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How to Buy a Motorcycle (The Ultimate Guide)

A person sitting on a couch and thinking about themselves riding a motorcycle

Hurray! High five! Yay! You’ve decided to buy a sweet new ride. It’s a big decision and a serious purchase. But, not to worry. Luckily, you’ve found our ultimate guide to buying a motorcycle. 

This guide is chock-full of advice, tips and resources. We’re here to help make your upcoming motorcycle purchase organized and stress-free. 

Let’s get started! 

Things to Know Beforehand

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Before you start shopping, it’s important to know the expenses and fees that come with a motorcycle purchase. It’s also important to have a payment plan in place. 

Continue reading below to determine your budget. If you’ve already done so, skip ahead to part two, Steps of the Purchase Process

1. Know the expenses. 

The following are routine expenses that come with motorcycle ownership. Make sure you factor these expenses into your budget.

Safety Gear

One of the most important purchases for new riders is safety gear. Experienced riders should also buy new gear before purchasing their next motorcycle. 

This is because the protective materials of the gear will continue to degrade over time. Therefore, you should replace your gear every two to five years. Do not wait until there is noticeable wear and tear. Often, this deterioration is not visible to the naked eye. 

Motorcycle gear may seem expensive, but your life is priceless. Investing in your gear is investing in your safety. 

It’s important to have the following gear before purchasing a motorcycle: 

A helmet

Purpose: protects your head and neck in the event of a crash, and protects you from windblast, insects, the elements, pollutants and airborne hazards 

Cost: $100 to $600

A protective jacket 

Purpose: provides protection and comfort for your upper body

Cost: $100 to $600

Riding boots 

Purpose: To protect your feet from injury, offer foot and ankle support and provide traction

Cost: $100 to $250

Gloves 

Purpose: To protect your hands from potential injury, blisters, wind, sun, and cold

Cost: $30 to $250

Riding pants 

Purpose: serve as a protective barrier between you and hazards to prevent injury to your lower body and shields you from the elements

Cost: $30 to $600

Want more information on gear? Check out our in-depth discussion on riding gear

Insurance 

Most states require liability insurance at a minimum. Speak to an insurance professional about the laws that apply in your state. 

The Insurance Information Institute (III) is a great resource for learning more about insurance coverage and for finding the coverage that best serves your needs. We’ve provided some information from their website below. 

Coverage options: 
  • Liability insurance 
  • Motorcycle collision insurance
  • Comprehensive coverage
  • Coverage for customized motorcycle parts
  • Uninsured/Underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage
Factors that can affect the cost of your insurance rate: 
  • Your age, your driving record and where you live
  • ​Type or style of motorcycle you ride 
  • Age of the motorcycle
  • Number of miles you ride a year
  • Where you store your bike

The average cost of motorcycle insurance in the US is $702 per year ($58.50 per month). Check out this resource created by ValuePenguin/Lending Tree® to see the average cost of motorcycle insurance in your state.

Maintenance and Repairs

It’s important to get your motorcycle serviced routinely. This will lengthen the life of your motorcycle and ensure your safety. 

Make sure to check your owner’s manual to see how often your motorcycle needs to be serviced. If you’ve misplaced your manual, you may be able to find a copy online. For instance, Harley-Davidson has an H-D Service Information Portal in which you can simply enter your VIN to see the owner’s manual and maintenance schedule. 

The Six Areas of Motorcycle Maintenance 
  1. Tires and wheels
  2. Controls 
  3. Lights and electrics
  4. Oil and other fluids
  5. Chassis
  6. Stands 

An easy way to remember these six areas is by using the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) acronym T-CLOCSsm

Our motorcycle inspection checklist gives you a list of the most important items to consider in motorcycle maintenance. 

You can use the checklist to keep up with the condition of your motorcycle in addition to getting routine servicing. You can also use the checklist during the purchasing process if you plan to buy a used motorcycle. 

How often your motorcycle needs to be serviced greatly depends on its year, make, model and your riding habits. 

On average, the cost of motorcycle maintenance is approximately $1,000 per year. That’s about $80 per month to factor into your budget. Also, make sure your budget includes additional funds for the cost of unexpected repairs. 

Gas

A motorcycle requires fuel to operate, unless you plan to purchase an electric motorcycle. In that case, you can skip to the next section.

Let’s discuss how much money you’ll need for gas per month. 

The average motorcycle fuel efficiency is 50 miles per gallon. And, many motorcycles require premium gas. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), the average cost of premium gas in the United States is approximately $3 per gallon at this time in 2020. 

On average, motorcyclists travel approximately 200 miles each month. Therefore, most riders will use about three gallons of gas per month. This equates to $12 of gas per month. Feel free to add or subtract to this amount based on how often and far you ride. 

License and/or Training courses

According to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), the cost of a motorcycle license is normally under $50. And, an endorsement added to your current license could be as little as $10. 

Contact your local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to find out the exact cost in your state.

A motorcycle training course costs $100 to $400, depending on your area. One of the most popular training courses, nationwide, is the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic RiderCourse.

MSF offers courses for riders of all skill levels. They have four different levels, each offering several different courses. 

2. Know the fees. 

When you purchase a motorcycle, you can expect to pay a few fees. However, there are more fees associated with buying from a dealership than with buying from a private seller. 

Keep in mind that the private purchase fees listed below are optional. Whereas, most dealer fees are mandatory and more expensive. 

General Fees

Let’s start by discussing the fees that are required for both dealer and private purchases. 

Title 

A certificate of title is a legal document that establishes vehicle ownership.

If you decide to buy your motorcycle in cash, the title will be transferred to you during the purchasing process.

If you decide to finance your motorcycle, the lender will typically hold the title. Once your motorcycle is paid off, the lender will transfer ownership to you and give you the certificate of title document. 

