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10 Essential Steps for Buying a Used Motorcycle from a Private Seller

If you’re in the market to buy a used motorcycle, you’re probably very excited! From everyone at Wilshire Law Firm, we say… congratulations!

handing over keys to new motorcycle owner

There’s nothing like buying the used motorcycle of your dreams!

Chances are, you’ve been perusing websites like:

There are thousands of awesome used motorcycles to choose from in California; but finding the right one can be tough. And once you do, purchasing the bike from a private seller can turn into a nightmare, if you aren’t methodical with your approach.

So, we’ve laid out some of the most important elements of the motorcycle purchasing experience right here on Wilshire Law Firm’s blog.

Your one-stop shop for motorcycle safety tips!

From the moment you catch the bug to buy, to the moment you hit the road for your first long trip – think of this blog post as a used motorcycle ownership checklist!

Even if you think you know it all (no one does), you’ll be in a much better position for motorcycle success than you were before, if you review these easy steps again. Plus, we appreciate any extra tips you may be able to add! The more knowledge we can share, the better.

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Fools rush in!

Falling in love with a used motorcycle is easy, but beware of the sirens!

Whether you’re buying your first motorcycle, or your 100th, there’s nothing like searching for, and finding, the perfect, new, used two-wheel ride.

The fresh air, the warm sun, the free spirit… and no one to bother you as you cruise down the open road to… wherever you want! We know the feeling, because we ride, but don’t rush it! There are many red flags to look out for, which we talk about later in this post.

People buy used bikes for many reasons

Unlike cars, motorcycles switch owners all the time.

This happens for several reasons:

  • Change of lifestyle (Sports vs. Cruiser vs. Vintage)
  • Motorcycles are less expensive than cars
  • They’re easier to collect than cars
  • People outgrow motorcycles
  • And for many other reasons!

QUESTION: Why did you buy your last motorcycle? Leave a comment on our Facebook page.

Whatever reason you’re choosing to buy a used motorcycle from a private seller, we’ve got you covered with these essential 10 steps!

  1. Find a motorcycle you want to buy
  2. Plan how to get it home
  3. Get an insurance quote
  4. Meet up with the buyer
  5. Examine the motorcycle
  6. Negotiate a final price
  7. Sign the title
  8. Activate your insurance
  9. Take it to a trusted mechanic
  10. Registration

That’s a long list!

Let’s break it down.

1) Find a motorcycle you want to buy

Browsing trade websites is a pure joy to most motorcycle enthusiasts. Whether your budget is $3,000 or $50,000, the possibilities are endless!

With so many choices, it can be hard to narrow your search…

  • What kind of motorcycle do you want?
  • What color do you want?
  • How far are you willing to travel to find it?
  • How many CCs?
  • What make and model?
  • How many miles?
  • How many previous owners?
  • Has the bike ever gone down?
  • Was it garaged regularly?
  • What kind of engine does it have?
  • Have there been any modifications to the bike?
  • When was the last tune-up?
  • How old are the tires?

The list of questions will go on, and on, and on!

The Fridge Test:

If you’re struggling to find just one used motorcycle that you love, we suggest trying the Motorcycle Fridge Test to narrow your search!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Find your favorite 10 motorcycles that are listed online for sale in your search area.
  2. Make sure they’re all within your budget, and that they’re realistic purchases.
  3. Once you have your top 10, wait a few days and then narrow the list down to your top 3-5.
  4. Then, take screenshots and print the images out on paper.
  5. Hang the pictures on your fridge, or a wall that you see often.
  6. After a day, choose the motorcycle you like least, and take it off the fridge.
  7. Repeat until your favorite motorcycle is the only bike left on the fridge.
  8. If the bike is still available, reach out to the buyer and schedule a time to meet and see the bike!

You may be saying to yourself: I don’t have that long! If I see my dream bike, I’m going for it!

Well, we completely understand! This test is for the rider, who knows they want a motorcycle but isn’t sure what they want to get.

Plus, if you wait a week, and the motorcycle is still available, you have a better chance of negotiating down the price.

motorcycle fridge test

This is NOT the Motorcycle Fridge Test! If you’re doing it this way, you’re doing it wrong! Although, that is impressive!

2) Plan how to get it home

This may seem obvious, but the last thing you want is to purchase a bike and not have an exit plan for how to get it home!

So, we suggest the following ideas:

Bring a friend

If you need to take your car to see the bike, bring a friend who can ride the bike or drive your car home.


