How to Buy a Motorcycle from a Private Seller

You will save more money buying a used motorcycle from a private seller. Nevertheless, it comes with a headache. I will guide you on how to buy a motorcycle from a private seller, securing the best deal.

how to buy a motorcycle from a private seller

Although you save some cash buying from a private seller, they can rip you off. When you buy a motorcycle from a private seller, you are buying it “As Is”. Moreover, you must be careful not to purchase a motorcycle with a lien on it.


I have purchased motorcycles from private sellers severally. I asked them strategic questions on all occasions after researching the motorcycle thoroughly and discovering the known problems. I have never had an issue, except that I put down some cash on repairs.

How to Buy a Motorcycle from a Private Seller

In this section, I reveal the tricks and methods I follow to secure a good motorcycle deal with a private seller. Lie I mentioned above, a private seller will rip you off the slightest chance they get.


Below are the steps to buy a motorcycle from a private seller:

  1. Research the Motorcycle

Except you are looking to buy a salvaged or barn find motorcycle, you must research it thoroughly. But even if you flip motorcycles for profit, it is still advisable to have an idea of what motorcycle to buy. For example, you should know whether a particular motorcycle is heavy because a heavier motorcycle may not be easy to ride.

It could be you have decided what used/old motorcycle to buy already! Nevertheless, let’s see eth aspects you should focus/have focused on during the research.

First, the market value. You must know the actual value of the motorcycle to estimate its used or salvaged market value. To know what value to give a motorcycle, determine the motorcycle’s release date you want to buy and today’s date. Calculate the depreciation figures from here and there you have it.


Secondly, research the common problems of the motorcycle. It is typical of motorcycles to have known problems. Even the private seller may not be aware, so you should find out before the inspection. How do you find out? Open your browser and search “common problems in [name of motorcycle]”.

Thirdly, confirm the recall status of the motorcycle. Perhaps, the motorcycle you prefer has been recalled. When you get to the seller, you will ask whether they returned the motorcycle to the manufacturer for fixes. If they say “No,” close the deal or check whether you can still send the motorcycle to the manufacturer via the manufacturer’s recall page on their website.

Finally, find out what others have to say. What are consumers’ comments like? Check ConsumerReports and Edmunds for sincere consumer reviews.

  1. Search Various Marketplaces

Have you concluded what motorcycle(s) you love? If it is challenging, ask a friend or check bike forums for recommendations.

The next step is to decide what platform to buy the motorcycle. You can always check paper ads, social platforms like Facebook market/pages, e-commerce websites, and even motorcycles with “for sale” signs along the road.

When you figure out what platform to use, research more platforms; you could afford better deals. Typically, when you avoid buying from a dealer, your best bet are platforms like Craigslist, Cycle Trader, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace.

I buy used motorcycles on eBay and Craigslist often, though. Check out how you can buy a motorcycle off Craigslist or how I buy a used motorcycle on eBay.

You can always inform friends of your desire for a motorcycle. Explain what motorcycle you want, and they will keep eyes out for you.

  1. Get in Touch with the Private Seller

Regardless of the platform or where you are buying the motorcycle, there is always an option to contact the private seller.

Suppose you use platforms like eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, etc., you can get in touch with the seller. eBay offers a room for chatting like Facebook, but I prefer calling the seller.

When I get the seller’s phone number, I research it for fraud online. Common apps such as Truecaller also help to detect a scammer’s phone number.

After research, if you can’t link the phone number to any fraudulent activity, the private seller could be genuine. Nevertheless, you do not have to trust them.

Call the seller. When the seller answers your call, ask, “What motorcycle have you for sale?” A genuine seller will be straightforward with the response, while a scammer might reply, “What?” Why? Because they may have forgotten they listed a motorcycle for sale.

If you were referred to a private seller by a friend, no need to take this approach via phone call.

  1. Chat Up the Seller

If you are dealing with a private seller online, you should chat them up and request pictures of the motorcycle and paperwork.

First, request the motorcycle history. The private seller may choose to be sincere or insincere; it does not matter since you will be running the motorcycle VIN check.

If you ask the private seller whether the motorcycle dropped or crashed, they may lie. So? Don’t bother asking. But you may ask like “what did you do after the motorcycle last dropped?”

Next, request the VIN, title certificate picture, and pictures of various parts of the motorcycle.