In a private sale, the seller is required to provide a current odometer disclosure on the title at the time of sale. Then, both parties are required to sign and date the document. 

Per usual, requirements vary widely by state. Check out AAA’s Digest of Motor Laws to get a general idea of your state’s title transfer requirements. As always, contact your local DMV to verify the guidelines.

Title fees also vary by state and cost up to $100. You can also check out AAA’s Digest of Motor Laws to view your state’s title fees. 

Registration and License Plate/Tag 

Once you purchase a vehicle, you must register it with your state government at your local DMV. Although many locations accept walk-ins, it’s best to make an appointment to avoid long lines. 

General Vehicle Registration Requirements 
  • Have a title in your name.
  • Pass an emissions test or smog check, if required by your state.
  • Pass a vehicle safety inspection.
  • Have insurance.

The requirements above vary by state. For state-specific vehicle registration requirements, contact your local DMV.

When you register your motorcycle, you will receive a metal license plate, a validation decal and a registration certificate. Registration fees vary by state and are about $3 to $95

Plates (tags) are required for vehicle identification and in some states are an additional fee. 

Check out AAA’s Digest of Motor Laws to view the motorcycle registration fees for your area. 

Some dealerships will process your registration, provide you with a temporary paper tag and have the metal license plate mailed to your home. Of course, this service is offered at a fee. We’ll discuss this further in the dealership fees section. 

Sales tax

If your state, county and/or city requires citizens to pay sales tax on their motor vehicles, by law, you are required to pay taxes on both public and private purchases. So, yes, if you buy a motorcycle from a private seller, you are still required to pay taxes. 

However, there are a handful of states that don’t have sales tax. Lucky you! 

Sales tax varies by state and ranges from 0.50% to 7.25% of the purchase price, plus county tax if applicable.

For example, the state tax in Florida is 6%, and the county tax in Pinellas County, Florida is an additional 1% on the first $5,000 of your vehicle. Therefore if your motorcycle costs $10,000, you would pay ($10,000 x 6%) + (1% x $5,000) in taxes. That equals $650. 

Make sure to contact your local DMV to learn about the tax rates for your state, county, and/or city. If your area has a sales tax, you’ll need to bring the Bill of Sale to the DMV when you go to register your motorcycle. The DMV representative that assists you will collect the sales tax at that time.

Dealership Fees

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Purchasing a motorcycle from a dealership can be expensive. However, it does have its benefits. 

Although there are extra fees, buying a motorcycle at a dealership is a one-stop shop. Plus, the dealer handles most of the paperwork. In the end, it’s all up to your personal preference. 

The fees listed below are general guidelines. Be sure to contact your dealer representative to get more detailed information. 

Profit and Commission

First, a dealership buys a motorcycle from the manufacturer or a private seller. Then, the dealership sells that bike to a customer. In order to make a profit, the dealership must sell that bike for more than they purchased it for.

  • Invoice Price: the price a dealer pays a manufacturer to buy a motorcycle
  • Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): the recommended retail (sticker) price a motorcycle manufacturer suggests to dealerships
  • Retail price: the actual sticker price a dealership chooses to sell a motorcycle for

Manufacturers do not disclose their invoice prices to the general public. Those numbers are kept confidential between them and the dealership. Also, many manufacturers no longer disclose their official MSRPs to the general public, and therefore neither do dealers. 

The profit a dealer makes from the difference between the invoice price and the MSRP is often considered off-limits for negotiation. After all, they have to make money somehow. 

Some dealerships may charge more than the MSRP. This depends on factors such as demand, availability and perceived value of the motorcycle. (Not yet including fees.) 

And, if you’re buying a used motorcycle from a dealership, there’s really no way to know what the dealership actually paid for it. There are a few different scenarios:

  1. The dealer bought it, new or used, for its actual value.
  2. The dealer bought it, new or used, for a price less than its actual value.
  3. The dealer bought it used for less than its actual value, but they had to spend a significant amount of money on repairs. 

The best thing you can do is to research and shop around. For example, if you’re interested in a brand-new 2020 CVO Street Glide, check the Harley-Davison website for their retail price. Then compare that price to dealership prices. 

If you notice that the lowest/most common price is equal to the price on Harley’s website, it’s likely the MSRP. Dealers typically don’t advertise motorcycles below this amount. But, it’s possible to get a deal if you meet with the dealer in person.

However, if the price is higher than the MSRP, don’t automatically assume it’s a rip-off. Remember, dealers take into account demand, availability and perceived value when pricing a motorcycle. 

And, contrary to popular belief, most dealerships don’t have huge profit margins. So, we don’t recommend barging into your local dealership demanding a lower price because you know how motorcycle pricing works. 

Instead, find a motorcycle that’s within your budget, markups, fees and financing included. Then, attempt to negotiate a lower price based on the out-the-door price. 

You can negotiate yourself out of paying bogus fees. Some examples are the loss of productivity fee, pre-purchase inspection fee, regional ad fee, additional markup fee and administrative fee. 

You can also negotiate a lower price based on the pricing information you’ve gathered because you have a general idea of what the dealership might have paid for it. Just don’t give off the impression that you’re trying to strip them of any and all profits.

Want to know how to negotiate? We’ll discuss negotiation techniques later on in this guide. But, feel free to jump ahead for more information. 

Freight

Dealerships charge freight fees to cover the cost of transporting the motorcycle from the manufacturer to the dealership. This fee is typically determined by the value of the motorcycle and the distance from the warehouse. Dealership freight fees can range anywhere from $300 to $900.

Set up

Once the dealer receives the motorcycle, they’ll need to assemble it and prepare it to be sold. This is known as the set-up fee, and it can range from $150 to $450. 

You may be thinking, “That’s ridiculous!” If you feel that the cons outweigh the pros when it comes to buying from a dealership, consider buying a gently used motorcycle from a private seller instead. 

