• Brian Sosebee

Buying A Used Motorcycle: Questions to ask the seller

So you’ve found motorcycle from a private seller online but what questions should you ask when you get there? Buying a used motorcycle can be tricky and talking with a complete stranger can be intimidating. Especially if you feel like you are interrogating them. So its good to have a game plan before you get there.

The purpose of asking the right questions twofold. Firstly you want to make sure the seller is being honest with you and secondly you want to make sure the motorcycle is what you expecting. You aren’t trying to interrogate the seller. Doing so would kill any hopes for negotiations later in the conversation. However, you are trying to get genuine answers. Doing so means asking the same questions in different ways to see if you always get the same answer or it matches the description of the ad. Before you jump into asking any questions, use basic etiquette and introduce yourself and find a way to complement. Nice house, nice bike, etc. Not that you’re trying to be sneaky, but it just helps break the ice in a nice way.

Question 1: Nice motorcycle! What can you tell me about it?

Here you’re giving the seller an opportunity to willingly tell you everything they know about the bike. The most honest sellers will tell you everything without you prying it from them. The good things and the bad. Even sometimes pointing out things you never would have caught.

Troubling answers would be: "Not much really", "It’s not mine", or "I’m selling for a friend/family member" (this is a favorite). These could all be true but answers like these typically mean that they aren't willing to divulge too much. I've had this happen a few times and later found out they actually new a lot about the bike after I kept asking questions.

Question 2: Why are you selling it?

Usually this information is in the ad but it’s nice to ask again. For project bikes the most common answer is “I have too many projects” which is true but it’s an easy answer. Really all you are looking for are answers that point to problems with the bike that you aren't yet aware of. Of course people sale things for all kinds of reason so there really isn't a wrong answer here. It's just another way of asking the same first question.

Question 3: How long have you had it?

They may have already answered this in the previous question or in the ad but ASK AGAIN. To see if they give you the same answer. Answers that change aren’t good. Additionally, someone who has owned something for a long time typically knows more and cares more.

Question 4: When’s the last time it was running?

If you aren't buying a project bike this doesn't really apply. However if you are, you’re trying to look for consistency and this is a critical question. The longer a machine sits the more opportunity for things to rust and corrode?

Question 5: Do you have service records?

If they do have service records that is great, also uncommon I would say. If they say no, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. They could service it themselves and baby it much more than a service center would. If they say no, then to follow up by asking the following framing the questions by saying you are asking so you will know what to do:

  • Do you service yourself?

  • How often do you change the oil?

  • What kind of oil and parts do you use?

Question 6: Where have you been keeping it?

Any machine stored inside is significantly better, after that would be covered but outdoors, lastly would be outside uncovered. I rarely ever buy anything that has been sitting outside in the elements, they just are more trouble than they’re worth. It’s easy enough to test the legitimacy of their answer, if it has old dead leaves in the nooks then it probably hasn’t been stored inside.

Question 7: Can I see the title?

If you're buying a vehicle that has a title, always look over it carefully. Make sure the VIN matches and the mileage on the bike shows more than the last time it was titled. You should already know before going to look whether or not the owner has the title. Know your state laws in regards to when a motorcycle requires a title to be able to be registered.

Question 8: Can I start it up?

This should go without saying, but always ask to run the bike. Even if you aren't allowed to take it for a spin. I intentionally wait until later to ask this question. If the bike is already running by the time you get there it could mean it’s hard to start or needed some help getting there. So if it is running, cut it off first and ask a few questions while it cools down and then start it again.

Question 9: How much are you asking for it?

Of course you should already know what they are asking but it’s always good to ask again after you've asked the other questions. At this point they should realize you are a competent buyer and know what you are doing. I’ve had several occasions where when I ask this question the seller asked less than what they had in their ad. Let them give you the first price before start negotiations.

Questions 10: Would you be willing to take $$$$?

So the bike and the seller have passed test and you want to buy it. Now it comes time to negotiate. I’ll be honest I’m not the best negotiator but I have gotten better than I used to be. Like everything it takes practice. I never try to be insulting or take advantage of anyone but I do want to get a good deal. This is especially important if you are buying a project bike. Odds are, it’s going to need more than you think so having some extra headroom is always a good thing. The key point to negotiating is to never offer your final offer first because they will always counteroffer. Everyone wants to have the last word and letting them “win” may help you get this ride at a better price. There are plenty of resources about negotiating so I suggest you look those up. Just remember, have a plan and try and stick to your budget. Learn to walk away if the price isn’t right.

Quick story time. I went to meet a guy about an ATV I was going to flip. The ad said it needed a new sprocket so I went to meet the guy. The asking price was $600. When I got there the whole output axle was sheared off. I tried to negotiate to $250 but they wouldn’t budge. I just honestly told them I was trying to flip it and I would have too much into it so I walked away. After I had already pulled away, they chased me down in the parking lot and said they would let it go $300. It was raining, I was tired, and I had lost interest so I kindly said no thanks and wished them luck. To my surprise they said “we’ll just give it to you”. We don’t want to take it home. So because I was willing to walk away I got a free ATV. Lesson learned, stick to your guns and your budget.

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