When you request closer shots of the various motorcycle parts, the seller might claim you are inconveniencing them. Explain to the seller that you must be certain of what you are buying, but do not say you admire the motorcycle.

As you read further, I have included the strategic questions to ask the seller.

  1. Inspect the Title

If you are buying a barn find motorcycle from a private seller, it might not have a title. But if the motorcycle is recent, it should have a title, also called a pink slip.

If the private seller claims the title is missing, ask them to get a lost title for a motorcycle and sign it over to you. Meanwhile, a motorcycle without a title signifies that the motorcycle was stolen and the seller wants to get rid of it without the title.

Make sure the title is not branded as rebuilt, except you are OK with a salvaged or totaled motorcycle.

Also, there should be no lien on the title. If any, make sure the lienholder signs it off before you sign the papers.

In some cases, lenders can repossess a motorcycle, and the owner may be looking to sell it to avoid repossession and save their credit history.

Lastly, ensure that the private seller’s driver’s license matches the name on the title.

  1. Research the VIN

Request the motorcycle VIN from the private seller and verify whether it matches the title certificate. Look up the VIN via any VIN checking service online. For comprehensive motorcycle history, you should select the premium tool.

Note that these websites may not give updated information regarding the theft status of a motorcycle. Typically, I use three VIN check services to confirm the report before concluding whether a used motorcycle is legit or salvaged.

You may contact the motor vehicle department to run a check on the motorcycle since their database is mostly up to date. Unfortunately, the official may refuse access to the information since you do not own the motorcycle.

  1. Decide a Date and Location

After making basic findings, as mentioned above, decide a date and location for the motorcycle inspection. The date should depend on the distance, but I make sure I give the seller too little time to cover up damages on the motorcycle.

Nevertheless, make sure the seller will have all the time on that date because a proper motorcycle inspection is not a 30-minute affair.

For safety reasons, I do not recommend visiting the seller at their apartment, mostly if they stay out of state. But if you trust them, that is enough reason to know their apartment against future problems.

A public location is usually the ideal place. It can be at the bank or the frontage of a store.

While deciding on the date and location, instruct the seller not to heat the motorcycle until you arrive for the inspection. If you do not meet the motorcycle in a cold state, suspend the examination for the next 30 minutes while the engine cools off.

  1. Inspect the Motorcycle

Inspecting a used motorcycle is the hardest part. Fortunately, this article helps to simplify the process. Moreover, you must not be an expert to tell a bad motorcycle.

When you arrive at the inspection location, be confident. Meanwhile, to avoid buying a bad or stolen motorcycle from a private seller, refer to my detailed checklist for buying a used motorcycle.

Upon getting there, request maintenance records. If the seller has none, it is a bad sign in the deal. Maintenance records suggest that the motorcycle was cared for properly.

Begin the inspection from the headlight down to the taillight. If you are beginning from the headlight, check whether the headlight and indicators are functional. Check the electronics and odometer for possible odometer fraud by confirming whether it corresponds with the odometer disclosure.

Move from there and inspect the engine and gas tank. Confirm that the brakes, shocks clutch are responsive too.

I have guided you further on what to inspect and know about the motorcycle in the section below.

  1. Test Ride It

Of course, the final checklist is always a test ride. Note that most private sellers will not allow you to test ride their motorcycle without a valid driver’s license.

Buying a motorcycle from a private seller with a lien

During the test ride, the seller holds onto some cash and paperwork, including title and bill of sale.

It is advisable to test ride on rough surfaces to check how the motorcycle responds. First, rev the engine and listen if it cranks. While on the bike, roll it and turn it left and right to feel its responsiveness. Turn it on, speed up and hold the brakes often.

If the entire experience is not smooth, reconsider buying the motorcycle. But if you are indecisive, allow the mechanic to run the test ride.

What happens if the motorcycle crashes on a test ride? You may be responsible for any damage.

What to Look for When Buying a Motorcycle from a Private Seller

In this section, I cover the things you should check and know before paying the seller. Understand that every private seller is a liar, mainly when they get rid of their old motorcycles.

What to look for when buying a motorcycle from a private seller:

  1. How the Motorcycle Rolls

While the engine is off, get on the motorcycle and roll forward and backward. Bend to the right and left constantly to check the responsiveness.

Next, click down into the first gear. If the bike rolls without pulling the clutch handle, there is a transmission or clutch problem.