Documentation

After you purchase a motorcycle you must register it with your state government. Many dealerships will process your registration for your convenience, which saves you from the dreaded trip to the DMV. This convenience, of course, comes at a price. 

Dealerships also charge a fee for processing the title paperwork and any other documents prepared during your service. 

The total documentation fee can range from $100 to $500. 

Private Purchase Fees

Private purchase motorcycle fees are less expensive than dealership fees. You can actually avoid all four fees listed below. 

For example, you can avoid shipping and escrow fees by purchasing a motorcycle in person, locally. 

You can avoid buying a vehicle history report by asking the seller to provide it. Or, by asking them to provide you with maintenance documentation. 

You can also avoid paying for a motorcycle inspection by asking the seller to provide inspection documentation, asking a friend to do the inspection or by doing the inspection yourself.

Shipping

If you plan to privately purchase an out-of-state motorcycle, make sure that you are speaking with a legitimate buyer and not a fraudster. Then, find a reputable shipping company to transport your motorcycle safely.

Many shipping companies offer free quotes on their website. This fee is based on several factors. On uShip, a shipping marketplace, fees are typically based on the distance of travel, make and model of the motorcycle, expedited shipping, residential fees and insurance coverage. 

On uShip, the average shipping cost for a motorcycle is $350 to $700 for 1,000 miles. Shipments under 1,000 miles cost about $180 to $300. 

Escrow Service 

If your privately purchased motorcycle will be shipped to you, we recommend using an escrow service to secure your transaction. 

An escrow company is a trusted third party that accepts the buyer’s payment and holds those funds during the transport of the motorcycle. Once the buyer receives the bike, the escrow company sends that money to the seller. 

Many escrow companies have fee calculators on their websites. This fee is a percentage of the item’s cost. Motorcycles can cost $6,000 to $50,000. Based on this price range, escrow fees are approximately $160 to $450

Vehicle History Report 

If you want to verify the condition of a motorcycle before you buy it, you can order a vehicle history report. For a fee, you can generate a report on a motorcycle by simply entering its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). 

This report can provide information on the motorcycle’s registration history, warranty information, service history, salvage titles, major accidents, etc. However, keep in mind that this report may not be comprehensive as some information may not be available if it was not reported by the previous owner(s). 

One of the most popular vehicle history information services is CarFax. One CarFax vehicle history report is $39.99. They also offer bundle deals.

Motorcycle Inspection

If you want to get the motorcycle inspected, it may be best to ask the seller after seeing it in person. 

When you start speaking with the seller, they will be gauging your level of interest. From the seller’s point of view, if it seems unlikely that you will purchase the bike, it won’t be worth the time and energy to get it inspected. After all, time is money. 

Speak with the seller over the phone. Ask them if they can provide maintenance documentation and/or a vehicle history report. Then, meet with them in person. 

If you still feel uneasy about the condition of the bike after seeing it in person, you can get it inspected by a professional motorcycle mechanic. Motorcycle inspection can cost between $50 to $100

To avoid this cost, you can ask a friend to inspect the bike. Or, if you feel comfortable with your motorcycle knowledge, you can do the inspection yourself. It may be helpful to use our checklist from the maintenance and repairs section to make sure you cover all areas of inspection. 

Now that you know the fees, you can factor each one into your budget. 

3. Know your payment plan.

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Now, you can decide how you will pay for your motorcycle. You have three options: buy in cash, make a down payment and finance the remaining balance or finance the entire amount.

If you plan to buy your motorcycle in cash you can skip this section on mapping out your expenses and fees

Get a credit score report.

Start by figuring out your credit score. Many companies offer free reports, including Credit Karma. Many credit cards also offer free reports in your online account. 

Keep in mind that if you finance your motorcycle at a dealership, they may use a different company to run your credit report than you did previously. Therefore, the report they receive may show a different score than the report you received.

Your credit score will have a direct impact on your interest rate. The higher/better your credit score is, the less interest you’ll have to pay. The lower/poorer your credit score is, the more interest you’ll have to pay.

Credit score less than ideal? Check out our in-depth discussion on how to buy a motorcycle with poor credit. 

Credit Score Range 

According to Credit Karma, poor scores are 300 to 600, fair to good scores are low 600s to mid 700s, and very good and excellent scores are above the mid 700s. Check out the table below to see what category you fall into. 

FICO ScoreAPR
760-8503.442 %
700-7593.664 %
680-6993.841 %
660-6794.055 %
640-6594.485 %
620-6395.031 %

Keep in mind that the rates above were published in October 2019. APR rates may change over time. You can keep up with any changes by visiting Credit Karma’s website or by speaking with your financial service provider. 

Explore financing options. 

Now that you know your credit score, you can begin to explore the different financing options available to you. 

Types of Financing
  • Dealer financing 
  • OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers)
  • Bank or credit union
  • Personal loan
  • Rider-to-Rider financing
  • Credit card

Not sure if you should finance your motorcycle? Check out our blog post about financing your motorcycle for detailed information on each option above. 

Estimate your monthly payments. 

To get an estimate of your monthly payments, you can use NADA’s motorcycle loan calculator

  1. Start by entering the Kelley Blue Book retail value of the motorcycle you want. 
  2. If you have a motorcycle you’d like to trade in, enter its trade-in value. (The retail value and trade-in value will be generated simultaneously on Kelley Blue Book. Keep in mind, NADA’s website does not calculate motorcycle trade-in value.)
  3. If you plan to make a cash down payment, enter that amount. 
  4. Enter your anticipated interest rate based on your credit score by using the APR table above. 
  5. Enter in how many months you plan to pay off the loan. (The longer the term, the lower the monthly payment, but the longer you’ll have to pay.)
  6. Choose your state’s sales tax from the drop-down list provided on the webpage. 

