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Are you thinking of buying a used motorcycle but are afraid of being ripped off? This buying guide is made to help you avoid unpleasant surprises!
Unlike the car, the differences between motorcycles are often more substantial. Also, life changes and desires/needs too. In addition, the repression (Via Secura not to name it) had an effect on the inclinations of certain bikers. Thus, those who have favored sport bikes are looking toward less powerful vehicles. Others, adventure-loving and looking for new horizons, are coveting Trails/Touring, bikes which offer a good compromise between comfort, modularity and for some a zest of sportiness (KTM 1290 GT, Ducati Multistrada, Kawasaki Z 1000sx or Z1400 gtr, etc.).
But sometimes the perfect bike doesn’t exist and you have to buy a second one to fill in the shortcomings of the first. Also, why not find happiness on the second hand market. In our country, the market is dynamic and the Motoscout24 platform lists more than 16,000 vehicles available in a few clicks. But buying a second-hand vehicle involves some risks that must be taken into account to avoid (bad) surprises.
This article is intended as a practical guide and should allow everyone, even those who have little or no mechanical knowledge, to get by.
Good reading and especially good purchase!
A motorcycle certainly represents a purchase cost, but the maintenance costs as well as the consumable budget (tire, brake pad, chain kit, etc.) can quickly exceed the initial expenditure. Also, it is important to be well informed to know what you are getting into. A powerful motorcycle will tend to cost more in terms of consumables (more tire changes, for example) than a Touring-oriented motorcycle. In addition, the amount of insurance / tax should not be overlooked. In Switzerland, with interchangeable plates (up to 2 vehicles per plate), the cantonal tax is calculated as follows: 100% on the most powerful vehicle then 40% on the others.
A comparative website (such as Comparis.ch or Motoscout24) should allow you to plan your budget as well as estimate your insurance premiums (note that you can take eg. a comprehensive cover for one motorcycle and just the 3rd-party liability on the other, depending on your needs).
Finally, the price and the interval of the services will be a good indication of the maintenance costs of your future motorcycle. A motorcycle that is well and regularly maintained will have a better resell value.
Pros : the easiest, because everything is digital and just a click away. Possibility to flush out the rare pearl throughout Switzerland. In addition, dealers are very often present on sales directories, such as Motoscout24.
Cons : too many options kills it? In addition, it is sometimes binding to cross the whole country for a test of a few minutes. Prices sometimes fanciful and scams not always identifiable.
Pros : direct contact, quick test and often a 3 month warranty;
Cons : often higher prices, less choice than online, limited bargaining margin;
Note : another sale option is the consignment at the dealership. The bike is usually on display at a dealership, which will handle testing for a garage customer, taking a commission on the resale. However, the motorcycle is sold as is and the garage is not responsible for technical problems and does not offer a warranty.
Pros : opportunity to find real bargain.
Cons : no test possible so no engine start -> purchase of the vehicle as is.
Pros : even greater choice, possibility of finding the rare pearl (eg collector’s vehicle, oldtimer, etc.).
Cons : administrative formalities (approval), administrative costs (VAT), cost of transport, risk of scams and difficulty in getting your money back in the event of a hidden defect.
In general, anything that seems too good to be true should be avoided. A 2018 Ducati Panigal for less than 10,000 CHF? A 2019 Dyna Wide Glide with less than 10,000 km at 8,500 CHF? It’s not a big deal but a potential scam.
We spot a false ad on the images (often stock photos downloaded on the web), an approximate syntax (automatic translator), etc.
Another basic principle, avoid plans like “to benefit from this exceptional offer, you have to make a down payment”.
Now that we have sorted the wheat from the chaff, we will have to get our hands dirty, or at least inspect the beast closely. No mechanical knowledge? The following paragraphs should give you some leads!