If you don’t have a friend to bring with you, consider using a rideshare service like Lyft, Uber, or a taxi. It’s cheap, quick, and, if you end up not buying the bike, you can always arrange for another ride home.

Public transportation

Public transportation isn’t a bad idea if there is a stop close to the meetup location. Just make sure you take note of the transportation schedule for after the meetup, should you decide to pass on the bike.

Bring gear

Make sure you have the proper gear ready to wear if you decide to ride the bike home. ATGATT!

3) Get an insurance quote

Did you know that you can get an insurance quote before you buy your used motorcycle?

Even if it’s not an ideal price, make sure to get a quote online, or over the phone, from a reputable insurance company.

This will come in handy after you buy the bike. (See Step 8: Activate Your Insurance)

4) Meet up with the buyer

Oftentimes, used motorcycles are purchased at trusted shops or from a friend. However, most times, buying a used motorcycle requires meeting up with a stranger from the internet and transferring a huge wad of cash in exchange for the motorcycle.

Seriously, how often do you meet up with someone from the internet with $5,000 (or more) in your pocket? Not often, we presume! Wink, wink.

Always engage in effective communication with the seller, and get a feel for the type of person they are, before agreeing to meet up and view the motorcycle. Even if the motorcycle is extremely attractive to you, with a good price – it could be too good to be true!

Simply put, pay attention for red flags when communicating with the seller!

If you can, bring a friend

Bring a friend to bear witness for your transaction.

Not only will it help secure your safety, your friend can attest to the transaction (should that become necessary).

  • Make sure to keep your cash in a secure place before the final transaction.
  • Never flash your cash in the street, on the sidewalk, or lot.
  • Spread cash out in different pockets so the seller can’t see a cash bulge on your person.
  • Consider clothes with deep zipper pockets.

Many times, these transactions happen in public places, which not only leaves you vulnerable to theft by the other party, but also by random people in the area.

When you see the seller for the first time, be humble and polite. It helps to be friendly in all situations, but especially in a used motorcycle transaction – since you’ll be trying to haggle the price… if and when it passes your examination!

5) Examine the motorcycle

This can be one of the trickiest parts of the entire process; especially for an inexperienced rider.

You must, must, MUST be extremely scrutinizing in your used motorcycle examination, as tricky sellers will undoubtedly lie and try to sell you a faulty motorcycle.

checking motorcycle before buying

This requires a good understanding of motorcycle maintenance.

If you aren’t confident in your abilities to examine a used motorcycle on the spot, bring a friend, or a trusted mechanic with you to the meet up.

With hopes to help your used motorcycle purchase, we’ve compiled a checklist for your next evaluation below. We invite you to copy, paste, and print it out to bring with you.

Used Motorcycle Evaluation Checklist:

  • Don’t buy the first bike you see
  • Perform a couple practice inspections
  • Is the bike clean and straight?
  • Has it gone down?
  • Check for:
    • Bends, dents, or scrapes on:
      • Bars
      • Exhaust
      • Plastic
      • Levers
      • Mirrors
    • Short, shallow, non-parallel scratches and chips = tip over
    • Long, deep, parallel scratches and cracks = crash
    • Has it been abused or raced?
    • Know the model and look for modifications
    • Check for smooth braking system
    • Does the clutch release when squeezed?
    • Rust on the gas tank?
    • Is the inside of the tank rusty?
    • Are there cracks in the seat?
    • Do the tires have dry rot or bad tread?
    • Are the tires rounded? Are they expired?
    • Test all electronics: lighting, indicators, brights
    • When was the last time the battery was replaced?
    • Check forks for seal leaks, scratches/nicks/bends
    • Check the wheels/rims for bends or cracks
    • Check the chain for hooked teeth and cracked parts
    • Check the exhaust for rust, cracks, and pressure
    • Check engine and carburetors for start, operation, and leaks
    • Check the kickstand/center stand (if the bike has one)
    • Ask to see a service/maintenance history
    • If you can, take it for a test ride
    • Take pictures

After all these items check out, examine the overall look and feel of the bike…If you still love it, it’s time to negotiate!

If you still love it, it’s time to negotiate!

6) Negotiate a final price

Most experienced sellers are firm on their price, but a wise man once said: everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is negotiable.

When it comes to negotiating used motorcycles, there’s a major difference between buying and selling.

  • If you’re selling, you need to know your motorcycle’s worth in the market.
  • If you’re buying, you need to know how much the bike is worth to you.