Map out your expenses and fees. 

Separate your costs into two categories; initial and routine. Separating your costs will help you solidify your payment plan. 

Heads up. Your total costs will be significantly higher the first month of your motorcycle purchase, especially if you are a new rider who needs a full set of safety gear. But, there’s good news. In the following months, your costs could be as low as one-fifth of your initial expenses and fees. 

Initial Costs 

These expenses and fees are non-recurring, with the exception of annual registration fees, training courses and safety gear (which should be replaced every two to three years). 

Expenses
  • Safety gear 
  • License and/or training courses
  • Down payment and the first monthly payment (if financing) or the full cost of the motorcycle (if paying in cash)
Fees 
  • Title fee 
  • Registration and license plate fees
  • Dealership or private purchase fees 
  • Sales tax 
Routine Costs

These costs occur on a monthly or yearly basis, with the exception of fuel, maintenance and repairs, which may vary. 

Routine Expenses
  • Monthly insurance payments 
  • Monthly motorcycle payments (if financing) 
  • Maintenance and repairs 
  • Fuel
Routine fee
  • Annual registration fee 

Steps of the Purchase Process 

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4. Start your search.

You already chose the type of motorcycle you want. Now it’s time to choose a specific make and model. 

Find online marketplaces or dealerships.

If you plan to buy from a dealership, start by browsing the web for dealerships in your area. You can use Google Maps to find the ones that are closest to you. 

For instance, you can enter “motorcycle dealerships St. Petersburg, FL.” Or, you can use the tool on our website to find a dealer near you by simply entering your ZIP code.

If you plan to buy from a private seller, search online for motorcycle marketplaces. There are several options including ChopperExchange, eBay Motors, Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist.  

To find other online marketplaces, you can google phrases such as, “buy a motorcycle online” or “motorcycle marketplace.” 

Verify reputability.

One way to verify a company’s authenticity is by calling them. A reputable business will have a customer support line

You can also search the internet for reviews, such as Google Reviews. Nowadays, a business should have an online presence. If you can’t find any information on the internet about that company, it may be a red flag. 

Also, check and see if that company has any active social media accounts. Most businesses have at least one. The most common social platforms for businesses are Facebook and Instagram. 

Once you find their account(s), look in the comment sections and see what people are saying about their business.

Search online.

Most dealerships have a tool on their website that you can use to search through available inventory. If you can’t view the dealership’s inventory online, search the manufacturer’s website for the model you want. 

Then, call the dealership to see if they have it in stock. This will save you a wasted trip to the dealership. 

Finding a privately owned bike on an online marketplace is pretty straightforward. When a motorcycle is listed on a private sale marketplace, you’ll see new listings in real-time. 

If the model you are looking for is not listed, create an account and sign up for email/text alerts. 

Want more guidance? Check out our blog on how to purchase a motorcycle online!

Filter your results. 

When searching for a motorcycle online, make sure that you filter your results. Having too many search results to sift through can be overwhelming. 

Start by entering your zip code and the distance you are willing to travel from that area. You can also filter your results by motorcycle price and condition. 

Save your favorite motorcycles. 

As previously mentioned, make sure that you create an account before you begin your search. Many motorcycle marketplaces and dealership websites have an online tool you can use to bookmark/save your favorite motorcycles. 

As you are browsing through bikes, bookmark/save the ones that interest you the most. If this feature is not available, save each bike’s link to bookmarks in your web browser. 

You can also save each link to your computer or smartphone. To make it easier to review the motorcycle links you’ve saved, save an image with each one. 

This way, when you revisit the list to narrow down your results, you won’t have to click on each link to find the one you’re looking for. You can also label each link/photo to make it even easier. 

Narrow down your options. 

Revisit all the motorcycles that you chose. Now go through each one and eliminate those that have the least of what you’re looking for. 

Make sure you’re taking experience level, purpose, type, features, price, fees and expenses into account.

Ultimately, narrow down your list to 10 bikes. Then put them in order based on interest.

Call private sellers or dealerships.

Now that you have your top 10 motorcycles, you can start reaching out to sellers. It’s important to reach out to more than one because each bike’s price, distance and condition may vary. 

You should also speak to multiple sellers to gain leverage for the negotiation process. And in order to gain leverage, it’s best to speak with each seller around the same time.

Want to learn specific negotiating techniques? You can jump ahead to this section on negotiation

Look out for potential scammers.

If you plan to purchase your bike privately, it’s important to know how to identify a scammer.

One of the most common red flags is when someone insists on using PayPal®. PayPal is a reputable money transfer service. However, there are people who use the app to con unsuspecting buyers. 

Scammers like to use Paypal because they can hide behind a fake identity. In this scenario, you would be tricked into transferring the money but would never receive the bike. 

A scammer may also attempt to deceive you by recommending a bogus shipping company. If you pay them for the motorcycle and they “purchase the shipping,” you’ll never receive the bike. 

And, good luck getting your money back. If you purchase shipping on a bogus shipping website, the scammer has not only stolen your money but your credit card information as well. 

Make sure that you use an escrow service if you plan to buy a bike that is out of state. But be wary of fraudsters who insist on using a specific escrow company. 

Choose a company you know is reputable. Similar to the shipping scam routine, if you use a fake escrow website, you’ll give a scammer your hard-earned money and credit card information. 

Another red flag is when someone can’t speak on the phone. They may claim that they have a bad connection or work long hours. 

They may also claim that they can’t meet up in person. Common excuses for not meeting in person are that they’re in the military, have relocated or are traveling abroad. This is because they can’t risk revealing their true identity and because the motorcycle doesn’t even exist. 

Also, if the price seems too good to be true, it usually is. If the motorcycle is listed far below the motorcycle’s Kelley Blue Book value, it’s most likely a scam. We normally recommend our private sellers to list $500 to $1,000 below the retail/dealership price. 