First, the visual inspection. Avoid scratched oil pans, signs of falling, leaks, oozing of water or oil, etc. Also beware, when buying a sports bike, when the fairing is particularly new compared to the age of the bike. It could be a sign of a fall on the circuit, for example. For motorcycles popular among student pilots (MT-07, CB 500, Kawasaki Z650, etc.), inspect the steering stops, which could indicate a use by motorcycle schools.
Then comes the cold engine start. Avoid untimely stalling, unstabilized engine idle, rattling, scraping of the distribution chain.
In any case, and this is often an ultimate taboo in Switzerland, high mileage should not necessarily be avoided. A motorcycle with high mileage but is well maintained is preferred over a motorcycle that never runs. As for the old analog odometers, beware of bikes that have already made a full turn of the dial, as well as all the disconnections of the cable (connected to the trainer on the rim) or other hacking.
It is an element that is expensive and difficult to replace. Also, it should be inspected carefully. To avoid, during the test ride, speed shifts which go very badly. At the stop, if you have trouble finding the neutral three times in a row, this is a bad sign. However, there are notable differences between brands and models.
In case of mistreatment, the clutch is the first part to get damaged. If the engine revs up quickly in the RPMs without the motorcycle pulling fully, it is a sign that the clutch must be changed. Also listen for the clutch in neutral, engine running (lever released): excessive scrap noise is a bad sign.
This is the skeleton of the motorcycle, and many points, often easily accessible, can be inspected.
The frame : to be avoided, trace(s) of fall, deep scratch(es), impact(s) on the tubes, cracks, etc. A polished frame or carbon protections (typical racing) can arouse your curiosity. A hesitant handling during the test should also alert you.
The fork : to be avoided, dry fork oil seals, a thick layer of oil on the tubes, hard spots when turning the handlebar to the stop on each side. Fork stopper removed or damaged.
The shock absorbers/suspensions: used shock absorbers will have an impact on handling and comfort. Should be avoided, when you press the rear of the motorcycle and suddenly release, a motorcycle which rises quickly without the shock absorber slowing the movement. During the test, a rear end that stirs a lot on a curve, and obviously leaks or oozing. A low-end shock absorber will have to be changed from 20,000 km, and given the consequent price of the part, it is better to inspect it twice.
Wiring harness and the battery: the electrical circuit also deserves your attention. Avoid motorcycle’s electrical equipment (horn, odometer, headlights, etc.) which malfunctions. A motorcycle that has trouble starting, damaged battery terminals or green connectors, which are often a sign of a beam corroded by oxidation.
Are they worn out? This is perfectly normal. They have to be changed, so it is better for the buyer who will have additional arguments to negotiate the resale price. If the seller does not want to discuss the matter, include these expenses in the purchase budget.
This is a very important element, because these are the only elements that connect your motorcycle to the road. In addition, the different types of tires will have an impact on driving style, comfort but also durability. Keep in mind that the area in contact with the road roughly corresponds to the area of a credit card. Motorcycling involves inherent risks. Also, do not add extra when driving with worn, dry tires, etc.
To check: the sculpture (insert a 1 € type coin). If the golden circle is still visible, the tire must be changed. Also beware of bikes that have been stored for a long time without being used, they are often synonymous with dry/cracked tires that no longer offer any grip. A flat on the (tire) tread is also to be avoided, a sign of prolonged driving on the highway.
For similar bike, the life of the chain kit can vary from simple to double, depending on the maintenance – it is recommended, for example, to clean and grease a chain every 500 km, but also its use. A person who drives a lot in the rain, who drives on speed bump or accelerates all the time full gas, will quickly wear his chain kit.
To check: lubrication, hard points on the chain (when the links are like small angles), a crown with sharp teeth.
An essential safety element, braking deserves special attention. Especially since repair costs can quickly skyrocket.
To check: if the slot in the trim is no longer visible, it must be changed. To do this, you have to bend over and look inside the stirrups, facing the motorcycle. Ineffective braking can come from so-called icy pads, i.e. the lining has become smooth and loses its initial properties. It is enough to rub them with sandpaper to get them back to normal.
