the oil level while cold.

Now start it up…

– Does it start easily from cold?

– Let the owner warm it up – does he thrash the motor when still cold?

– Is the exhaust blowing at the engine manifold? – you’ll see the smoke better when it is cold.

– Does that rumbling go away when you pull the clutch in? If so, it’s nothing to worry about.

– Is it idling at the right speed?

The test ride…

Remember that you must have passed your CBT and have motorcycle insurance to be legal to ride it on the road. Chances are that you won’t have insurance because you don’t yet have a bike. A dealer might let you test ride it on his trade insurance, but if it is a private sale you’ll either need to go pillion (check that the seller has a full licence), get a mate with a full licence to test it, or take your test ride off the road in a car park or similar.

– Does it go into gear easily and does the clutch release smoothly?

– Does the engine make power smoothly? Is there any hesitation when you open the throttle?

– How slick is the gearchange?

– Does it idle smoothly as soon as you stop?

– Does it accelerate cleanly away from a stop and through the gears?

– How does the steering feel – smooth or notchy?

– Are there any clunks from the front when you brake? This could indicate worn head bearings. Or a pulsing through the lever, which could mean warped brake disc?

– Is it overheating; do all the instruments and lights work?

– What happens when you release your grip on the bars? Bar wobbles indicate knackered head bearings, steering to the left/right is a bent frame.

– How does the engine sound now it’s warm?

Make sure the paperwork is correct

There’s no point going any further unless the paperwork is in order and everything is correct.

  • Does the seller’s address match the logbook?
  • Do the engine and frame numbers match the logbook? The frame number is found at the front of the frame just below the handlebars. On most bikes the engine number is towards the back of the engine. Does the colour and model name match the logbook?
  • Does the service history make sense – and does the paperwork match the story?
  • Is it MOT’d? Why not. Is it not roadworthy? An MoT should be part of the deal.

When the deal is done, ensure that the correct sections are filled in on the registration document – sometimes called the V5 – and that you take away the section which allows you to have a reference number and number to call if the new registration document doesn’t arrive.

The Government has made changes to the way vehicles are taxed, you now have to tax the vehicle before you ride it away – this can be done online or over the phone 24 hours 7 days a week.

If you’re planning on riding it back, then you’ll need to sort out insurance cover too.


Guard yourself against ‘dodgy’ buys

If a price looks too good to be true, then it could well be. A stolen or clocked machine could be sold as a bargain to ensure it sells quickly and cheat you out of your hard-earned cash. If a machine turns out to be stolen, cloned or on outstanding finance, then you could lose it and the money you paid for it when it’s returned to its rightful owner. Get a HPI check to make sure everything is ‘legit’.

A Hire Purchase Inspection (HPI) check will look into the history of a pre-owned vehicle and can be used to check whether the scooter or motorcycle is currently recorded as stolen, has been written off by an insurance company, is still on finance or has a mileage discrepancy. Information can be taken from different sources including: the Police, DVLA, insurance companies, finance houses, industry bodies and garages.

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Set a budget – and stick to it!

You’ve been researching every evening for the last two weeks, you’ve found the bike you love, but it’s more than you’d prepared to pay. You may find yourself saying ‘oh it’s only an extra £200’. Think carefully about this. Decide your absolute maximum and stick to it and remember to leave yourself enough money to kit yourself out with a helmet, jacket and gloves too. While you’re researching the kind of machine you’re after, it’s worth checking out how much the insurance would be too and factoring this into your budget…

Be prepared to haggle

Some of us are good at bartering – others get embarrassed at the prospect of asking for money off. But when purchasing a bike or a scooter it is almost expected that the buyer will try and get a better deal – and so you should. Whether it’s asking for extra things to be thrown into the deal, such as some chain lube or asking for £500 off, if you don’t ask – you don’t get…

Don’t be put off or pressured

Don’t feel pressured into buying the first bike you see – or the second, or the third for that matter. You should never feel pressured to put down a deposit or buy a bike that you’re not 100% certain about and you’re more than entitled to have thinking time.

You may have heard stories about people buying second hand machines and it all going wrong, but in reality the market is booming and for every bad story, there are lots of good ones. Admittedly, there has to be a certain amount of trust and yes, as with most ‘used’ items it is expected that there will be a degree or wear and tear on the machine. But, do your research, check the bike over properly and you’re more likely to get a good deal and ride away happy.

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