A motorcycle listed thousands of dollars below the Kelley Blue Book value is most likely a scam. Especially if that motorcycle is vintage or antique. 

Scammers may also tell you an elaborate sob story about why they need to sell their motorcycle as soon as possible. They may claim that their mother is ill or that they are at risk of being evicted from their home. 

Of course, none of it is true. They’re trying to pull on your heartstrings in hopes that you’ll let your guard down. 

Some of the best ways to avoid potential selling scams are to purchase your motorcycle in person, use an escrow company and use companies you are familiar with. 

Want to learn more about scams? Check out our blog for detailed information and tips on motorcycle buying and selling scams

Ask questions. 

Soon, you will go to see your top choices in person (if the bike is local). To save yourself a wasted trip, ask the majority of your questions over the phone. 

Some private sellers may prefer to answer basic, common questions via text or email. But if you’re still interested after asking the preliminary questions, the seller should be more than happy to chat with you over the phone. 

Questions for private sellers: 
  • How many people have owned the motorcycle?
  • Do you have the title? Are there any liens on the title?
  • Has the motorcycle had any major repairs? 
  • Has the motorcycle ever been dropped or involved in an accident?
  • How often has the motorcycle been maintained?
  • Is there a transferable warranty on the bike?
  • Can you provide documentation of maintenance history?
  • Can you provide a photo or video of the current odometer reading?
  • Is there another way you can prove possession of the motorcycle?
  • Can I test ride the motorcycle?
  • Why is the motorcycle for sale?
Questions for dealers: 
  • What’s the out-the-door price? 
  • Do you offer financing? If so, can I get pre-approved? 
  • What paperwork should I bring?
  • Are there any current promotions? 
  • Do you take trade-ins? 
  • What services has the bike received since the dealership purchased it?
  • Who was the vehicle purchased from? 
  • What’s the warranty coverage? 
  • Can I test ride the motorcycle?

5. Choose your top three bikes. 

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You started off with your top 10 motorcycles. Now that you have spoken with the sellers, your list may be shorter. That’s great because you need to continue to narrow down your options. Narrow down your list to your top three choices. 

Narrowing down your options even further will make choosing “the one” a lot easier. For starters, you won’t drive yourself crazy meeting up with dozens of private sellers or dealers. At most, you’ll have three different appointments to see the bikes in person. 

Think of your deal-breakers.

If you’re having difficulty chipping away at the other bikes on your list, think of your deal-breakers. What are the features you must have on your motorcycle? 

Think about the ultimate purpose of your motorcycle. Is it to go touring with your friends? To save money? Perhaps, to commute faster to work? Any motorcycle that doesn’t fit those criteria, give it the ax. 

The sooner you eliminate other options, the sooner you’ll be cruising the streets on your dream bike. 

Go with your gut.

Another reason to narrow down your options is to avoid having analysis paralysis. Often, when we have too many choices, we tend to overthink and overanalyze. This makes the buying process lengthier and more frustrating. 

Believe it or not, there is a psychology behind decision-making. Licensed Clinical Social Worker Robert Taibbi recommends going with your gut feeling to avoid pestering over choices. 

If you find yourself stuck, open your browser and look at each motorcycle side by side. If there aren’t many differences between the three, pick the one that you naturally gravitate towards the most. 

6. See the bikes in person. 

Now that you’ve chosen your top three motorcycles, you can arrange to see them in person. You’ve already been communicating with the private seller or dealer. Now it’s time to assert your interest. 

Preparation

As previously mentioned, make sure that you look up the Kelley Blue Book value of each of your top three picks before meeting with the seller. Compare the Kelley Blue Book suggested retail price to the seller’s asking price. 

Then print the information and bring it with you to the meeting/appointment. This way, when it’s time to negotiate price, you’ll be prepared. 

If you plan to purchase a motorcycle that is out of state, ask the seller to record a video of the bike starting up cold and running for a few minutes. Also, ask that the video showcases the bike from all angles (including a shot of the odometer). When you purchase a motorcycle out-of-state, always take the necessary precautions to verify any information you’re told.

If you plan to purchase your bike from a local private seller, simply ask the seller when is a good time to come and see the bike in person. Perhaps you and/or the seller feel more comfortable meeting in a neutral setting versus at the seller’s home. In this case, you can offer to meet in a public place, such as a motorcycle dealership, bank or insurance agency.

If you plan to buy your bike from a dealership, give them a call, reintroduce yourself and make sure that the model you want is still available. Then, schedule an appointment. You may also want to verify the out-the-door price, as it may have changed since you last called. When doing so, be sure to ask for the name of the representative you’re speaking with. 

If you plan to buy a used bike, ask the seller to leave the motorcycle cold prior to your arrival. A clean cold start is usually an indicator that a bike is in good working condition. Check the motor for warmth when you arrive. If it’s warm, the seller may be trying to hide something from you.

Test ride

Ask the owner if you can test ride the motorcycle beforehand. Some private sellers will want the full price of the bike in cash before allowing you to test ride it. Other forms of collateral a seller may ask for are your license (with motorcycle endorsement), car keys or house keys.

If the owner is not comfortable with a test ride or you want to avoid potential liability, you can ask the owner to ride it up and down the street. This way, you’ll at least get to hear it run and see it in action. 

You can also simply sit on the bike to make sure it’s a good fit for you. Different bikes have different seating positions. Make sure that you are comfortable. It’s not unusual for an interested buyer to sit on a motorcycle for a good ten to fifteen minutes to make sure the bike is “the one.” 

Ask questions 

Don’t forget to ask any questions that you didn’t get a chance to ask over the phone. And, there aren’t any “dumb questions.” If you are new to riding, the seller will understand. They may even take pride in schooling a new fellow rider. Just make sure no one tries to take advantage of your lack of knowledge by doing your research and coming prepared. 

