Buying a second-hand motorbike

Looking for your next motorcycle but don’t want to pay top prices for a brand-new model? Buying a second-hand motorbike could be a more cost-effective way to enjoy the thrill of riding.

But as is the case when buying any pre-owned vehicle, there are several potential issues to consider.

Here’s everything you need to know about buying a used motorcycle.

 Hand holding keys with motorbike in background

Pros of buying a used motorcycle

As is the case with buying anything second-hand, the main attraction of going for a used motorbike is its price. But there are a variety of pros to consider:

  • Cheaper prices: As the value lowers once a vehicle leaves the dealership, even models that are a year or 2 old are likely to be less expensive.
  • Lower motorbike insurance costs: The less a motorcycle costs, the less you might pay for your motorbike insurance. This is because your insurance costs are partly based on the cost of replacing your ride in the event it's been stolen or damaged.
  • More choices: When buying used motorbikes, you have more options to choose from. There could be makes and models of all ages available.
  • Better return on value: The depreciation rate is much lower than with a brand-new motorcycle. If you eventually decide to sell, you might not lose as much as with a new ride.

Cons of buying a used motorcycle

There are also potential downsides to buying a used motorcycle:

  • Outdated technology: You’re unlikely to get the full benefit of the manufacturer’s warranty or the latest technology that can improve its safety or comfort. 
  • Less reliable: When buying a used motorbike, you need to make sure it fits the seller’s description. You also need to check its overall condition, mileage and when it was last serviced. 
  • Uncertain history: It's vital you ask about the history of the motorbike. Specifically, find out whether it's been involved in any accidents recently and where it actually came from. 
If you're unsure what kind of motorbike might be most suitable for you, take a look at our guide to the different types of motorcycles.

Should I buy a motorcycle through a dealer or private seller? 

When buying a second-hand motorbike, you can either buy it from a private seller or a dealer. Most online listings of used motorbikes combine private and dealership sales.

But it’s useful to understand the differences between buying through a dealer and buying from a private seller.

If you buy through a dealer, you can expect to get some kind of warranty on the motorbike. That’s in addition to a greater degree of legal protection under consumer protection laws. 

With a dealer, you might also be able to offer your current motorbike as part-exchange. This is something a private seller is unlikely to offer.

Dealers should also have carried out checks on any motorcycles they sell. This means they might be in a better position to provide you with a service history.

Another upside of buying from a dealer is that they might be able to offer finance options to spread the cost of your purchase. But bear in mind that dealer finance might not be the most suitable way of borrowing. It might also be worth considering a personal loan.

The downside to this extra protection is that motorbikes from dealers are often more expensive than buying second-hand from a private seller.

Private sales can certainly be cheaper. If the seller can provide their motorbike's service history, this could be a great option. But you might not get the same peace of mind you get when buying from a dealer.

Questions to ask a private seller

There are several questions you should ask the seller, ideally in front of a witness:

  • Are there any modifications? - Some motorbike modifications might improve its performance or make it more valuable and attractive to thieves. It’s vital to tell your insurer about alterations like these as they could lead to higher insurance costs.
  • Has the motorbike been involved in a crash? - Any previous accidents could mean the motorbike has structural damage or is at risk of being damaged further.
  • Is there any outstanding finance? - The owner might still be paying off a personal loan used to buy the motorcycle. This shouldn’t affect you as it's not normally linked to the motorbike. But it could mean they're fraudulently selling the vehicle without the correct records.

Buying a motorcycle on eBay

The auction website eBay is another option when looking for a used motorbike.

You can use a wide range of filters to narrow your search, whether it’s according to the motorbike's:

  • Make, model or age  
  • Engine size
  • Geographic location

The rating system used by eBay can be useful, especially if you’re buying from private sellers (although sometimes dealers also list their motorbikes on eBay).

Before you decide to proceed with a private sale, check the seller’s feedback scores, paying particular attention to those posted most recently.

Mixed ratings from other people who’ve bought from the seller should be a warning sign.

Another warning sign includes failure to use pictures of the actual motorbike. Some sellers might use stock photos from the manufacturer, perhaps to make the sale seem more attractive. But it could also be because the motorcycle they’re selling is in poor condition.

And as with anything you see for sale online, if the price is too good to be true, it probably is.

What to look for when buying a used motorcycle

It’s important not to let your impulses get the best of you. There are various reasons for this.

First, as with any purchase, you need to make sure what you’re buying is what’s being promised. You also need to be sure the other party has the right to sell it to you:

  • Is it safe?
  • Are the documents genuine?
  • If there’s a problem later on, will the seller be available to put it right or compensate you?

That’s why it’s crucial you take the time to make the appropriate checks on any second-hand motorbike that you're interested in.

It's also worth checking how much your motorbike insurance could be. You might be able to get cheaper motorbike insurance with a different model, for example.

Compare motorbike insurance quotes

Important checks to make before buying a used motorcycle

If you’re buying a second-hand motorbike, ideally you should see it in real life first. This is especially true if you’re buying from a private seller.

If you don’t feel confident enough to make these kinds of checks, take someone with you who is.

But what should you be looking for when you inspect a used motorcycle?

Has the motorbike been warmed up before you view it?

If you’re looking at the motorcycle at the owner’s home address, there’s no reason it should already be warm.

This could be an indication that the seller has taken steps to make sure it starts straight away when you turn the ignition.

As a buyer, you need to be sure it starts the first time, even when cold.

Are there stickers on the motorbike?

These aren’t necessarily a problem, but they may have been put on to hide small dents or other bodywork damage.

Is there damage underneath?

Check underneath the motorbike for any oil leaks or signs of damage to the exhaust.

Does the suspension work?

Check the suspension by bouncing the motorbike on the front and back tyres.

Are the brakes in working order?

Make sure the brake discs are unscored and that there’s plenty of material left on the brake pads.

Does the steering work as expected?

Ensure that the steering moves freely and that the lights, horn and indicator all work.

It’s not unusual to come across minor faults with a used motorbike. Anything you find on your inspection could be used to haggle for a lower price.

But if there seem to be several issues that the seller hasn’t warned you about, it might be best to walk away.

Taking a second-hand motorbike for a test ride

Most genuine sellers shouldn't mind you taking the motorbike for a test ride – especially if they haven’t got any issues to hide.

When test-driving a used motorbike, ask yourself:

  • How does it start?
  • Do the clutch, brake and throttle controls work smoothly?
  • Is it straightforward to change gears?
  • Is the suspension comfortable?

Before you ride off, make sure you or the owner has the right motorbike insurance policy to cover you during the test drive. 

If not, you can get temporary motorbike insurance to cover you for that day.

What paperwork should you check?

Always check the V5 registration document.

Genuine V5s have a watermark. And the details on it should match the motorbike you’re looking at and the person you’re buying from.

Any discrepancies, such as a different owner’s name or engine number, should be questioned.

Is there a valid MOT certificate?

All motorbikes older than 3 years need to have passed their motorbike MOT.

Does the mileage on the motorcycle match the history?

Look at the service history for more information. 

You can also carry out a HPI check on the motorcycle’s registration plate to make sure it hasn’t previously been written off or stolen.

This should also let you check whether or not there’s any finance outstanding on it.