A hollow, scratched or warped brake disc should be changed. You can feel it by pinching two fingers around and doing 1-2 round trips.
During the test ride, you have to brake hard, the brake lever should not come to a stop.
The level of the master cylinders should also be inspected. You should also take a look at the connection of the hoses and jar, at the level of the master cylinder (scratch, chipped paint, etc.) because the liquid is very corrosive to metals, plastics or paints.
Also look at the brake calipers which should be in good condition, just like the pistons.
The visual rendering of the fairing is often symptomatic of the care and use made by the previous owner.
To check : crack(s), stickers to hide impacts, old paints or in very good condition compared to the rest of the machine (fall on circuit for example), chrome shine, screws, broken fixings, etc.
Perfect cleaning can be synonymous with great care by the owner, but can also be used to conceal a leak or oozing. However, you should not systematically overlook a neglected motorcycle in terms of cleanliness.
Once you have inspected the bike at the stop, it’s time to move on to the dynamic test. If the owner refuses to leave you the handlebars, request a test as a passenger. If he refuses, go your way.
In all cases, the owner is entitled to ask you for a copy of your license and a proof of residence in order to protect him/herself in the event of a road violation/traffic offense.
The up-to-date maintenance book, or failing that, the invoices for the various services, will be a sign of good treatment of the machine. A scrupulous owner can even provide you with the purchase invoice.
In general, a motorcycle maintained by a brand dealer (especially for specific mechanics, eg Italian) will be preferable. But if the maintenance and their frequency were respected in a small garage, it is also quite possible. If the owner has made the revisions himself, he should at least be able to provide you with proof of purchase of the spare parts.
Be careful however on a recent motorcycle, the warranty may lapse if maintenance has not been done at a authorized dealer.
Customing your motorcycle is often a passion for some, even an art form for others. But if it’s not done right, it can quickly become a problem. When changing an exhaust, for example, the injection must be adapted. Dirty modifications that affect electrical harnesses, meter changes, etc. can quickly become a source of serial failures. Beware!!
In addition, some modifications are certainly very aesthetic, but often not approved. Switzerland is very restrictive in this area compared to its European neighbors. This presents financial risks in the event of a police check, but also a risk in the event of an accident. An insurance may decide not to cover the damages and even sue you with gross negligence depending on the type of non-approved part used.
Concerning the price of the custom parts, a seller cannot generally use them as an argument for resale. Admittedly, this is a supply and a demand question. However, a buyer can always argue that personally, he would not have chosen such a part or such a color for the bodywork. If this is the only motorcycle of this type in the region, then it will be more difficult to negotiate. But if there are other similar motorcycles, then buyers are advised not to hesitate to negotiate this way. The general rule of thumb is that all subsequent changes / options (excluding original/factory changes) are a dead loss for the previous owner. In many cases, the owners provide the original parts during the resale, which is an additional security in the event of periodic inspection / expertise.
At first, try to bring someone / a friend who knows a bit about mechanics, and gift him a good wine bottle for example. It can always help you avoid unpleasant surprises.
You have no one around to help you, no problem. The Touring Club Switzerland (TCS) offers a test (information here). This is a technical check to assess the general condition of the vehicle and identify potential hidden defects. It is billed for around CHF 200 (non-member) and CHF 120 (member). It is clear that this represents a sum of money, but this will be much less important than a complete change of a regulator, for example. Note that some garages also offer this service. Please check with local dealers.
Magazines such as Moto-Revue publish buying guides (special issue) once or twice a year, where they take a large number of models under the microscope: maintenance budget, spare parts price, weak points, recall campaigns, etc. These guides are a good basis for knowingly buying.
Did you find the rare pearl? Do you have the the green lights green on a mechanical/technical level? It’s time to agree on the price now.
Here are a few things to help you get the best price. Note that these rules apply especially when buying from an individual. The margin of negotiation is more limited at a dealer, who can claim that the motorcycle has been inspected, reconditioned and benefits from a warranty.