Also, ask to see the title, especially if you are buying your motorcycle privately. This way you can compare the VIN on the title to the VIN on the motorcycle. These numbers should match exactly. The last thing you want to do is accidentally purchase a stolen motorcycle. 

Ask about any “rashes” you see on the bike. This may indicate a crash or fall. Also, keep a lookout for parts with different colors. Different shades of paint may indicate that parts have been replaced due to an accident. Bent metal is also a red flag. 

Bring a friend 

If it’ll make you feel more comfortable, bring a friend with you when you go to see the bike in person, especially if you aren’t much of a motorcycle expert. Even if you are an expert, it never hurts to have someone there to bounce ideas off of. A friend can also be there to remind you of your goals, budget, likes and dislikes. 

If you’re meeting up with a private seller, make sure it’s okay with them first. Unfortunately, there are thieves out there. You don’t want to make the seller uncomfortable by bringing an unmentioned guest. 

Get an inspection. 

If you still feel uneasy about the condition of the bike after seeing it in person or receiving a vehicle history report, you can get it inspected by a professional mechanic. If you are out of state and want the motorcycle inspected, we suggest arranging it yourself. Pay the dealership or auto shop directly and have the results sent directly to you. 

7. Negotiate the price.

Negotiation requires a delicate balance between being firm and compromising. To learn motorcycle negotiating techniques, continue reading below.

If you have a trade-in, negotiate the trade-in value and the total cost of the motorcycle (not monthly payments) separately. A dealer may lowball you on the value of your trade-in in an attempt to get more money from you. 

Remember, you know the value of your trade-in. Don’t accept anything less than its true value. The more money you receive for your trade-in, the less you’ll have to pay out of pocket for your motorcycle. Motorcycle cost trade-in value = final cost. 

If the motorcycle is overpriced, you can convince the seller to lower the price by stating that you know the motorcycle’s actual value. Save or print the Kelley Blue Book information and bring it with you when negotiating.

You can also negotiate a lower price by gauging how long the bike has been for sale. If you notice the bike has been listed for an extended period of time, you can make an offer lower than its typical value. The seller will be more likely to accept this offer over no offer at all. 

You can use a similar tactic if the bike has mechanical issues. If you have expert knowledge about motorcycles and are good at making repairs, buy a fixer-upper. It could save you money in the long run. Just make sure that you calculate how much the repairs would cost, add that amount to the cost of the fixer-upper and compare that sum to the value of that motorcycle in good condition. 

You can also make a cash offer. Most people choose to make a down payment and then pay the remaining balance through financing. 

Sometimes sellers don’t recoup all the money they were owed. Private sellers are also wary of scammers, and rightfully so. Paying in cash eliminates the risk factor for sellers. Therefore, make a cash offer below the motorcycle’s value. The seller will be more likely to accept.

Remember when we said to speak with multiple sellers? This not only gives you options, but it also gives you leverage. If a seller begins to hesitate when you are on the brink of closing a deal, mention the other offers you are considering. They may accept your initial offer or at least be willing to compromise. 

Ask the seller to give you their best and lowest price. According to Harvard Business School, the final outcome of negotiation often depends on who makes the offer first. The final price tends to be higher when the buyer makes the first offer. This means that it may be a good idea to ask the seller for their best price before you make your best and final offer. As the popular quote goes, “He who speaks first loses.” 

Want more detailed advice on negotiating techniques? Check out our in-depth discussion on how to negotiate when buying a motorcycle.

8. Choose “the one” and make the purchase. 

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You know what time it is! It’s time to purchase your top pick. Now that you have seen all three motorcycles in person, it’s time to choose “the one.” 

What to Bring 

Read the checklist below to see the items you must bring when you make your purchase at a dealership or from a private seller. In the following section, we’ll go through the motorcycle purchase process step-by-step. 

Dealership Purchase Checklist 

There’s quite a bit of information you’ll need to bring with you to the dealership when you purchase your motorcycle. Contact your dealer for specific information prior to your appointment. You can view the checklist below to get a general idea of the required documentation. 

Identification 

You will need to bring some form of identification, such as a driver’s license or passport. Contrary to popular belief, it is not illegal to purchase a motorcycle without a motorcycle license/endorsement. It’s not unusual for someone to buy a motorcycle as a gift for a loved one, with no intention of operating it themselves. 

However, it is illegal to operate a motorcycle without a license, even if you’re just riding it back home after purchasing it. So, make sure you have your motorcycle license prior to purchase. Or,  plan to have your motorcycle transported/shipped, if you know you will be unlicensed at the time of purchase. 

  • Driver’s License or Identification Card
Finance Paperwork

If you are financing through the dealership, they will need your Social Security number (SSN) to run a credit check. However, there’s usually no need to bring your actual Social Security card. Also, any purchase over $10,000 must be reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by submitting your SSN. 

  • Social Security number

The dealer may also want to verify your salary to make sure you have enough income to pay for the motorcycle. 

  • Proof of income 
    • Pay stubs 
    • W2

If you were pre-approved for a motorcycle loan by your financial service provider, you’ll need to present the loan approval documents to the dealership. 

  • Loan quote 
  • Letter of commitment (preliminary approval letter or pre-qualification letter) 
Proof of Residence

The dealer needs to verify that the monthly billing statements will arrive at your residence and not an outdated or bogus address. Proof of residence also helps verify your identity. 

You’ll likely need at least two of the documents listed below. Make sure that the address on those documents matches the address on your driver’s license. 