If these two parts of the negotiation are met, everyone will walk away happy. At the end of the day, it’s all about what you know. Pick a bike that you like, and do your research. Learn things like:

  • How many were produced?
  • What’s the average price?
  • How does mileage affect the price?

The more you know, the less you’ll pay.

For instance, whether you’re looking to buy a BMW, Ducati, Kawasaki or a Harley, it can never hurt to look up:

  • What the original parts look like
  • How many models were produced that year
  • How many are available in the search area
  • What the average price is

Be ready to buy

Most sellers don’t have the patience to wait for your next paycheck to clear, and don’t even think about bringing your checkbook! Sellers want to sell their bike to the first bidder with the best offer in CASH.

Negotiating is best done at the site, with cash in hand. However, it never hurts to ask if the price is negotiable prior to meeting up.

Go as low as you can without offending the seller!

Once you settle on a price, it’s time to take over the title.

7) Sign the title


Now that you’ve agreed on a price, it’s time to initiate the transfer of title.

Just as you should bring cash in hand, the seller should have the title in-hand at the meetup. If the seller doesn’t have the title, don’t give them your cash!

The seller will need to fill out the form on the front of the title, and you’ll need to fill out the form on the back.

The seller may also have a bill of sale, as well as a maintenance report that they can hand over at this time.

California motorcycle title


Bring the title to the DMV within 10 days, pay a small fee and the bike will officially be yours!

It’s simple and easy.

8) Activate your insurance

Remember that fancy insurance quote?

It’s time to activate it! (If you haven’t already).

Seriously, you should have an email by now that has a number to call your insurance company. Activate your new insurance policy for your motorcycle before you ride away from the meet up on your new hog!

If you aren’t sure about the exact type of insurance package you want, make adjustments. Or, agree to pay whatever the quote is now, and change it later.

Either way, it’s imperative that you activate some type of insurance before riding your used motorcycle on the street… God forbid an accident occurs during your first ride! These things happen all the time, and you need to be protected.

We recommend getting the best insurance packages.

Do not simply go with the state minimums.

Make sure to get:

  • Uninsured motorist coverage (hit-and-run)
  • Comprehensive coverage (if your bike is stolen)
  • Liability (if you cause damage to someone else)
  • Collision (accidents not involving other parties)
  • Medical coverage (If your body is injured)
  • Bodily injury (Just for liability, not for you)
  • Property damage

At the very least!

9) Take it to a trusted mechanic

Your first trip with your newly-acquired used motorcycle should be straight to a trusted mechanic’s workshop.

If one isn’t open, or if you’re too busy and need to get on with your day, ride your used motorcycle straight home. Then, take it to the workshop, as soon as possible.

You can also reexamine your motorcycle at home yourself using the checklist above, but you should get it double-checked by a professional, for safe measure.

One of the first things that, usually, need to be replaced are tires. But every motorcycle is different, so be thorough in your final evaluation!

Get an anti-theft system!

Not only will a solid, reliable anti-theft system reduce your insurance cost, it will actually decrease the chance of your motorcycle being stolen!

Who would be against that?

Types of anti-theft systems include:

  • Disc locks
  • Digital systems
  • U-locks
  • Chain locks
  • Cellular locks
  • Lock straps

It’s on you to protect your baby! Don’t think bike theft can’t happen to you! We’d hate to say we told you so!

10) Registration

The final piece of the puzzle is registration!

For this step, you’ll have to endure everyone’s favorite activity:

Go to the DMV!

Make an appointment at

If you can’t make an appointment, here’s a tip: go to the DMV at 4:30 pm (just before closing). No one shows up this late, and you’re less likely to have a long wait!

For a smooth registration process, you’ll need the following:

  • Proof of ownership (title)
  • Proof of insurance

Unlike cars, you don’t need to perform a smog check on your used motorcycle, but you will have to pay a registration fee.

Final step: Go for a ride and have some fun!

Do you feel more prepared to ride now than you were before?

There’s nothing like peace of mind when riding on a motorcycle.

Keep this link handy as you navigate your next used motorcycle purchase. We suggest saving it to your phone’s home screen.

If you ever find yourself in need of a motorcycle accident attorney, call the award-winning personal injury attorneys of Wilshire Law Firm today at 1-800-522-7274. Our legal experts are available 24/7, 365 to take your call and give you a FREE, no-obligation case evaluation.

Good luck with your used motorcycle and, as always, ride safe!

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