  1. Tires

First, look at the tire condition. Do the tires have bald spots or cracking? If “yes,” those tires must be replaced, and you can request price reduction since you must replace them.

While rolling or riding the motorcycle slowly, check whether the tires roll straight or misalign; a misalignment indicates a hard collision.

  1. Frame

The frame is the component that makes up the motorcycle. A thief can also switch motorcycle frame to make a stolen motorcycle legit.

Inspect the frame thoroughly to certain it is not coated in plastics. Of course, you must check the fuel tank too for leakage and rust.

Ask whether the seller changed the frame recently. If they did, they should have titled it. Otherwise, ask them to title the motorcycle frame to show authenticity since the frame has no VIN. But if you are okay with the risk, request the older frame to keep as proof against the day you will be pulled over.

While inspecting the frame and tank, use a flashlight to inspect closely for weld damages, rust and new patches. If you find weld damages, patches, and excessive rust, the motorcycle is old and may not be a decent bargain, depending on what you want.

  1. Drivetrain and Brakes

Inspecting the drivetrain and brakes is important. Check how the drivetrain responds. And the brakes? Speed up during the test ride and hold the brake occasionally for responsiveness.

If you identify issues in these areas, the used motorcycle would have been neglected and issues concealed by the private seller.

  1. Bearings

The aspect to focus on while inspecting the bearings is rustiness. I recommend using a flashlight to check bearing dust seals. Get your toolbox and test specific parts to ascertain the condition of the bearings.

Meanwhile, when bearings do not run regularly, they seize up, and newer bearings can also fail without warnings.

  1. Suspension

A private seller won’t reveal everything about the suspension. Note that although the suspension may appear to be in excellent condition, it could be useless.

If a motorcycle has not been used in a long while, the oil degrades and springs unpredictably. Besides, motorcycle owners hardly inspect suspensions.

  1. Engine

When you get to the engine, notice how hard or difficult it is to start the motorcycle. If it is hard to start the motorcycle, ask the seller why it is so because it will take a mechanic diagnosis to tell why it won’t start quickly.

When the motorcycle starts, check how it idles and confirm whether it sputters or revs high.

If you hear a knocking sound, it indicates major problems. Check online to confirm whether it is one of the motorcycle’s common problems; otherwise, the seller has questions to answer, or you close the deal.

While the engine runs, is it leaking, smoking, or backfiring? These are carburetor or engine problems that will be worked on if you purchase the motorcycle from a private seller.

While the engine is on, take the motorcycle for a short-distance ride. Some sellers may not be fazed about you riding the motorcycle, but you must because it is imperative to secure a good motorcycle deal.

  1. The Private Seller

What do you think of the seller? Do they look responsible? Could they have stolen the motorcycle? You must look at these aspects before buying a used motorcycle, especially if the deal is too good to be true.

I understand that it is judgemental to look at the seller in this manner, but you can’t secure the best motorcycle deal without being extreme.

Besides, it is easy to steal a motorcycle and legalize it, and the private seller may be guilty. If you are buying from a private seller online, take the aspect of theft seriously.

What do you look for when inspecting a motorcycle theft?

  • Are there modifications on the VIN plate?
  • Does the VIN history match the title?
  • Is the motorcycle sales price ridiculous?
  • Has the motorcycle been reported as stolen?
  • Is the private seller pressurizing you to conclude the deal?
  • Can you reach the seller in the future?
  • Does the title information match with the driver’s license?

Questions to Ask a Private Seller When Buying a Motorcycle

  • Who owns the motorcycle?

Even a thief will claim they own the motorcycle, but this question informs the private seller that you mean business.

  • Why do you not keep this motorcycle?

The private seller should explain why they are selling the motorcycle. If they need urgent cash or do not have the time to ride the motorcycle, it is a good deal. However, it is a bad deal if the seller has had the motorcycle in their garage for a long time unless you need an old motorcycle to flip.

  • Why did you buy the motorcycle?
  • When did you buy it?
  • Can it pass the inspection test?
  • Can it pass the theft test?
  • I must test ride, do you mind?

If the seller is fazed about a test ride, it is a sign that something may be wrong with the motorcycle, and they hope to conceal it.

  • How many miles has it gone?

40,000+ miles on a motorcycle is high unless you are OK with an old motorcycle.

  • When last did this motorcycle drop or crash?

If you ask, “has this bike dropped before?” the seller will say, “No.”