  • Utility bill 
  • Credit card or bank statement
  • Property tax bill 
  • Auto insurance policy statement
  • Renters or homeowners insurance policy statement
  • Benefit statement (i.e.: Medicaid or Medicare) 
Your Trade-in 

If you plan to trade in your current motorcycle, you’ll need to bring it with you. Don’t forget your trade-in by driving your cage. Just remember to ride your trade-in to the dealership. Or, you can haul it by truck or trailer. 

  • The motorcycle
  • Key(s)
  • Certificate of Title 
  • Owner’s manual 
Proof of Motorcycle Insurance 

Before you pull off the lot on your motorcycle, the dealership must confirm that you are insured. If you are having your motorcycle shipped, you may not have to provide proof of insurance. However, in most states motorcycle insurance is required for registration. 

  • Motorcycle insurance identification card
  • Billing statement
Info for discounts and rebates 

If you are getting a discount on your motorcycle, make sure you bring the proper information with you to the dealership. For example, if you qualify for a discount because you are a college student, teacher or member of the military, make sure that you bring your ID card. 

  • Identification card 
  • Coupons 
    • Promo codes 
Co-signer

If you have bad credit or no credit, your lender may require you to have a co-signer. This person would be responsible for your debt should you default on your loan. In most cases, this person must have good credit and enough income to cover the loan. Your co-signer can be a parent, friend, family member, etc.

Some dealers require the co-signer’s paperwork to have original signatures. This means that your co-signer may need to accompany you to the dealership. However, there are dealerships that will accept signatures that have been notarized. 

  • Co-signer’s driver’s license 
  • Co-signer’s Social Security number 
  • Proof of co-signer’s income 
    • Pay stubs 
    • W2
Credit Reference 

A credit reference is someone who can verify the information that you’ve given the lender, such as your identity, salary or contact information. A lender may also contact your reference(s) to get in touch with you in the event that you default on your loan and become unresponsive. 

  • Two to seven references
  • Their legal name, address and home phone number, etc. 
Cash Payment

If you are purchasing your motorcycle in full or making a down payment, you will need to bring cash or a cash equivalent. Keep in mind that many dealerships don’t accept actual cash. 

This is because they may not want to spend the time or resources it takes to ensure the money is authentic and is counted properly. Therefore, you should call the dealership prior to your appointment to verify the forms of payment they accept. 

  • Cash 
  • Personal Check
  • Cashier’s Check
  • Money order 
  • Debit card
Private Purchase Checklist

There aren’t many documents you’ll need to bring with you to purchase a motorcycle privately. Your seller should have the Certificate of Title on hand and the Bill of Sale prepared when you arrive. 

Identification 

Unlike a dealership purchase, you don’t need much to verify your identity, unless you choose to finance your motorcycle. 

  • Driver’s license 
Cash Payment

If you are purchasing your motorcycle in full, don’t forget to visit the bank to make a withdrawal. You may be tempted to hit the ATM. However, most financial institutions have maximums on ATM withdrawals. This can range from $300 to $2,000. Some banks also have in-branch withdrawal limits. Contact your bank to verify your daily withdrawal maximums.

  • Cash 
  • Check
  • Money order 
  • Debit card
Finance Paperwork

If you are financing your motorcycle, it’s best to get pre-approved for the loan (by your financial service provider, private lender or dealership rider-to-rider program), so that you can provide the seller with that information on the day of purchase. 

You may even need to make the purchase in the presence of your seller and lender at the financial institution. Although this is a private purchase, the information and documentation required make this process quite similar to a dealership financing purchase.

See the dealership purchase checklist for more information.

Purchase Process

There are different steps when it comes to buying a motorcycle from a dealer versus from a private seller. Continue reading below to learn more about the dealership purchase process. If you are buying your motorcycle from a private seller, simply skip to the following section. 

Dealership Purchase 

There are quite a few steps to purchasing a motorcycle at a dealership. To get an idea of what to expect, continue reading below. For specific information, make sure that you call the dealership prior to your appointment. 

Provide Identification 

You will first provide the dealership with some form of identification. They will already have your driver’s license if you purchase the motorcycle immediately after a test ride. You will also need to provide your SSN.

Trade-in your current bike 

At this point, you may have already negotiated the value of your trade-in. Always negotiate the price of your trade-in prior to discussing the final out-the-door price or monthly payments. 

Make sure the paperwork reflects the price that you and the dealer agreed upon. 

Need a refresher on how to negotiate the value of a trade-in? Revisit this section in which we discuss how to negotiate price.

Full Cash Payment or Down Payment

If you plan to purchase your motorcycle in cash or make a down payment, remember that many dealerships won’t accept actual cash. Instead, you may need to visit your bank to get a cashier’s check. 

This is not to be confused with a personal check or money order. A personal check can be written even if there are insufficient funds in your account. When you purchase a cashier’s check, the funds are deducted from your account immediately. 

And, in addition to banks and credit unions, a money order can be purchased from places like retail stores and post offices. While a cashier’s check can only be purchased at financial institutions. 

Depending on the institution, you may have to pay a small fee. But, cashier’s checks are usually no more than $12.

If you purchase your motorcycle in full, the dealer will sign over the Certificate of Title and will give that document to you. 

Credit Check

The dealer will ask you if you are financing with the dealership. If you were pre-approved by a bank or private lender, provide the dealer with your approval documents. Tell the dealer if they can beat your current rate, that you will consider financing with the dealership. 

The dealer will now perform a credit check. You’ll likely need to provide proof of income at this time. If you have a cosigner, they will need to provide their information as well. The dealership or lender may also ask you to provide credit references. 

Financing 

If you are financing your motorcycle, make sure that you focus on the out-the-door price. Do not focus on monthly payments. 

Low monthly payments are great. But, if you’re not careful, you could agree to pay more over a longer period of time. For instance, if you only focus on monthly payments you could end up paying $200 a month for six years versus three years. That’s a seven thousand dollar difference! 

Bill of Sale 

Look over the bill carefully. If anything looks out of the ordinary, do not hesitate to ask the dealer representative. 

Charging fees is how dealerships increase their margins. Most dealership fees are “non-negotiable.” But, you can try to get some of the fees deducted. At this point, the dealer has put so much time and energy into the transaction that they may be more flexible. 

Some fees that may be bogus are the loss of productivity fee, pre-purchase inspection fee, regional ad fee, additional markup fee and administrative fee. 

Need a refresher on legitimate fees? Simply revisit this section on dealership fees

Before you pay, also make sure you will be able to take the bike home with you that day. Some dealerships may only have a floor/stock model for viewing purposes and test rides. If this is the case, the dealer will have to order your motorcycle and have it shipped in. 

If you have a trade-in, now’s the time to transfer ownership to the dealership by signing the Certificate of Title. After signing, you’ll give that document to the dealer. 

Seal the Deal 

It’s very important to read all contracts and paperwork very carefully. You can ask the dealer for clarity on any of the documents. But, keep in mind, they are not required to point out important clauses or fine print. Take a second look at things such as warranty information, fees, terms of the loan and overall price. 

It may make you feel more comfortable to have someone to accompany you at the dealership or someone to chat with over the phone for support and advice. After all, this is a big commitment.

Private Purchase 

If you are financing your motorcycle, also check out the dealer purchase section above. As we discussed earlier, your process will closely resemble the dealership financing purchasing process, especially if you are using rider-to-rider financing. 

If you plan to pay in cash, for your own safety, it’s best to meet with the seller in a public place. If the seller is illegitimate, you probably would have noticed red flags earlier in the process. But, it’s better to be safe than sorry when carrying around that amount of money. 

Provide Identification

You’ll simply need to provide the seller with your license to verify your identity. You should also ask to see the seller’s license to verify their identity as well. Make sure that the name on their ID matches the name on the title.

Bill of Sale 

The Bill of Sale should state the year, make, model, color, mileage and VIN of the motorcycle. It also states the method of payment, final sale price and current mileage. Make sure that the VIN on the title matches the VIN on the motorcycle. 

You and the seller will write your name, address, phone number and driver’s license number on the document and then sign and date it. Keep in mind that in some states a Bill of Sale must be notarized. We recommend that you contact your local DMV to see if notarization is required in your state.

Payment

After the Bill of Sale and Certificate is complete, it’s time to pay the seller. If you’re paying in cash, feel free to count the money aloud as you hand it to the seller. Also, give them the opportunity to count it themselves. 

If you’re purchasing a motorcycle out of state, you should use an escrow service to make a secure transaction. For more information, revisit this section on escrow services

Certificate of Title 

The owner’s name and address will appear on the title. If the title has more than one owner, all owners must sign off on the title for a legal transfer of ownership to be made. 

There shouldn’t be any liens listed on the Certificate of Title. If there are, the “release of lien” section of the document must be filled out and signed by the seller’s lender or an accompanying lien release document must be provided. 

The seller will write their printed name, the date, the selling price and the total price paid on the document. The seller will also add your name and address (and lien holder’s name and address if applicable). The seller will then complete the federal odometer statement section on the title, which is required by law. 

Make sure that the odometer mileage on the motorcycle matches the odometer mileage written on the title. It’s also very important that you check the odometer brand and title of the brand before signing. You don’t want to accidentally purchase a lemon or salvage motorcycle. 

Not sure what types of brands and titles to watch out for? Check out our in-depth discussion on odometer and title brands.

Transport/Delivery

After you purchase your bike, it’s time to take that beauty home! But, don’t forget that your motorcycle must be registered in order to ride it legally. 

In most states, it is illegal to ride without motorcycle insurance coverage.  

If you’re taking your motorcycle home the same day, plan to hoist it in the back of your pickup. If you don’t own a truck, ask a friend or family member to haul it. Or, you can arrange for a friend or family member to drop you off, and you can ride the bike back home if you are licensed, insured and registered. 

If you are purchasing your motorcycle out of state, arrange for your bike to be shipped beforehand

Want more information on how to transport your motorcycle? Revisit this section for details on motorcycle shipping.  

9. Enjoy your bike! 

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Hooray! You’ve just bought a motorcycle! Now that the purchasing process is complete, it’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. 

There are so many benefits to owning a motorcycle. Community and camaraderie are some of the best aspects of being a part of motorcycle culture. It gives you an opportunity to connect with individuals who have similar lifestyles, hobbies and pastimes. Plus, the thrill of riding a motorcycle is an experience like no other. Check out the list below to get ideas for your next adventure! 

Fun things to do 

  • Motorcycle rallies 
  • Concerts 
  • Motorcycle shows 
  • Parades
  • Touring
  • Road trips
  • Meet fellow riders
  • Join an organization
  • Group ride 
  • Solo ride 
  • Add upgrades to your motorcycle
  • Go riding with your significant other
  • Photograph and videotape your adventures 
  • Join an online motorcycle forum 
  • Do your own repairs 
  • Take riding courses 

If this is your first time purchasing a motorcycle, what are you looking forward to most?! 

If this isn’t your first rodeo, what’s your favorite thing about being a rider?! 

Happy riding!

3 comments on “How to Buy a Motorcycle (The Ultimate Guide)”

  • Thisis the roadmap to a well-informed and enjoyable motorcycle purchase. It’s a must-read for riders of all levels, equipping you with the knowledge and guidance needed to make the perfect choice for your two-wheeled adventures.

  • This guide is your trusted companion in the world of motorcycle buying. It’s like having a knowledgeable friend who shares valuable tips and insider information to help you make a smart and satisfying motorcycle purchase.

  • Your content has useful information that is a must-read for all riders, from beginners to experts. Safety should always come first when enjoying winter adventures.

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