  • What are the common problems, you know?

The seller may disclose 50% of the problems or claim the bike is sound. Regardless, the rule of thumb is not to trust a private seller.

  • It has been a long time since you changed the oil, why?

The questions above are the trickiest you can ask a private seller but do not rely on their responses.

What to Bring When Buying a Motorcycle from a Private Seller

A Mechanic

Suppose you will not be present during the inspection, budget between $100 and $150 to hire an inspection team. You can always arrive for the inspection with a mechanic if you are inspecting the motorcycle in person.


Bring the cash along, and do not wire money to any private seller, even if you know the person. You might end up not buying the motorcycle or get scammed if you are dealing with a stranger.

Tool Box

Go for the inspection with a complete set of the tool box. If you are hiring a mechanic for the inspection, remind them to carry their inspection tools along.

What to Do After Buying a Motorcycle from a Private Dealer

After buying a motorcycle from a private seller, what do you do?

  1. Obtain the Plates

If it is a vanity (personalized) plate, the seller may not give them to you. However, depending on your state, the seller may be expected to turn in the regular plates. Motorcycles owners may keep their license plates in California.

  1. Get the Bill of Sale

Get the bill of sale from the seller for submission at the DMV. Ensure that the bill of sale contains your signature and the seller’s signature. You may also have to notarize the bill of sale.

  1. Odometer Disclosure

The odometer statement is important. It should be disclosed in the title certificate or pink slip.

  1. Transfer the Title

The seller will sign the title over to you to register it in your name. If there is a lien on the title, the lienholder must sign over the title before you can put the motorcycle in your name.

  1. Submit the Paperwork and the Fee

Go to your local department of motor vehicles to complete the application. You need the motorcycle, title, and bill of sale.

You will also pay the registration fee and sales tax on the used motorcycle. The fee depends on your state; look up the rate on the agency’s website.

After the registration, you may be given temporary tags because title processing does not occur immediately.

If you wish, you can reduce the sales tax by reducing the sales price of the motorcycle (it is illegal).

Since you are purchasing the motorcycle from a private seller, typically a stranger, it is advisable to register it immediately. If you are not registering the motorcycle immediately, do not fill in the sales date yet. The reason is that if you exceed the deadline from the date of motorcycle purchase, you will be fined. Typically, the period you can ride without registration lasts 2 days and up to 30 days, depending on your state.

What mileage is too high on a motorcycle?

40,000 miles is considered high mileage on a motorcycle. Do not buy it unless you know what you are doing.

How to Take Home a Motorcycle After Buying It from Private Seller

If you reside in the US, and you can tow the motorcycle home, and there are options to ride it home legally. Typically, there is a grace period for riding a motorcycle without registering it in your name. Depending on your state, the grace period could be 2, 7, 14 or 30 days, but is possible. Suppose you are out of state, you need insurance for the motorcycle. Next, have the seller sign it over (typically signed at the back of the card) to you.

Next, get the temporary permit out of state or within your state the same day to ride the motorcycle home. You will need a photo ID, proof of ownership, and insurance (you can get temporary insurance) for the temp tag.

The same rule applies in Canada; have the seller sign over the title, obtain a temporary permit and ride home your motorcycle. Note that the duration grace period depends on your state.

Meanwhile, you may read further to check whether you can ride a motorcycle you just purchased home.

Should I buy a motorcycle from a private seller or dealership?

You can buy a motorcycle form a private seller. I have had bad experiences with the dealership, but yours could be great. If you intend to finance your motorcycle, a dealer is better, except you have a credit union. A dealer will also give a used motorcycle on a credit card because you have 0% interest for 18 months.

A private seller could sell you a problem, but you can learn how the bike was maintained. Most of the time, a private seller may have limited information on the motorcycle, especially if they are not motorcycle freaks.

A private seller does not also pack payments like a dealer will. Besides, a dealer may have no lot of used inventory, which increases the motorcycle price.

What should I look for when buying a motorcycle from a private seller


In this article, you have discovered everything regarding how to buy a motorcycle from a private dealer.

It takes patience to secure a decent motorcycle deal with a private seller, and you must not trust blindly.

Finally, have some cash for repairs because most used motorcycles do not arrive so perfect. It’s good you’re buying a motorcycle over a car.

If you have no motorcycle license, complete the written test and learn how to pass the motorcycle road test.

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